When Ricky Hatton was humbled and knocked out by Floyd Mayweather, Jr., in the second-biggest fight of one of boxing's all-time biggest years last December, there was all kinds of talk.
Maybe Hatton would retire, having fought and lost on the biggest stage of them all. Maybe he'd go back home and fight Junior Witter, a bout that had been on the backburner, slowly simmering, for years. Maybe he'd still try to find a way to snag a Wembley Stadium mega-fight with Oscar de la Hoya.
None of those came to pass. Hatton instead decided he'd go ahead and take to the ring at City of Manchester Stadium, home pitch of his beloved Manchester City FC, in a tune-up bout that would, should all go well, lead into a later fight with IBF 140-pound titlist Paulie Malignaggi.
Looking for an opponent, Hatton and Co. tapped the line of Juan Lazcano, a former 135-pound contender who never quite made it over the biggest hump to join the sport's elite ranks, but has a record he can be proud of.
"The Hispanic Causing Panic" has been out of the ring for over a year now, having last fought against Vivian Harris on the undercard of Shane Mosley-Luis Collazo in February 2007. That night, Lazcano gave the heavily favored Harris all he could handle by forcing Harris to fight his way. Were it not for a late penalty, Lazcano might even have pulled an upset on many cards, though he still would have lost the fight on the official judges' scorecards.
It was a fight that defined Lazcano. He's rugged, he's versatile, and he's smart. But this is his last chance for a major breakthrough.
I'm going to switch gears now and be honest. I thought this was a moderately dangerous fight for Hatton to sign off on, that Lazcano was a good live dog, someone that might spoil the tea party return of Hatton to his hometown. But the more I've thought about it, and the more you start really examining Juan Lazcano, the less chance he really has on paper. Yes, that's why you fight the fights, but Lazcano doesn't fight a style that is going to hinder Hatton, who will have all the intangible advantages in Manchester anyway.
He hasn't won a fight over a really good opponent since 2003, when he beat Stevie Johnston. He's 4-2 since then, with wins over Marco Angel Perez, Courtney Burton, Ben Tackie and Manuel Garncia -- decent opposition, nothing special. And really Burton (who was a personal favorite because he fought out of Benton Harbor, MI, which is a stone's throw from where I live) had been quite well exposed by the time Lazcano got to him.
Like I said, he never really got to that elite level. His win over Johnston was his best. That win got him a fight with Jose Luis Castillo, which he clearly lost. There is no shame in losing to the 2004 version of Castillo, but he lost pretty convincingly.
Past the win over Johnston (which was the start of Stevie's decline), you're not looking at a whole lot on the rest of his record. Jesse James Leija was a better name than fighter, and Wilfredo Vazquez was 40 years old when Lazcano knocked him off.
He was a good fighter. He's now in his thirties and has been pretty inactive. But he was never a great fighter. He just never quite got there.
Now I'll add this in slight defense of Lazcano's chances: it took one Juan Manuel Marquez quite a while to break over that hump, too. But I don't think the cases are too comparable past ages of The Big Win -- theoretical, of course, assuming Lazcano were to beat Hatton, he would do it at the same age that Marquez beat Barrera.
Marquez was a guy with obvious and excellent skills whose non-breakthrough case was puzzling. The Marquez that rebounded from three first round knockdowns against Manny Pacquiao in their first fight to get to a draw (and some felt he won the bout) was not the guy that crapped the bed years prior against Freddie Norwood. Nor was it the guy who got jobbed, in my opinion, in Indonesia against Chris John (even though I feel he should have won that fight, it was not Juan's best).
Prior to the Barrera fight, Marquez was a skilled favorite of the diehards who beat guys like Derrick Gainer and Robbie Peden and Marcos Licona, and outside of the Pacquiao fight, seemed to lose it in the big ones. Then he erased that by beating Barrera in a great fight.
Lazcano doesn't have that reputation. He's just a guy with a great nickname that can certainly hang in there with just about anyone, and I'd guess he'll push Hatton to 12 rounds. But is he really good enough to beat "The Hitman"? I don't think he has much of a shot at all. It just doesn't add up.
Hatton, lest anyone forget, is still the world's best 140-pound fighter until someone proves otherwise. At 147, he's nothing special. At 140, he can be a beast on his best days, and I have to think that coming off a humbling loss in front of a massive worldwide audience will motivate him. I also figure the venue will motivate him.
In short, Hatton will come out for blood. The x-factor might be the illness he battled during camp, but I wouldn't take too much stock in that idea.
I like Juan Lazcano and I wish him the best of luck this Saturday, and I'm really looking forward to the fight. Maybe he'll surprise me as he did against Harris, taking that fight into deeper waters than it should have gone. And all that said, I still think Hatton picked a good opponent -- not too soft, not too hard -- for his comeback. And Lazcano CAN punch, with 27 knockouts on his 37-4-1 record. If anything is still mentally eating at Ricky following his first career loss -- a rather humiliating knockout, really -- that could wind up turning the tide.
Chances are, though, Ricky gets his groove back in Manchester.