It is a peculiarity of the British psyche that plucky losers are often lavished with a deeper love and affection than those who triumph on the international stage. Until heroic defeat to Carl Thompson, Chris Eubank was one of the most reviled sporting figures of his generation despite a long undefeated record, pristine conditioning and limitless courage.
Frank Bruno, the perennial challenger, grew close to usurping Henry Cooper as the nation’s favourite big man as he battled gamely against the temporary paralysis Smith, Witherspoon and Tyson inflicted. A legion of fans journeyed, nerves jangling, on his voyage to face a prime Iron Mike, even experienced commentator Harry Carpenter engulfed by the moment and yelling on behalf of an emotional nation implored the big, stiff Londoner to “Get in there Frank!” Cooper himself is still best remembered for the ‘ammer he landed on a youthful Cassius Clay despite the resulting defeat and found his endearment to the British public extended by the perceived injustice of his career ending loss to Joe Bugner far more than any of his domestic success.
And both fighters, though leagues below compatriot Lennox Lewis in terms of achievement and ability, remain firmer in the British conscience than the languid former champion. Perhaps it is the nature of humans that gallant underdogs, overachievers, are embraced by a nation that has spent centuries punching above its weight. Modern British pop culture also revels in the failings of the successful and tabloids clamour to illustrate their weaknesses and cheerlead their demise, an unfortunate reflection of British society.
When Ricky Hatton, as the underdog, sent his adoring Manchester public into raptures in the summer of 2005, beating the will out of Kostya Tszyu at the MEN arena, few would believe that 20 months later the palefaced assassin would be rebuffing voices of disquiet over his progress since. Leaving Frank Warren, the oft-criticised promoter of Hatton’s career up to the Tszyu watershed, was meant to lead to ‘fan fights’ and a cementing of his legacy. Despite annexing the WBA Light-Welterweight belt and latterly the WBA Welterweight title in the two bouts since, the chorus of dissenters exasperated by moderate opponents, periods of inactivity and an apparent lack of managerial direction has grown.
Suddenly everyone’s a critic; we Brits love to tear down a winner.
Colombian Juan Urango is next in line and only the soothing balm of Jose Luis Castillo’s appearance as chief support and the prospect of the two brawlers meeting next prevents the mild irritation fans currently feel becoming a full-scale outbreak. The ointment is thinly spread; British boxing fans are tired of the idiom, the ‘next’ fight is the fight.
British boxing fans are demanding of their champions. The American audience seemingly approving of Hatton’s willingness to face a champion on his debut at Welterweight, British fans simply asked who is he and why isn’t Floyd Mayweather or Junior Witter in the opposite corner? Not that the Collazo fight was without lessons. Enforced departure from Hatton’s preferred 13 week camp is not to be repeated nor is the selection of counterpunching southpaws (he was floored and out on his feet against Irish southpaw Eamonn Magee an age ago too). Without this customary advantage Hatton looked repressible, with the zest and discipline required to squeeze his frame into the 140 lb. limit absent he appeared flat and heavy as well.
His return to the IBF Light-Welterweight title isn’t quite a return to the drawing board, but opting for Juan Urango – a come-forward fighter southpaw, with mediocre output and a brief 18 fight resume – is certainly a carefully selected move. A champion, even in these fractured times, is to be respected but the belt’s value is diluted by the fact Hatton vacated it rather than face mandatory challenger Ben Rabah, a fighter derided during Hatton’s brief reign but widely felt to have outscored Urango when they met for the vacant title.
The mesh of styles will suit both far more than their respective struggles with the back foot fighters they faced previously, though Collazo gamely took the fight to Hatton at times. It should be entertaining fare. Hatton also claims to be more focussed on this fight; the legal distractions of his divorce from Frank Warren and the struggle with weight jumping behind him he is presumed to return to his impervious and entertaining best. Paymasters HBO – reports of their satisfaction with Hatton varying depending on the source – will need to begin to see a return on their investment and a renewed belief that not only does Hatton want the marquee fights, but he’s capable of succeeding within them.
Against Urango he will need to utilize his neglected head movement and adopt a more studious judgement of distance and angles if he’s to avoid being drawn into an unnecessary brawl. Urango is an ambitious, muscular foe with a decent crack and though Hatton would still be favored in a toe-to-toe encounter due to his superior technique and hand-speed, he’s looked predictable and one-dimensional since Tszyu – even in knockout victory over Maussa. Thankfully, for those of us who still hope to see Hatton face the Pretty Boy whilst both are still in their prime, Hatton appears to have implicitly acknowledged his recent dip in form. During the obligatory press commitments ahead of Saturday’s contest, Hatton has pointed to his educated performance versus a still competitive Ben Tackie in 2003 to remind doubters, and perhaps himself, that he’s capable of both boxing and fighting his way through head-on hard men.
Tantalising close to a fight with Mexico’s quintessential head-on hard man, Castillo, Hatton will understand that not only does he need to beat Urango to reclaim his IBF crown, but he needs to entertain doing it. Perhaps then British boxing fans will return him to their collective bosom and ‘forgive’ his ongoing success.
The embrace will doubtless be fleeting, lose gamely to Castillo and you may be on to something Ricky.
Look for Hatton to break down the game ‘champion’ around the seventh.