December 8 -- MGM Grand, Las Vegas, NV
Winner: Floyd Mayweather, Jr. TKO-10
I may be the only person in the world that would have this fight this high on a best of the year list, but I genuinely loved everything about it.
The pound-for-pound king, back again, this time against an undefeated British superstar that we've all come to know and love or at least kind of like ever since his win over Kostya Tszyu, if not a little before that. Hatton has steadily built his star in America, first just as a unique TV attraction, with wonderful crowds in his native England, and then as an actual attraction in the States. Fights against Luis Collazo (Hatton's much-disputed win in his welterweight debut), Juan Urango and Jose Luis Castillo (those two back at 140 pounds) were the start of Hatton's U.S. tour, beginning in 2006.
"The Hitman" planted the seed for this fight after his fourth round body shot knockout of Castillo on June 23, saying we'd seen more action in those four rounds than we did in Floyd Mayweather's entire career. It was a preposterous statement, as not only has Mayweather had plenty of fights with action, but Hatton-Castillo was a pretty ugly clinchfest. But it didn't matter -- the collective "ooh!" from the crowd could only mean one thing, that Hatton had called Mayweather out, and Floyd would have no choice but to answer or be criticized for ducking a 140-pound fighter that almost nobody in the world would think could actually beat him.
It's not to disregard Ricky Hatton's skills, which are plentiful. In being "overrated" by some, he's become underrated by others. He does have good handspeed. He's a very smart fighter that knows his limits, and how to mask his relatively few weaknesses. In short, Hatton is a talented, tough fighter that accentuates his positives with the help of trainer Billy Graham. It is one of the best trainer-fighter combos in the sport.
Unfortunately for Hatton, Floyd and his uncle Roger are another one of those combos. Roger watches the tapes, tells Floyd what to do, and Floyd executes the gameplan, every time, without fail. On the rare occasions that Floyd needs to call an audible, Roger has always called the right one.
At one point in the buildup to the fight, during the second "24/7" series dedicated to the bout, I actually let it sneak into my mind that Hatton could win. It would be a miracle, an upset of upsets, but it could happen. On a 100 percent scale, I gave Hatton about a 3% chance of winning. But as Roger Mayweather said about Hatton days before the fight, every fighter has a chance. The moment you truly count someone out is the moment something bad happens.
Hatton trained harder than he ever has in his life, probably. No Ricky Fatton jokes this time around -- he was at weight well ahead of time, and looked ripped. He was in phenomenal shape for this fight, which he would need to be. Hatton's plan was to attack, attack, attack. That's it. Apply pressure, work the body, make Floyd uncomfortable and wear him out. His idea was simple: He knew it was the only way he could beat Floyd. He had to prepare entirely not to run out of steam at any point over 12 rounds. He had to be able to run a marathon, and do it at a world-class speed, no less.
Mayweather's training wasn't the focal point of his side of the story, though, as always, Floyd went at it hard. He enlisted former opponent Carlos Baldomir to spar with him, thinking that Baldomir had the right mindset to at least prepare Floyd for Hatton's attack. When the fight was first being discussed, Mayweather slammed Hatton repeatedly, calling him the most overrated fighter of the last 20 years, and saying all he could do was hook and hold, hook and hold. But that was all for show, to sell tickets and pay-per-views. Mayweather knew he was going in with a good fighter. He prepared as such.
Roughly 30,000 Brits invaded Las Vegas for fight night. ESPN's Dan Rafael called it the single most amazing experience he's ever had covering a fight. The Hatton fans were singing their signature tune ("There's only one Ricky Hatton...") all over town. In the arena on Saturday night, they started it during the undercard bouts, and thank God they did, because those three fights offered nothing.
The MGM Grand was on fire for the main event. The British fans never relented in their overwhelming support of Hatton, exploding every time he landed a good shot, including a nice punch in the first round that had an off-balance Mayweather reeling. Had he been any less of a supreme athlete, Mayweather would have gone down. Hatton did well for a few rounds, landing harder, cleaner shots, before Mayweather took over. He dismantled Hatton down the stretch, and no set of fans on the planet could have rallied their man at that point. A clean left hook in the 10th put Hatton down, and it could have been called off then. Referee Joe Cortez let it continue, giving Hatton his chance to recover, but moments later, the dazed "Hitman" was down again. It was over.
After the dust settled, Mayweather had nothing but praise for Hatton, calling him a hell of a fighter and one of the toughest competitors he'd ever faced. Hatton was his usual humble, funny self, remarking in the press conference, "I was doing alright until I fucking slipped." Two men came out of a true championship fight with respect for the other.
It's hard, still, not to think of what could have been. For the British fans, a Hatton win would've been something like the Miracle on Ice was for American sports fans. Maybe not quite that defining and enormous, but a gargantuan story nonetheless. But they cheered him on after it was over, and they will continue to do so. You don't often get events like this anymore, fights that really and truly captivate the sports world. It was a wonderful night for boxing, and one I'll never forget.
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