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Fighting for respect

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

LAS VEGAS – The 105-degree temperature outside felt balmy compared to the steamy conditions inside the cramped Zuffa Gym. Ricky Hatton, wearing a long sleeve shirt and long pants and oblivious to a pack of suffering journalists waiting more than two hours to speak to him, pushed himself through a rigorous workout.

When he finally removed his heavy top, he revealed a chiseled abdomen, at least temporarily shelving the "Ricky Fatton" nickname he derisively was given for often reporting to training camp more than 50 pounds over the 140-pound super lightweight limit.

This wasn't the fun-and-games Hatton who repeatedly talked of erections and hitting the night clubs in the days before his Las Vegas debut in January against Juan Urango. In his place was a grim-faced, 28-year-old determined, once and for all, to cement his legacy as one of the game's great fighters.

He's 42-0 and has held world titles at super lightweight and welterweight, which is usually the kind of record that gets them dusting off mantel space for you in the Hall of Fame.

But despite the gaudy record, despite the 2005 Fighter of the Year award, despite the Ring Magazine championship, there are plenty of questions about the usually affable Brit.

His record is littered with more than the usual collection of C-level opposition and he's yet to beat an A-level fighter in his prime. He's struggled in his last two outings, against Luis Collazo and the hardly fearsome Urango, and hasn't been the destroyer he had appeared to be in his June 4, 2005, demolition of Kostya Tszyu.

It is that win over Tszyu, clearly the biggest scalp on his belt, that has made him a slightly better than 2-to-1 favorite in Saturday's HBO-televised bout over Jose Luis Castillo at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center.

It's a little bit of revisionist history to note that Tszyu was nearly 36 and not nearly the fighter he was in 2001, when he knocked out Zab Judah in Las Vegas to win the undisputed super lightweight belt.

Hatton bristled at the thought, though, that the Tszyu he defeated was anything less than one of the best three or four fighters in the world at the time.

"I don't think Sharmba Mitchell would agree with that statement," Hatton said stiffly, noting that Tszyu had easily dispatched the former world champion in just three rounds only seven months before they met. "Nobody at the time was saying anything like that about Kostya. Even the way he fought against me, he proved he was still classic."

Hatton, though, can't completely shake the aura of a protected fighter that has trailed him for years. He went on at length Tuesday about his desire to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr., who is generally regarded as the world's top pound-for-pound boxer.

It was little different than what he's said since defeating Tszyu on June 4, 2005, in his hometown of Manchester, England.

But not long after the Tszyu fight, a Top Rank executive, hearing Hatton's public comments, sent an e-mail to a Hatton representative hoping to arrange a match.

Mayweather was at the time still promoted by Top Rank and eager to fight the highly popular Hatton. The terse response – "Mayweather is not on Rick's radar at this time" – made Hatton look disingenuous, at best, for calling out a fighter his representative said he had no interest in meeting.

Whether Hatton was aware of the signals his representatives were sending out is debatable, but this much is certain: Hatton is determined to right past wrongs, perceived and real.

If a 42-0 record with 30 knockouts and becoming one of the biggest draws in the game's recent history isn't enough, he'll do more.

"There's not much more I can do other than become recognized as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but that's what I'm going to do, then," Hatton said. "Right now, it's all about fights that will leave a legacy.

"I want to be remembered as one of the best there's ever been. I'm not going to sit on my laurels. And to get that kind of recognition means fighting guys like Castillo, unification fights, getting it on with Floyd. So I am making it clear to everybody, that's all I'm interested in for the rest of my career, those kinds of bouts."

A decisive victory over Castillo would go a long way, but not completely, toward erasing the doubts that still linger around Hatton. Castillo at his peak was a brutally tough fighter who many believe defeated Mayweather in their first bout in 2002.

But Castillo is now 33 and a veteran of 63 fights, most of them the kind of pitched battles that slowly but surely sap the strength from a fighter. The problem Hatton faces is that even if he routs Castillo, there are going to be at least a few who will assess the win with an asterisk, as in, "Yeah, but it was against a Castillo on the downside."

Hatton's trainer, Billy Graham, angrily dismisses such a notion and, indeed, despite a less-than-stellar performance against Herman Ngoudjo in January, there is little evidence in his record to suggest that Castillo is anything but one of the world's elite fighters.

Since losing clearly to Mayweather in their Dec. 7, 2002, rematch, Castillo has gone 9-1 and has notched high-profile wins over the late Diego Corrales, Joel Casamayor, Juan Lazcano and Julio Diaz, a who's who of the era's best lightweights.

The only loss was to Corrales in what arguably was the greatest fight ever, when Corrales arose after two 10th-round knockdowns following nine brutally tough rounds and rallied to stop Castillo. Hatton said he believes that he and Castillo may be destined to put on a similar performance.

"You look at the way Jose fights, never taking a backward step, throwing real sharp, hard shots, and you look at the way I fight, and how can you think it will be anything but a classic?" Hatton said. "That's a fight. It's the kind of fight that puts emotion and passion into people. When is the last time you saw Mayweather in a fight like that? He never brings me to the edge of my seat when he fights.

"I don't want to be remembered as a terribly talented guy who bored everyone to tears. I want to be remembered as a great fighter who made great fights and who gave you your money's worth every time."

He's 28 and it would seem to be odd for a guy in his prime to be so obsessed with his legacy. But if Ricky Hatton is serious about writing the text for that Hall of Fame bust, now is the perfect time to start.