Paulie Malignaggi, who has faced both Ricky Hatton and Vyacheslav Senchenko and will work as a commentator on Saturday, breaks down Hatton's return to the ring and picks a winner.
Sports Tonight Live: "Paulie, good evening to you, sir, are you well?"
Paulie Malignaggi: "I'm good, guys. Good to be on."
Sports Tonight Live: "You're recovering from your title defense as well?"
Paulie Malignaggi: "Yes, yes, yes, I'm recovering. I had a slight fracture underneath my right thumb, so I'm in a cast right now, but all should be good by the new year."
Sports Tonight Live: "So Paulie, of course, you fought Ricky in 2008 in Las Vegas. What were your thoughts when you heard the news in September that he was coming back?"
Paulie Malignaggi: "I was a little bit confused because I wasn't sure. For a while they were talking about it, and there was a lot of rumors about whether he'd come back or not. Finally when the official announcement came, I had mixed feelings. For one part, I wasn't sure if the layoff would have done him good. But then from the other part, I started to think, Ricky was a guy who gave us many exciting fights, and from that aspect, it's always good for boxing, for a guy like that to be around. But also, he was a guy who gets a hit a lot. He kind of was a guy who takes one to give one, so to speak, or takes one to give two, even. So maybe if he'd been fighting the past three years, we wouldn't have him around now. So maybe the three-year break, gives us a chance to have him around now for a little bit, instead of maybe we would have had him for three years, but he'd be gone by now. You gotta take the positives as well as the negatives. I had mixed feelings, but as the momentum picks up steam, and the hype machine builds toward the fights, there's a lot of positive reviews, and people are taking more to it, that Ricky is officially back."
Sports Tonight Live: "Talk about Senchenko then, Paulie. You're going to commentate on this fight. Tactically, technically, how do you see these guys matching up, having been in the ring with both of them?"
Paulie Malignaggi: "Well styles makes fights, you know. One thing I realized when I fought Senchenko -- I saw his height, and I thought, man, I had some problems with Amir Khan, with this kind of height. I wonder how it is I'm going to attack this guy? Then as I saw video on Senchenko, I saw the big difference with him and Amir Khan is the foot speed. Senchenko is technically a very good boxer, just like Amir Khan is technically a very good boxer. But Senchenko is so slow on his feet that it makes a big difference between him and Amir Khan. So I was able to use my movement, and he was never able to catch up. With Ricky, the slow feet on Senchenko may bode well for him, too, because he may not have to work as hard to cut the distance. If he can get around Senchenko's jab -- Senchenko has a very good jab, but if he can get around Senchenko's jab, it won't be hard to find Senchenko, because again, he's not very fast on his feet. So there you have the style matchup. It's going to be Ricky trying to bull rush his way in, and try to get around the jab, and if he can do that, Senchenko's a big welterweight, but he's not a very physical welterweight. His size can be a little bit deceiving. If Ricky gets on the inside, I can actually see him having a lot of success, even though Senchenko is a physically bigger man."
Sports Tonight Live: "So Paulie, I think that the key to success for Ricky is really head movement. We know that Ricky's feet are faster than Senchenko's. We've seen that. He likes to come in fast, but he does come in in straight lines, whereas Senchenko is more flat-footed. Now, I think if Ricky can get that head moving, slip inside that jab of Senchenko -- we know what he does, he double jabs, comes with a cross, so I think that Ricky, if he's going to close, he really does need to move his head more, doesn't he?"
Paulie Malignaggi: "Yeah, and one key that I took in the Senchenko fight, is make him pay for throwing his jab. If you're going to make Senchenko miss the jab, make him pay for it. If you can make a jabber hesitate to throw the jab, you really are going to have his number. Again, Senchenko is not very physical. Once you get past the jab, and you're on the inside of him, he really doesn't have a big arsenal inside. There's nothing there. That's where Ricky wants to be. That's his wheelhouse, so to speak. Once Ricky gets there, using the foot speed, and making him pay for the missed jabs, you have him second guessing himself in a lot of ways. And it'll be Ricky Hatton's fight from there. That'll be the key, really. If Senchenko gets confidence, and starts to land the jab well, then he can set up his offense off of that. But if Ricky doesn't allow Senchenko to gain that confidence off that jab, I could see Ricky really, really making Senchenko uncomfortable as the fight wears on."
Sports Tonight Live: "I looked back at one of your interviews before fighting Ricky Hatton, and you said then that he's a 30-year-old man, he won't change his spots, an old dog doesn't learn new tricks. Do you expect anything different from Ricky, as he's a little bit older with a pressure fighting style? Will he have to adapt that slightly, or will he not?"
Paulie Malignaggi: "I don't think you're gonna see much of a change in Ricky. I've seen some interviews where he's said he's gone back to the Billy Graham style of training with his new trainer Bob Shannon. I think Ricky has come to realize what got him to the top, what made him successful, what made him loved by the fans. It was that style, that kind of aggressive, in-your-face style. Of course, that comes with some risks. If you don't move your head, you're gonna walk into some punches. That's what made Ricky Hatton who he was. It made him famous, it made him the big name that he is, and it also won him the world titles that he won. I don't think you're going to see much of a change in Ricky's style. You'll see him adapt in some ways to the guy in front of him, but all in all I think we're gonna have the same style of Ricky Hatton that we've always seen. And that's the style we've grown to love."
Sports Tonight Live: "Paulie, Ricky Hatton only boxed at welterweight once, against Collazo (editor's note: No.). Now, he really struggled in that fight. As the fight wore on, the physical strength of Collazo started to take over and Ricky really did struggle in the back end of the contest. Do you think that this could be a factor here against another big welterweight in Senchenko?"
Paulie Malignaggi: "I'm not sure. Again, Senchenko is not a physical welterweight. He's big, but he's not a physical welterweight. At no point in the fight did I feel Senchenko's size. He just doesn't impose it. He just doesn't have a style where he imposes that massive size of his. He's a big welterweight. For me, he was the biggest guy I ever fought, but physically, he wasn't physical at all. He doesn't fight like that. So I'm not sure if the size is going to affect Ricky so much, unless Ricky finds himself getting hit a lot. I do think Collazo's a better welterweight than Senchenko. Collazo's a friend of mine, and I've sparred him. He's a tricky guy. He's a crafty guy. I think Ricky went into that fight maybe not knowing too much about Collazo, or maybe not knowing as much as he should have about the guy. I don't think Ricky Hatton can get back to the light welterweight division. As you get older, you put on some pounds. You put on some weight. I do think at this point in time, especially after a layoff, the welterweight division is the best place for Ricky Hatton. If he shrunk himself down to light welter, he'd be cutting into his energy level."
Sports Tonight Live: "What about a prediction then, Paulie? Who wins this and how, do you think?"
Paulie Malignaggi: "I think Ricky wins. The thing that stuck out to me when they made this fight, Ricky's tough to beat in England. The fanfare is amazing, and for a guy like Senchenko who has never fought outside of his house in front of a hostile crowd, this is about as close as the most hostile you're gonna get, fighting Hatton in Manchester. It's gonna play on his mind a little bit, especially for a guy who got used to the comforts of home. And then again, the one thing I said about Senchenko before I fought him, he had never been in with world class opposition prior to me. The only world level he got in there with was me, and it was pretty one-sided. I think that's gonna play on his mind a little bit. He may come in with a go-for-broke attitude, with a nothing-to-lose attitude, because he's already lost his world title, but I think Ricky's experience, Ricky's a formidable guy to be up against at home. I think he'll have enough to win the fight, if not by late stoppage, then by unanimous decision."
Sports Tonight Live: "If he does get that late stoppage, the victory, the W, Paulie Malignaggi, are you next on the list? Would you fight Ricky again? And where would it take place?"
Paulie Malignaggi: "Any time you have a chance to avenge a loss, for a competitor it's always something that will interest a competitor. And I'm a competitor, just like any other fighter, so a chance to avenge that loss obviously would interest me. I want to see Ricky win. I want to see Ricky look good. So if it generates that buzz in the United States, as he is starting to attain here, with a good win, I think he'll generate that kind of buzz, I think it's possible we can make the rematch. Obviously I'm interested in it. Avenging a loss would always interest me. I would prefer it in New York. Or in the United States at the new Barclays Arena, it's a state of the art arena. I'll say it on the air, I'd be willing to give a one-and-one package deal, where if I beat him in New York, I'd come to England for a third fight. It would be our second fight over in New York. Eventually we'd have to negotiate and agree to a deal, but right now I'm pulling for Ricky to look good and do his thing. And more so than for the boxing, even for himself. He's had a lot of demons to overcome, and I think Saturday night is an important night for not just Ricky Hatton the boxer, but for Ricky Hatton the man. So I wish him luck and I wish him well on Saturday night."