It was around 110 degrees in Las Vegas when Ricky Hatton and Jose Luis Castillo entered the ring for their much-anticipated clash at the Thomas and Mack Center.
Not long after that, Hatton put the real heat on and didn’t let up until he had completely overrun his respected opponent with a fierce inside attack, for a knockout at 2:16 of the fourth frame.
“I’m known for being exciting,” said Hatton. “I was a bit more at me best tonight. The bigger the test, the better I do.”
A screaming swarm of around 14,000 gathered for a first rate, HBO televised showcase. It seemed like over half the crowd had traveled from England to support their Manchester man. The fight may not have been the two way classic most fans hoped for, but it was definitely a big night for Hatton and the 140-pound division.
The main questions coming in concerned whether or not the long-campaigning Mexican hero Castillo had yet another huge effort left in him. He didn’t tonight.
For Hatton, it was a matter of trying to regain the recently lost momentum that had put him at the forefront of the game’s future leaders. He sure as hell regained it.
It was a sign of respect for Castillo’s considerable resume that the younger, undefeated Brit, with far less perceived fistic mileage, was less than a two to one favorite in many sports books. Less conservative, but probably more realistic odds should have favored Hatton around three to one.
Still, based on the fighters’ respective performances during their January co-starring previews, Hatton against Juan Urango and Castillo versus Herman Ngoudjo, each principal had a legitimate shot to win big.
Once the bell rang, Hatton began looking like a 100-1 lock.
They immediately went into mauling mode, without much landing from either man in the opening rounds. Hatton gained a lead based on a few straight uppercuts and increased hooks that didn’t bother Castillo but set a pace that Hatton built upon well.
Castillo found the range better inside and gave his fans some hope with a one-two in the third, but Hatton stayed much busier. The round ended with solid action and roused the arena.
Things went from bad to worse to over for Castillo in the fourth frame. Referee Joe Cortez deducted a point from Castillo for some of the few low blows Hatton complained about. Any debate over subsequent shots became academic as Hatton sank a leather spear beneath the ribs that spun and sank Castillo to a knee.
Castillo remained bent to the Nemiroff sign on the canvas as Cortez tolled the anti-climactic count.
A chagrined Castillo offered Hatton congratulations and no excuses.
Hatton’s face showed some redness, but he was never really stung. He remained diplomatic when asked if he felt Castillo gave a sub-par effort.
“I trained for the best of Castillo and it showed,” said Hatton, now 43-0 (31). “I’d like to think I should get a pat on the back.”
There was speculation that the winner of tonight’s encounter would be in line for consideration regarding Floyd Mayweather Jr’s dance card, should Pretty Boy decide to keep throwing as a pro, currently another pick ‘em bet.
That seemed unlikely with Castillo’s been there, done that baggage with Mayweather, but Hatton may be another matter.
Mayweather may dismiss Hatton as a threat, and the best way for Mayweather to clean up on the risk reward factor would be to fight in England. Perhaps that’s the only type challenge to lure a proud but discontent champion like Mayweather to continue his campaign across the pond.
For now, it was time for the VIPs to down a couple more slugs on the UNLV campus before heading back to the nearby neon.
For the thousands of Hatton’s visiting fans, it was time for more casino playgrounds.
For Castillo’s loyalists, it’s likely the end of an era. Though Castillo (55-8-1 (47) will likely fight again, this may be his last big stage.
Either way, the Strip beckons with whatever yaz needs. Hatton and Castillo added to the regenerating glow. It wasn’t a brawl for the ages, but it was a top-notch butt kicking. And some fools used to say Vegas would be over soon, just like they underestimated boxing.
“We’re two of the best pound for pound fighters in the world,” said Hatton before the fight. “You’d have to expect a great battle, and a great night, wouldn’t you?”
The battle wasn’t great, but Hatton certainly was. So was his latest night in Vegas.
Now that Hatton has successfully re-established himself as one of the game's most pleasing performers, he can attempt to duplicate the type of rumbling run that led to his Fighter of the Year status during 2005.
Actually, Hatton has carried out his plan for ' 07 exactly as he previously spoke about. As the season began he targeted Urango to start the year, with hopes of the Castillo summer smash, then a grand finale against Mayweather, possibly in November.
So far, so jolly good. Right now the doubtful future of Hatton's proposed trifecta may still be in Mayweather's hands, but the goal is not out of reach. Two out of three definitely ain't bad for where Hatton stands right now.
If Mayweather remains unavailable, Hatton still has plenty of potentially lucrative options like Miguel Cotto or Paulie Malignaggi. A newcomer like Demetrius Hopkins could prove interesting.
If an agreeable catch-weight could entice Manny Pacquiao, Hatton could be looking at one of the biggest globally proportioned fights of the decade.