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Monday, May 4, 2009

Heartbroken Hatton lost for words in Las Vegas

The fastest mouth in boxing stayed tightly shut on Monday as Ricky Hatton peered through the fog of his concussion and saw the unwanted spectre of a future outside the ring.

No snappy one-liners. No quickfire claims to an exalted place in the pantheon of British prizefighting. Not after being rendered senseless by Manny Pacquiao and hurried to hospital for brain scans.

The Hitman who feared no man inside the ropes could not confront the reality of his high-octane career approaching its end.

Hatton had spent months in denial after his first defeat, at the hands of Floyd Mayweather Jnr. The referee that night, Joe Cortez, was tortuously rationalised as the culprit, even though Manchester’s pride and joy was outclassed en route to that knockout.

But there is no talking his way out of Saturday night’s two-round slaughter in the MGM Grand Garden Arena, so he said nothing.

Defeat is the loneliest of all the isolated places in the solitary sport of boxing but it is unusual for a leading practitioner not to emerge after a night of combat, win or lose.

Muhammad Ali, Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Prince Naseem Hamed et al came out to face their public after being knocked out.

Hatton could argue Pacquiao’s lightning fists had said it all. Yet by declining to explain himself to the world’s media he effectively refused to speak to the thousands of fans who journeyed here in support of what became his last shot at boxing’s mythical pound-for-pound crown.

Perhaps there is a commercial edge to his silence. Gareth Williams, the lawyer who is chief executive of Hatton Promotions, indicated that the Hitman will at their new state-of-the-art gymnasium in Hyde, Greater Manchester two weeks from now.

But will the world still be listening?

The unspoken message suggests he knows that his fighting days are over but cannot bring himself to admit it.

Thankfully, the medics pronounced his brain free from permanent damage after one of the most profound knockouts in boxing history. The state of his mind is another matter.

He was well enough to host a pool party in the VIP swimming area at the MGM but not ready to discuss the weighty implications of being pounded into oblivion by the Filipino idol who is the greatest fighter in the world today. Hatton will never boast that accolade and the IBO and Ring Magazine belts of his four-year light-welterweight dominance have gone with it.

Of themselves, those titles were marginal but their loss leaves Nottingham’s Carl Froch as Britain’s only current world champion following his dramatic late stoppage of America’s Jermain Taylor in Connecticut the Saturday before the Hitman bit the dust in the Nevada desert.

We must wait to find out exactly how Hatton feels about that, but by the time we do, attention will be turning to David Haye and Amir Khan as they ready themselves to challenge Wladimir Klitschko and Andreas Kotelnik for their respective heavyweight and lightwelter world championships.

Pacquiao has recharged the hard old game with box-office excitement.

Mercifully, unless he commits the folly of ignoring the mother of all warnings he has been given here, boxing leaves Hatton with his faculties apparently intact.


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