Chin Test For Ricky Hatton

BY David A. Avila ON May 22, 2008
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England’s Ricky Hatton, boxing’s most gifted speaker and considered one of the sport’s best fighters pound for pound, might be wondering if the armament he once had still exists.

The pugilistic William Shakespeare might be telling himself: “to be or not to be, doth my chin still hold?”

In our last chapter, Hatton the Hitman was hit by a wicked left hook from true welterweight Floyd Mayweather and knocked loopy. But now the square jawed Hatton returns to the 140-pound junior welterweight division.

“There’s no shame in the Mayweather defeat,” said Hatton. “If you’re going to get beat, you get beat by the best fighter pound for pound.”

The eloquent Englishman once terrorized the junior welterweight division and hopes to continue the terror starting with Juan “This Hispanic Causing Panic” Lazcano on Saturday May 24, at the Manchester Stadium. The fight will be aired at 3:30 p.m. (Eastern Time) on Versus network.

Approximately 50,000 fans are expected to greet the fighters.

“Thirty-five thousand Brits went over to Las Vegas to watch my fight with Floyd Mayweather,” said Hatton (43-1, 31 KOs) during a press conference call. “To hold that bauble, so to speak, is fantastic.”

Gifted as a speaker and a tour de force inside the ring, Hatton commands a magnetic hold over boxing fans in Great Britain. When he fights, fans plunk down British pounds in a hurry, lest they be left out.

“It’s an absolute dream come true to fight on the home grounds,” Hatton, 29, said. “Not everybody can afford to go to the United States. It’s my way of saying thank you.”

Now comes the reality check when he faces somewhat lightly regarded Lazcano who has lost decisions to both Jose Luis Castillo and Vivian Harris in world title attempts.

Could the third fight be the charm for the once crazy but now subdued Mexican?

Lazcano formerly lived and trained in Southern California’s Wild Card Gym, but now trains in his native Texas.

“This year my birthday fell on Easter,” said Lazcano, who considers himself a changed man who has rediscovered his religious faith. “There has been a resurrection to my personal being. I’m a spiritual human being.”

For years Lazcano chased Mayweather but was always ignored. He’s grateful that Hatton has chosen him to fight in England.

“It’s a substantially meaningful year,” said Lazcano, 33, who is now trained by Ronnie Shields in Houston. “Ricky Hatton is truly a great warrior. It’s an honor for me because he’s a gentleman and I’m a gentleman as well.”

But the big questions remains: Can Hatton still take a punch?

Chin test

Whenever a boxer is knocked out like Hatton, a man who had never been stopped before in his career, there’s a danger that the chin may be cracked like the front windshield of a racing car. One more meager blow can finish it off.

Previously, Hatton has faced a number of opponents with the ability to end a fight with a knockout. Perhaps the most famous of all was Kostya Tszyu, the Siberian bomber who held the junior welterweight world championship and was considered by many the most feared fighter in the world at the time they met.

It was December, 11, 2004 when Hatton, then the IBF titleholder, engaged with Tszyu the WBA titleholder at M.E.N. Arena in Manchester. Hatton was still considered a question mark while Tszyu was touted as nearly unbeatable. That day changed both their lives.

In that fight Hatton attacked a like a human tornado unconcerned with Tszyu’s vaunted two-fisted knockout power. Many an opponent of the Siberian fighter had ended up on the floor looking up as the referee counted them out. Even New York’s Zab Judah discovered that fact years earlier as he stumbled from rope to rope trying to regain his balance after a Tszyu punch took away his equilibrium.

Hatton sneered at Tszyu’s blows.

For 11 rounds Tszyu tried every trick he could muster. But Hatton stuck to him like a piece of paper blown to a wall during a hurricane. He just wouldn’t come off from under Tszyu’s chin while he rained blows without rest. At the end of the 11th round, though Tszyu was not physically hurt, mentally he was a wreck and called it quits.

Tszyu hasn’t returned to the ring since.

Hatton’s chin was severely tested against Tszyu and several other hard-hitting fighters like Carlos Maussa, Juan Urango, Jose Luis Castillo and Carlos Vilches. It never cracked one bit. But when he moved up to the heavier welterweight division, he was knocked around by Luis Collazo and knocked out by Mayweather.

The boxing world will quickly know if Hatton can take a punch when he meets Lazcano, a tall and lanky fighter with wiry power.

“Juan is a fierce warrior from the U.S.,” said Richard Schaefer, CEO for Golden Boy Promotions, who are co-promoting the event.

Hatton is just as curious as everyone else and harbors a hint of doubt about his own future.

“Everybody knows my last fight ended in my first knockout defeat,” said Hatton. “So it’s very important that I bounce back strong.”

Though Lazcano has 27 knockout wins, he has not knocked out anyone in three years and the last was against Courtney Burton, whose once sturdy chin was softened up by Julio Diaz when they fought in 2004.

It was a strategic choice picking Lazcano, a boxer-puncher.

“Lazcano is my kind of fighter, he’s a good all around fighter,” said Hatton describing his opponent’s tendencies. “He likes to be on the front foot and likes to body punch.”

Against Mayweather, he faced an extremely agile fighter who forced him into a chase that led to a quick left hook to the chin and a knockout loss. That chin is suspect.

“Sometimes a fighter gets knocked out and never gets back again,” said Hatton acknowledging the possibility that he could not be the same fighter as before. “I’m very strong willed and strong minded.”

Lazcano, who once fought in Indio during his first year as a pro, believes his prior failures to win a world title meant it just wasn’t his time.

“It’s a mental thing,” Lazcano says. “I’m ready to enter the promise land.”

In the past two years several fighters out of the Southwest have traveled to Europe as underdogs and returned with world titles. Timothy Bradley did it recently and fighters Steve Luevano and Robert Guerrero also accomplished the feat.

Can Lazcano do it too?

“It just goes to prove it can be done,” acknowledges Lazcano of his fellow Californian’s success. “What do the others have that I don’t have.”

Hatton doesn’t want Lazcano to have his world title.

“He’s a very worthy opponent,” Hatton said. “It should be a fantastic occasion.”

The world will be watching that chin of Hatton’s very carefully.

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