This Graham a different type of evengelist

This Graham a different type of evengelist
By Thomas Gerbasi/Maxboxing.com
December 4, 2007

Days before the last big fight of 2007, with a sold-out crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and thousands more on pay-per-view waiting to see his fighter, Ricky Hatton, take on Floyd Mayweather, Billy Graham has little to complain about.

Sure, he’s about to match wits against perhaps the greatest boxer of this era with his plucky underdog from Manchester, but Hatton didn’t put together 43 wins in 43 fights by accident, and Graham’s other charges - Matthew Hatton (32-3-1, 13 KOs) and Matty Macklin (20-2, 16 KOs) – are doing pretty well for themselves, so there are worse shoes to be in than those of the former pro middleweight turned trainer.

But if the 52-year old Graham does have any regrets, it’s that he has never had the chance to work in the arena known as the ‘Mecca of Boxing’, Madison Square Garden. It’s even been a running joke of sorts around his Phoenix Gym that after missing Hatton’s second pro fight there against Robert Alvarez in 1997, and having Macklin’s bout at MSG in 2006 aborted at the 11th hour when an opponent failed to make weight, that Graham is just jinxed to never corner a fighter in the arena where his hero Muhammad Ali once held court.

That’s okay though. If he can get Hatton past Mayweather and get the two Matthews into position to challenge for world titles, then it would be safe to say that there would be nothing left to accomplish for the fiercely loyal Graham, who has turned down work with fighter after fighter (some high profile) to stay in Manchester and focus on the only three members of his stable. In fact, a camp insider told MaxBoxing that Graham has “explicitly” told the trio that when their careers are done, so is his.

It’s a stark contrast to trainers who seemingly have a cast of thousands under their wings, with individual time and attention being a rare exception, and not the rule. That’s not the case with Graham, and to see his small group escape the hardest game with some money and their wits intact would be the perfect happy ending for this trainer, who has made enough money in the game (coupled with the weak US dollar) to buy an expansive plot of land in Georgia where he can experience the wildlife the South has to offer and enjoy the fruits of his labors and put a hard-knock life in his rear-view mirror.

And while the bright lights of Vegas and being immortalized on HBO’s 24/7 show over the last three weeks has been nice, Graham isn’t Hollywood and he didn’t luck into any of the situations he’s in now. He’s come up the hard way, and it shows on his face and on his tattooed arms, though when you sit down with him, he’s a no-nonsense but affable sort that epitomizes all the good qualities of what a Runyonesque boxing character should be. Maybe that’s why his Phoenix Gym is open to the public and inhabited by fighters who leave their egos at the door. Maybe that’s why despite what the oddsmakers say, the sentimental favorite on Saturday is the Everyman, Ricky Hatton. Frankly, you can’t picture Graham having things any other way.

Yet this is no epitaph, no ‘nice to know ya, hope you leave Vegas with all your teeth’ type sendoff. On the contrary, Graham brings Hatton into this fight with just one goal – to win. Not to get the big payday and run or keep the fight close enough to warrant a rematch or another big fight, but to leave Vegas with his fighter’s hand raised. Graham has told his camp for years that he sees something in Mayweather that Hatton can exploit and use to his advantage on fight night. Even when this scribe traveled to the Phoenix Gym in April as Hatton was preparing for his junior welterweight bout against Jose Luis Castillo, I asked him whether he would bring his fighter back to 147 pounds for the likes of Miguel Cotto or Shane Mosley.

“No,” he said without hesitation. “We’ll only go back up to 147 for one fight – Mayweather.”

That’s a gutsy call, typical of someone from working-class Manchester. But even though Graham sees his fighter winning, unlike Team Mayweather, he doesn’t disparage his foe in the process.

“I think Floyd Mayweather is an absolutely fantastic fighter,” said Graham. “Defensively, he's breathtaking. His hands are unbelievably fast and he's a great fighter. I've got no argument to say that he shouldn't be regarded as the best pound for pound fighter on the planet. I'd make myself look stupid. He's extremely gifted, but that's why we want to fight. My fighter will beat him. Ricky Hatton will beat him.”

They’ll get their chance on Saturday, in a fight where most conventional wisdom points to a repeat – or worse – of Hatton’s last welterweight bout, a lackluster 12 round decision win over Luis Collazo in May of 2006.

“If anybody is judging Ricky Hatton by the Collazo fight, wow, that is fantastic,” said Graham on a recent media teleconference. “Because I've got inside information and I know exactly what happened in that fight. I know the exact reasons for that fight. He put on far too much weight from the scales and to the actual contest, which made him sluggish. He was carrying too much surplus weight in. I know all of the reasons for it. Plus, he was fighting a big southpaw. But the reason is mostly because he bulked up wrong. But, that's the last fight he's ever had that silly fried breakfast and junk food on the day of the fight.”

Since escaping the Collazo fight with a win, Hatton again was less than impressive when he beat Juan Urango back at 140 pounds, but the four round blowout of Castillo brought some fans back to the bandwagon. But even the staunchest Hatton supporters have to admit that beating Mayweather may be an uphill battle. Graham likes that type of talk, as well as being the heavy underdog in the media and with oddsmakers.

“Well, to be honest with you it just takes an awful lot of pressure off me,” he said. “Victory will be sweeter when Ricky beats him, so I don't let it bother me so much. But, I think some of the stuff that has been said, if I had written it, all of a sudden I'd be embarrassed at my lack of knowledge of boxing.”

Lack of boxing knowledge is something that Graham will never be accused of – just look at his track record. But it takes more than knowledge to train a fighter properly. It takes insight, an ability to read the person you’re working with, loyalty, trust, and compassion. Then again, it doesn’t hurt to have a fighter with the talent of a Ricky Hatton either, and it’s someone like the ‘Hitman’ who makes everything come together for a trainer like Graham. It’s the same thing when it comes to Saturday night, as Hatton will need more than one weapon to turn back ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd.

“It's going to be all of the things put together,” said Graham. “Strength and endurance is always going to come into it. But it's the skill factor as well. The skill factor is massive, tactically it's massive. You can't just be strong or you can't just be a clever boxer. You've got to the two. You've got to have all of the ingredients.”

And the right cook stirring the pot.

For 24/7 boxing coverage, go to Maxboxing.com.

Updated on Tuesday, Dec 4, 2007 1:36 pm, EST

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