BOSTON – As the posses of both combatants milled about expectantly in the ring, Luis Collazo’s promoter Don King must have gotten a heads-up on the verdict. As Michael Buffer picked up his microphone to announce the result, The World’s Greatest Promoter was heard to mutter “Here we go. Here comes the trickery. John Quincy Adams is spinning in his grave.”

HBO might want to rethink its long-term financial arrangement with Ricky Hatton. On a night the British sensation was supposed to take America by storm, he squeaked out of the TD NorthBank Garden with a narrow but unanimous decision to lift Collazo’s WBA welterweight title.

Many had expected Hatton to wipe up the floor with the Brooklyn champion, and in the early going it appeared he might do just that. The bout wasn’t ten seconds old before Collazo was on the floor after Hatton caught him going backwards and nailed him with a left hook.

Hatton rode the early knockdown to pile up a big early lead, winning the first three rounds, but even then Collazo was doing his share of damage. Before the opening round was over, Hatton was sporting a welt on his right cheekbone.

Near the end of the second Hatton landed a right that lifted Collazo off the floor, and by the third referee John Zablocki had to lead Collazo over to be examined by Dr. Mark Durkin, the ringside physician, to have a cut high on his forehead examined.

By the third, though, Collazo was coming on, punching in combinations off his jab, and as the fight settled into a rhythm of its own it became increasingly apparent that Hatton was having trouble with Collazo’s southpaw attack.

Collazo had to pay another visit to the doctor in the fifth, but by the ninth Hatton was showing even more wear and tear. A nasty hematoma had sprung up on his left cheek, the result of all those Collazo right hands he couldn’t get away from, and his left eye appeared to be closing over the latter third of the fight.

Collazo inexplicably took the 11th round off, but then came on in to dominate the final stanza, a round in which he had Hatton reeling a couple of times.

It was an unexpectedly strong performance from the champion, and one that Collazo thought might have carried the day, but when the scorecards came back, Paul Driscoll and Don O’Neil both had it 115-112 and Leo Gerstel 114-113, all for Hatton.

The Sweet Science card also had it 114-113 Hatton, with the knockdown making the difference. Opinion was divided along press row, with most of the unofficial tallies favoring neither man by more than a point or two. (Ironically, most of the British writers felt Collazo had won.)

“I thought a guy had to do more than he did to take my title,” said a disappointed Collazo. “He was out on his feet in the 12th round.”

“He was stronger than I thought he’d be,” said an obviously relieved Hatton. “I felt stronger at this weight. He never wobbled me, but I took some heavy blows.”

Hatton, who said it had been “four or five years” since he had fought a southpaw, conceded that he was troubled by the style.

“This was my first fight at 147, and it was against a world champion,” said Hatton. “I’ll get better.”

Collazo claimed that the knockdown had come after Zablocki had ordered the fighters to break.

“I took a step backwards, and he threw a punch,” said Collazo. “I thought the referee should have done a better job controlling his holding.”

“They were both holding a lot,” Zablocki said later.

“The only thing you can do is pull them apart and let them keep fighting.”

Hatton was the winner on the scorecards, but his face looked like it had run into the business end of a meat tenderizer. As the SKY television crew from Britain prepared to interview the fighters in the ring, analyst Jim Watt suggested “ask them separately if they want a rematch.”

Collazo did. Hatton didn’t. Nuff said?

His new championship gave Hatton (41-0) a title in a second weight class. He had won the IBF 140-pound belt from Kostya Tszyu last year, and added Carlos Maussa’s WBA crown in November. (He had previously owned the all-but-irrelevant WBU title.)

But on Saturday night Hatton didn’t sound certain that he wanted to even remain a welterweight. Having given up his previous titles to take this fight, he might be considering returning to the more comfortable division.

“Whichever offers the most money,” was the way Hatton put it. “If it’s worth more to fight at 147, I’ll fight at 147. If it’s 140, I’ll fight at 140.”

Collazo (26-2) surrendered the championship he had captured 13 months earlier by winning a split decision over Jose Rivera in the latter’s Worcester hometown. It was the second pro loss for the former champ, who early in his career had been stopped by Edwin Cassiani in Las Vegas.

In the other title bout on the card, Ohioan Eric Aiken (16-4) won the IBF featherweight championship when Rhode Island referee Charlie Dwyer disqualified Brazilian champion Valdemir Pereira in the eighth round for repeated low blows.

Both fighters relied heavily on body attacks, and Aiken was given a respite (and Pereira a warning) after the Brazilian strayed low with a left to the body in the third.

Aiken came back to floor Pereira in each of the next two rounds (with a left hook in the fourth and a right to the body a round later), but Pereria battled back so ferociously over the final minute that he not only averted a two-point round on two judges’ cards (as well as ours) but may well have made it the leader in the clubhouse for Round of the Year.

Having already been cautioned, Pereira put himself in jeopardy with low blows in each of the next two rounds, and was penalized by Dwyer on both occasions. When the Brazilian went south of the border yet again in the eighth, Aiken (cleverly, we thought) reacted as if he’d taken a pitchfork to the scrotum, leading the referee, somewhat to the displeasure of the audience, to wave it off and send the Brazilian off the pitch in disgrace.

The punch was unquestionably below the beltline, but hardly in a lethal spot, and Pereira accused Dwyer of having been taken in by Aiken’s seemingly delayed swoon.

“It’s a shame the referee didn’t know what he was doing,” complained Pereira through an interpreter afterward. “(Aiken) was wearing his cup up high, and (the final low blow) was not intentional.

“Look at the crowd,” he nodded to the unhappy audience. “They know who the winner is.”

Pereira wasn’t exactly dominating, even absent the low blows. At the time of the stoppage, Don Fitzgerald had Aiken ahead 66-63, while judges Lawrence Leyton and Bob Kaprelian had it even at 65-all. (The Sweet Science had Aiken up 67-63.)

“We knew he was a dirty fighter,” said Aiken, who took the title fight on nine days’ notice after original challenger Esham Pickering withdrew with a rib injury. “I had to compose myself, because emotions can take over in a fight like this.”

The loss was the first of his career for Pereira, now 24-1.

Matthew Hatton (28-2-1), the new welterweight champion’s brother, was hard-pressed to win a split decision over Jose Medina (9-7) of Tilton, N.H. Judges Ken Volovek (77-74) and John Mafdis (78-73) favored the Englishman, while Ray DeLicio had Medina ahead 78-74.

There were no knockdowns, but Hatton landed a fourth-round left hook that nearly sent Medina’s mouthpiece into orbit. Once referee Mike Marvelle called ‘time,’ a search party had to be dispatched, and action was held up for over a minute until the missing accessory was located.

Despite knocking down Philadelphian Lamont Cooper in both the second and third rounds, Lowell cruiserweight Joe McCreedy was extended the distance for the first time as a pro. McCreedy (5-0) won 40-34 on all three scorecards. Cooper is now 5-2-1.

New Hampshire junior middleweight Jason LeHoullier stayed unbeaten at 20-0, carving out a unanimous decision over Philadelphia journeyman Michael Melvin (7-6-3). Although LeHoullier won by 60-54 on all three cards, he got a fright when the result was initially announced by Mike Williams as a shutout for Melvin.

Despite earlier predictions of a sellout for Hatton’s first-ever title fight in America, attendance was 7,915 – barely a third of a house.

Although the Boston Garden in its various incarnations has a long and storied boxing history, Saturday night’s was the first major show – and the first-ever world title fight – in the building formerly known as the FleetCenter, and that the hosts were on unfamiliar turf was evident throughout the week.

Several members of the press (along with a couple of undercard fighters desperately waving their paperwork) were denied access to Friday’s weigh-in by a heavy-handed Garden security goon, who threatened the interlopers with arrest on the grounds that the legally-public event was a “private” affair.

Moreover, Garden officials allowed themselves to be conned by the promoters into advertising an appearance by locally-based Irish heavyweight Kevin McBride – even though McBride had been injured in an April 1 fight and had never, ever been scheduled to be on the Boston card. (Had be been healthy and fit, the Clones Colossus would instead have fought on the previous weekend’s Jose Rivera-Terra Garcia card in Worcester.)

But McBride commands a substantial following in his adopted New England, and even though the Irishmen’s handlers had announced that he wouldn’t be fighting way back on April 10, a recording on the Garden switchboard continued to duplicitously proclaim his presence on the Hatton bill right up until the night of the fight.

Exactly how many McBride supporters paid their way in expecting to see Mike Tyson’s final conqueror remains unlearned, but it’s doubtful that the Irishman’s disappointed fans received refunds once the truth emerged. At best it was a shameful piece of false advertising deserving of condemnation from the Massachusetts Boxing Commission.

Although McBride wasn’t scheduled to fight on the Hatton-Collazo card, another Irish heavyweight, James Clancy, was. Clancy’s fight against Boston Police Officer (and former New England Golden Gloves heavyweight champion) Tyrone Smith was a casualty (along with three other undercard bouts) when four of the five fights that did take place went the distance.

A bit of foresight might have suggested that it might have been prudent to commence a nine-bout card a bit before 8 pm, but with midnight approaching and overtime about to kick in, it probably did make economic sense to pay the eight fighters off and send them home rather than pay the freight to keep the building open, but it was particularly disappointing to Clancy, whose fans had purchased nearly $17,000 worth of tickets for the show.

Pellulo claimed that the decision to cut and run had been the Commission’s, but a Commission official told The Sweet Science that it had been the promoter himself who pulled the plug.

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TD BANKNORTH GARDEN, BOSTON
MAY 13, 2006

WELTERWEIGHTS: Ricky Hatton, 147, Manchester, England dec. Luis Collazo, 147, Brooklyn, NY (12) (Wins WBA title)

FEATHERWEIGHTS: Eric Aiken, 125, Marysville, Ohio DQ over Valdemir Pereira, 126, Sao Caetano Du Bol, Brazil (8) (Wins IBF title)

CRUISERWEIGHTS: Joel McCreedy, 176, Lowell dec. Lamont Cooper, 180, Philadelphia (4)

JUNIOR MIDDLEWEIGHTS: Jason LeHoullier, 153, W. Nottingham, NH dec. Michael Melvin, 157, Philadelphia (6)

Matthew Hilton, 150, Manchester, England dec. Jose Medina, 151, Tilton, NH (8)