Monday, April 20, 2009 | 2 a.m.
I think I just got 24/7’d.
That’s what I’m thinking as I stand outside the boxing gymnasium owned by Dean Chance, the former baseball pitcher, in a residential section of the old Las Vegas, where they have these big ranch homes and long driveways that curve around in arches.
I am there for Ricky Hatton’s open workout. His big fight with Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand is less than two weeks away. That’s not that far off. But not so close the media will write about it, blog about it, or show 30-second film clips about it on the 11 o’clock news. This is why boxing people set up open workouts. It’s a surefire way to get the big fight back in the news and give HBO some more stuff for those compelling 24/7 documentaries they air before big fights. Plus, when he is involved, open workouts give promoter Bob Arum a chance to blast the Republicans, which, even if you are one, is pretty entertaining.
I have been waiting for Hatton to arrive when one finally does. Only it’s Matthew Hatton, Ricky’s kid brother, who will fight on the undercard. Matthew Hatton looks like he hasn’t been out in the sun for a while, which, considering he’s from England, is at least a 90 percent possibility. There is something in the air — a little big-fight electricity, combined with swirling cottonwood seed from a nearby grove of shade trees.
“Biggest dandruff you’ve ever seen, eh, mate?” the other Hatton cracks as he walks into Dean Chance’s boxing gym.
I write it down in my little notebook. Then I notice this giant camera lens pointed up at me, in an artsy angle. It doesn’t move. Neither do I.
I think I just got 24/7’d.
A chair is placed in front of the Union Jack and a drawing of Ricky Hatton, the sort of artwork you’d be more inclined to find attached to a refrigerator with a magnet than in a gallery. A fight banner roughly the size of Wyoming, with Pacquiao and Hatton’s pictures on it, completes the backdrop. With the Rockstar energy drink logo on top. I take it this is where Ricky will sit and talk to us, or at least our little digital tape recorders. But first, somebody decides his trainer should speak to our little digital tape recorders, so Floyd Mayweather Sr. sits down first.
Nobody grumbles, because when Floyd Joy Mayweather Senior sits down, he’s prone to say something interesting or unprintable, and, because this is boxing, either one is acceptable. Besides, Ricky hasn’t arrived yet.
Mayweather Sr. is what you would call colorful. And I’m not just talking about the suits he wears to boxing news conferences. He likes to tell it like it is, or at least the way he thinks it is. Only he likes to tell it the way a sailor might tell it. But on this day, he’s trying hard to remove the salt from his language. He goes, like, almost four minutes without swearing. He tries hard to be respectful of Pacquiao and disparages Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, only once or twice with silly rhymes before one of the reporters agitates him in a friendly sort of way, and another asks how he’s going to prevent Hatton from reverting to his old, brawling self should Pacquiao hit him with one those punches that makes you see the Rockstar logo.
“That’s not a problem with Pacquiao,” Mayweather says, his voice rising — not in an angry way, but in the way a comedian’s does before the punch line, “because Pacquiao ... doesn’t ... know ... it.”
“He doesn’t know it?” a reporter asks, seeking clarification of Mayweather’s morse code.
“He doesn’t know it.”
Then Mayweather adds the “sh” before the it, and the boxing reporters giggle like they were hearing their mothers use a swear word for the first time.
After that, he shows us his 56-year-old six-pack abs.
For the next 10 minutes Mayweather flip-flops between boxing strategist — “speed means nothing if you find nothing to hit” — and sailor on leave before he utters what, for me, was the ultimate sound bite of the open workout.
“He’s a southpaw,” Mayweather says when the Filipino reporter asks about Pacquiao’s left-handed punching power. “But we’re going to beat him like a northpaw. You understand what I’m sayin?”
The Filipino reporter says yes.
Both get 24/7’d.
Then Hatton walks into Dean Chance’s gym, wearing a Kelly green T-shirt that says “Las Vegas Girls Direct To You In 20 Minutes.”
At least he isn’t wearing a thong. Or if he is, you can’t tell, because he also is wearing black workout pants. In the first installment of HBO’s Pacquiao/Hatton 24/7, Hatton showed up for a workout clad in a black thong, and you should have seen Mayweather’s face.
Before sitting in the chair in front of the Union Jack, Hatton has changed the Las Vegas Girls T-shirt for a black one with the Team Hatton logo on it, which sort of looks like the logo of the rock group Van Halen. Or, for that matter, the logo of any other rock band that has its own logo.
As Hatton sits, he begins to tape his own hands, with a rose-colored wrap. I notice his hands. They don’t look like a fighter’s hands. There is a little bump on the knuckle of his middle finger but otherwise, his hands look almost ... dainty. Like he might play the piano or the violin.
Hatton literally grew up in a bar in Manchester, England, a hardscrabble town if there ever was one, and his down-to-earthiness — for lack of a better word — has endeared him to boxing fans both home and abroad. That and the fact that he’s not above wearing a thong.
But Hatton doesn’t appear his usual jovial self. He isn’t surly or sullen or any of those things. He isn’t “mercurial” like Tyson, which is about the only time you’ll ever see a sports writer use that word — when Tyson is in the house. Maybe it’s because Hatton’s beloved Manchester City soccer team has tumbled into the second half of the Premiership table back home, but this isn’t the happy-go-lucky Ricky we’re used to. This is the more articulate and introspective Ricky.
With Mayweather providing comic relief, Hatton can concentrate on being a boxer instead of an entertainer. He does use the word “daft” once, but only to describe the way he fought against Mayweather’s son here 16 months ago, when he was still being trained by his old bloke Billy Graham. “I was doing all right for five rounds, as daft as I was fighting,” he says, adding that Graham was slowing down and so was he, so he hired Floyd’s old man to teach him how to jab and, perhaps, how to avoid one.
Hatton says we might have noticed how he was more elusive against Paulie Malignaggi the last time out, and that was after working with Mayweather Sr. for just seven weeks. “And I couldn’t understand him for the first two weeks,” he says.
We laugh, happy that jovial Ricky hasn’t totally gone away.
Hatton, who is viewed as the underdog against Pacquiao and perhaps a significant one at that, spends most of the session trying to convince the boxing writers (or maybe even himself) that he has a fighting chance. He is pretty convincing. I am convinced that he is convinced he can beat Pacquiao.
Finally, somebody gets around to asking about his trainer’s “northpaw” comment.
Hatton hesitates for a moment before breaking into a grin.
“I don’t know what the hell he is talking about,” he says before getting 24/7’d.
Then comes the “workout” part. Hatton climbs between the ropes at Dean Chance’s gym.
His feet look pretty good.
So many photographers have climbed onto the ring apron to take his picture that you really can’t see what Hatton is doing. I’m sure he bobbed and weaved, though. Maybe floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee.
I do notice that some of the photographers apparently have never heard of shoe polish.
They don’t get 24/7’d though, because HBO has the best spot on the apron.
“Whup! Whup! Whup-whup-whup!”
In the background, sparring partners hit heavy bags and lighter bags and those boxing mitt things with hooks and combinations.
And an occasional kidney shot.
Hatton isn’t hitting anything. He’s jumping rope.
He starts to skip near the sparring partners, but one of the boxing people ushers him back to where the chair had been, in front of the Union Jack and the big banner with the Rockstar logo.
Hatton keeps jumping. He turns his head at a slightly different angle each time the rope comes back around, so every photographer gets a picture. Flash. Flash. Flash. Click, click, click. It’s like Elle Macpherson on the runway, only without the fan blowing back Hatton’s hair as if he were on a beach somewhere. Although I have to say that where Elle’s nose sort of turns up at the end, Ricky’s is just sort of flat all over.
His nose gets 24/7’d. So does the new tattoo on his back.
After that everybody is told to gather ’round Mayweather again. Lee Samuels, the longtime boxing publicist for Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc., presents Mayweather with a gag gift. At least I think it is supposed to be a gag gift. It’s a big box with a big bow on top, like you might see on “Let’s Make a Deal.” Inside is a bottle of weight-reduction pills supposedly sent by Roach, I guess, because Hatton tends to put on a few British pounds between fights by quaffing more than a few British pints of beer.
There is a letter, which Mayweather has trouble reading, because he is boxing person.
Then he gets 24/7’d. Again.
A few minutes later somebody says Arum won’t be coming to blast the Republicans, or anybody else.
He is the only one who doesn’t get 24/7’d.