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Still Sorting Out The Junior Welters

BY Ron Borges ON May 10, 2008
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Timothy Bradley began the process of sorting out the junior welterweight division Saturday night by sorting out an out-of-sorts Junior Witter. Where that left the division’s reigning star, Ricky Hatton, was laughing derisively.

Witter, the 34-year-old World Boxing Council 140-pound title holder when the weekend began, had for years been pursuing Hatton, a fellow Brit who had become arguably the most popular fighter in England. Witter kept loudly trying to make the case that Hatton was not even the British champion let alone the true world champion until he’d faced him while Hatton countered that he’d be happy to do that the minute somebody outside of Witter’s hometown of Nottingham knew who he was.

Witter may have thought of himself as the fistic version of the sheriff of Nottingham but by the time Bradley (22-0, 11 KO) was finished with him there was a new sheriff in town and one less challenger for Hatton to worry about because the undefeated but utterly unknown Bradley understood he was a long way from earning a fight against the division’s biggest name unless Hatton for some reason felt he needed to add another belt to his collection.

Bradley’s surprising split decision victory thus begins a series of fights over the next seven weeks in which IBF champion Paulie Malignaggi, WBO champion Ricardo Torres and Hatton, who is clearly the people’s champion and still the most highly-regarded fighter in the division despite having given up his right to claim any of the alphabet titles to unsuccessfully challenging welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather, Jr., will face challengers of one sort or another. The guy facing the biggest challenge is Torres, who is 32-1 but on July 5 enters into a rematch with the hard hitting Holt (23-2, 12 KO), who dropped him in the sixth round of their first fight last September before being dropped himself in the 11th round of a fight he was leading on two of the scorecards.

What followed was an absurd situation where effusive Columbian fans of Torres began to throw full beer cans into the ring. Before Holt could clear his head the fight was stopped by a panic stricken referee and a protest that would ultimately be denied began. Now they will settle it the way they should - between the two of them in Las Vegas with the winner likely emerging as a logical challenger to the winner of a planned September fight between Hatton (assuming he defeats less than formidable Juan Lazcano) and the winner of the Malignaggi-Lovemore N’Dou fight that is on the under card of Hatton-Lazcano.

If Malignaggi (24-1, 5 KO) can again outbox N’Dou as he did last year in one-sided fashion to win the title it sets up a big-money fight with Hatton (43-1) despite the fact Herman Ngoudjo and Souleymane M’Baye square off June 6 to decide who the IBF champion’s mandatory challenger is to be. M’Baye is a former champion and Ngoudjo gave Malignaggi fits when they met in January and is still insistent he should have gotten the decision. Maybe he should have but he won’t be getting a fight with Malignaggi any time soon if Hatton is available because fighting Ricky Hatton is an opportunity to cash the biggest paycheck of his career.

By early fall, what should be settled is just who rules the junior welterweight division. By then Hatton will have fought either Malignaggi or someone else for a belt and he already has made noise about seeking out Torres next if he prevails against Holt. With Witter already out of the picture and Bradley, who had never fought outside of California until he traveled to Nottingham, the latest in a long line of unknown belt holders that would leave only the Torres-Holt winner or WBA champion Andreas Kotelnik (29-2-1), who won that version of the title in March by knocking out the Welshman Gavin Rees, for Hatton to deal with.

That, of course assumes he doesn’t get by Lazcano and Malignaggi and then volunteer to be the final opponent of Oscar De La Hoya’s career. De La Hoya would love to be in that position and, frankly, so would the undersized Hatton. It would be a physical mismatch between a nearly 6-foot De La Hoya and the 5-foot-6 Hatton but it would be the kind of mismatch market forces could make happen because the purses would be massive. That would be especially true if De La Hoya finds some way to outbox Mayweather when they meet in September.

Kotelnik’s problem when it comes to forcing a Hatton fight is that only fight aficionados know him and if they do they also know he’s already lost decisions to Witter and M’Baye as well as having fought a draw with M’Baye when the latter held the WBA title. That may not mean he can’t fight but what it does mean is he’s not likely to be fighting the division’s biggest money maker, Ricky Hatton, any time soon.

That first shot belongs to the light-hitting, trash-talking Malignaggi, if he prevails over N’Dou in two weeks. Torres or Holt could make a strong case for themselves on July 5 if either can stop the other in spectacular fashion in a repeat of the dual beat down they staged in Torres’ native Columbia last September.

Somewhere in the shadows lurks a frustrated, 34-year-old Junior Witter, a guy who kept insisting Ricky Hatton was ducking him until he forgot to duck a sweeping right hand from Bradley in the sixth round Saturday night. If he had maybe he could still make that argument in good conscience but now all he can do is wait for the string of important fights at 140 pounds between the Hatton card on May 24, Ngoudjo-M’Baye’s title eliminator on June 6, the Torres-Holt affair on July 5 and, most importantly, Hatton’s planned but not yet set September face-off with Malignaggi.

By the end of those matches, Junior Witter will know who he is chasing and the world will know whether or not it’s still who he expects it to be - Ricky Hatton.

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