The Punch That Ended a Career

By Wrigley Brogan on December 11, 2017
The Punch That Ended a Career
Hatton’s chin was like a rock. His favorite boxer was Roberto Duran. (Wrigley Brogan)

Like many boxers, Hatton is a quiet man, almost shy. He understood his career would not be a long one because of the way he fought…

For eight years I ran the only boxing magazine in the Northwest. Boxing was making one of its small comebacks and new casinos were anxious to stage events. I took a second job to finance the magazine before the Emerald Queen Casino and the Lucky Eagle Casino bought adds to pay for the printing. To give the magazine an international flair (my ego has always been larger than my abilities) I traveled to Britain every year to seek out the hottest prospects.

In 1998 I visited promoter Frank Warren in London. Warren usually had a good idea of the latest prospects, especially if they were his own. Richard Maynard, his assistant, and I sat at a neighborhood pub for a pint of ale. It’s not unusual to see old and new boxing posters on pub walls. This tradition is fading as time passes and old comfortable pubs are being torn down or remodeled, the worn wooden floors where workers once rested their work boots after work being replaced with tile, the beer stained tables clothed in stainless steel or hard plastic. They were still alive in 1998 when people, not CEO’s, roamed the earth and there was nothing more satisfying than a foamy head of beer cascading over a pint glass and forming its own little territorial island on the table while pictures of Bombardier Wells and Jackie Kid Berg looked on from the walls.

Maynard had several suggestions, Mehrdud Takaloo and Anthony Franell. There was another kid he knew, up in Manchester, named Ricky Hatton but he had only had a few fights and was thus unproven. Maynard gave me a press pass for a fight in London that weekend. Only their mothers knew the fighters on the main event, and not even that for the preliminaries. London features many small club fights, many more than in the States. These fights feature concrete floors and walls and it felt like sitting in a crypt. Only the beer was warm. The local photographer and I struck up a conversation and spent most of our time discussing photographic techniques. He desperately wanted to come to the U.S where big money could be made for a fight photographer. People around the world are often misled by our propaganda of easy money. Tom Casino is the only boxing photographer I know who actually earns a living. I met a photographer in Russia who learned that photographers like Ansel Adams earned thousands and thousands of dollars from his prints. He tried to give me a box of really bad photographs to sell in the States and send the money back in a giant shipping container. Most boxing photographers will not earn enough money in their lifetimes to pay for their cameras.

Brits enjoy the skills of boxing rather than the violence. Sometimes I think they would be just as happy arming their boxers with fly swatters rather than gloves. Exceptional skills are always great to watch and British fighters have plenty. Rigondeaux, although not a Brit, is one of my favorite boxers. Still, the Brits have mastered the gasless punch to the point of somnambulance. Hitting someone with force is as foreign to them as tea without milk. If one is looking for physical damage one must attend a soccer match. Head smashing is a specialty, not on the field but in the stands. I was anxious to be on my way to see Takaloo, Farnell, and Hatton.

Takaloo and Farnell were both disappointments. They were not without skills—European skills. Both stand-up fighters they were bound to make a dent in Britain but would not be rated as more than decent club fighters in the U.S. They lacked excitement to the point of boredom. Having scratched them off the list, I caught a train to Manchester.

British train stations are wonderfully drab affairs dripping with moisture and moss. Silent human statues stand in long coats with umbrellas or dimly colored dresses on the platforms waiting for trains that are seldom on time. People accept the inaccuracy with grace and are accustomed to inefficiency in a country that has yet to build a reliable vehicle. Except for the rumble of trains little noise hangs on the air. Britain is a mute world. People are not unfriendly, just quiet. They do not speak easily to strangers, or even with friends. Lifetime neighbors are still addressed as “Mr.” They are as stiff as their fighters. Have a word with them and they brighten up considerably, often to the point you wish you had kept your mouth shut. It’s a country of reclusive odd-balls. Offer a simple “hello” and you might receive a response from someone anxious to give you the history of yellow sea worms and an invitation to visit his collection of young wrigglers. They are friendly and helpful and are grateful to have their shells of isolation cracked. They expect Americans to be intrusive and are welcome when we are. They often have a look of pity about them for our lack of convention.

Ray, Hatton’s father, picked me up and drove me to the gym. He is a small, tough, affable man who owns a carpet store and had high hopes for his son. Streets in British cities are a tangle of string making no sense to an American. It’s as if the engineers were in a contest of madness when the towns were laid out. To add to the confusion the names of the streets change every block or two.

Manchester is a drab working-class town filled with drab buildings and a crowded sense of rage. Rough men in a rough town equal a championship soccer team: Manchester United. Ray Hatton once played for them. Ricky Hatton is the team’s biggest supporter. In return the entire town is his biggest supporter.

The gym was typically cold, the kind of cold that creeps into your bones but doesn’t not bother an Englishman. No one had ever heard of my Northwest boxing newspaper but were kind enough to say nothing. If nothing else, the British are polite. We shook hands and he said he was happy for the visit. Hatton was just getting ready to spar. Billy Graham, his trainer, and I talked. Graham was confident of Hatton’s eventual success and he offered a glowing report. Such talk is best ignored. Trainers are essentially myopic, subjective, and they all feel they are working with a future champion.

The sparring was unimpressive. Hatton was a bit slow and he accepted too many avoidable shots. That is irrelevant. He had a rock solid chin and his overwhelming heart and determination were evident. His energy rumbled about the gym. Anyone can be taught the skills of boxing. There are no heart transplants in boxing. A man is born with a heart, or not. I knew from that moment of poor sparring that he would eventually become a champion. He would not, however, last long. The punishment he would take would probably leave him with a short career.

We sat on the ring apron and talked. Like many boxers, Hatton is a quiet man, almost shy. He understood his career would not be a long one because of the way he fought. Because his chin was like a rock he was not worried. His favorite boxer is Roberto Duran and he likes fighters, not dancers.

Upon my return home I was quick to tout the next champion of the world. I seldom produced a paper without mentioning him. He rose quickly in the ranks before winning his first minor title against Tommy Peacock followed by another small title against Dillon Carew. The titles flowed in like a rip tide. I traveled to Manchester several times for fights.

After the fights we usually visited a local pub. Hatton never had a large contingent of hangers-on, just a small group of childhood friends. He was usually the quietest one in the pub and he was happy to let his friends expend their energy through laughter and good cheer.

I was quick to purchase a ticket in 2005 for his greatest fight against Kostya Tszyu. Tickets for the fight at M.E.N. Arena sold out almost immediately. You would not have known by the empty arena. You could not walk anywhere in the halls for the knots of fans all guzzling beer and talking boxing, but the seats in the arena remained empty. A.J. Liebling said it best in his coverage of the Marciano/Moore fight. Advance ticket sales had been so good that that the promoter “had decided to replace the usual card of bad preliminary fights with some not worth watching at all…”

When the main event was announced a title wave of flesh flowed into the arena to witness one of the greatest fights in English history as Hatton took apart the great Tszyu and made him to quit on his stool.

The crowd erupted with such energy at the win that the night lit like a shell burst. The arena seemed to swirl off into space and for an instant the sun again refused to set on the British Empire. The streets warmed as the crowd streamed onto the sidewalks waving Hatton banners and flags. The prostitutes (a legal profession in Britain) were more radiant and beautiful than ever as they stood smiling behind their umbrellas, elated with the win and the possible windfall of generous cash coming their way.

Hatton eventually signed with Banner Promotions. I had been doing some work for them and had a great opportunity to continue following his career. He remained the quiet, humble man he had always been but problems, as often happens with success, had started to creep in. His entourage remained small, usually his mother, Carol—an energetic and happy woman—his father, and his long-time friend Paul Speak.

We sat together in the restaurant before the Luis Collazo fight in Boston. Hatton was more quiet than usual. He had a lot on his mind. He was about to drop his trainer Billy Graham and end up in a lawsuit. He soon became estranged from his parents.

In a flash knockdown 10 seconds into round 1 Collazo hit the canvas and jumped back up. It was a lucky break for Hatton. Hatton was always open to left hoots. Collazo knew that. The fight was hard and brutal with Hatton’s head battered about like a speed bag. In the 12th round Collazo smashed him in the head with such a left blow that Hatton’s legs almost crumpled. He wobbled about. It was the punch that effectively ended his career. The early knockdown won him the fight. Man, people were disappointed at the decision.

No one knew it at the time but Hatton’s chin had been cracked. He had another 7 fights left in him, in fact, his biggest fights. He lost 3 of them. After the punch in the Collazo fight he could no longer take a punch. In his next fight, whenever Juan Urango clocked him his knees buckled. In boxing there is a strange connection between the chin and the knees. He managed to stay up but his knees gave him away. In the past a lack of defense made no difference. Now it meant everything.

Next up was Jose Luis Castillo. Fortunately Castillo had no incentive to fight. I was photographing him during a light workout prior to the fight when he was served with papers from his wife, or ex-wife, freezing his purse. He would be fighting for free. He gave a decent account of himself for the first 3 rounds of the fight and again Hatton’s knees buckled every time he caught a punch, especially a left. Castillo went down in the 4th. He sat on his knees and could have gotten up but probably thought, why bother? A good thing for Hatton. Castillo hits pretty hard and he had a decent chance of winning the fight.

Hatton now had his chance to shine against Floyd Mayweather Jr. Both the money, 10 million, and the glory were there. Hatton was set to make history and be the first man to beat the Money Man. He was too anxious and, although this is not often a fault, too energetic. His extra hard punches often went astray. His fragile chin gave him away and a left put him down. He managed to rise before Mayweather finished the deal with another left. The 10 million was little consolation to Hatton. His pride was at stake. He started drinking and let his weight balloon. At a time when he needed his family and friends he was at odds with most of them.

His troubles shown on his face when he stepped into the ring against Juan Lazcano. As usual all Manchester was there to cheer him on. At one time Lazcano would have been no trouble. Not this night. Although Hatton won the unanimous decision, it was not without difficulty. Lazcano rocked him hard in the 8th and the 10th and he almost went down. His chin, one of his greatest assists, simply was not there.

Even Paulie Malignaggi, a great technician with the punch of a flea-scratching dog, rocked him before Hatton put him away. His difficulties were obvious and his stock dropped. He received just 8 million for his fight against Manny Pacquiao.

Of course Pacquiao made quick work of him. Hatton went down so hard there was some doubt he would ever rise. He was hurt and hurt seriously, not just physically but mentally.

For the next 3 years he moped about. His weight swelled like a lead balloon. His mate said he needed to be in the gym every day but he would not go. He finally decided to make the mistake most former champions make—a comeback, not because he needed the money but because he wanted to prove something to himself.

He had to lose almost 80 pounds to make the weight for the fight against 32-1-0 Vyacheslav Senchenko. Perhaps a tune-up fight would have been in order but Hatton wanted to fight the best. Hatton looked sluggish and rusty and started to tire quickly before Senchenko but him away in the 9th with a body shot. His chin, his body, and his career, were gone.

It was not the last 5 fights that marked Hatton’s demise as a great fighter. It was a single punch from Luis Collazo, the punch that stole his chin. For a fighter with no defensive skills, a chin is essential. He eventually made peace with himself and retired still packing his enormous heart. He is presently in the gym almost every day working with new prospects and promoting fights. He is devoted to being the best father and family man he can be. With a heart like his, how can he fail?

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  1. andrew 10:39am, 12/16/2017

    Good read but way too long.

  2. Pete The Sneak 05:04am, 12/12/2017

    Another killer article from Boxing.com’s best writer. Totally enjoyed this one as well. Keep em coming Mr. Brogan… Peace.

  3. The Beast of Bodmin 12:28pm, 12/11/2017

    An enjoyable article about one of my favourite boxers. I like the writer’s style even though some of the stereotypes are decades out of date!
    But as someone who has spent some time around Ricky Hatton he really should know that Hatton is a massive Manchester CITY fan, not their arch rivals Manchester United.
    Being thought of as a red would buckle poor old Ricky’s knees faster than even Manny could.

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