MANCHESTER, England – Ricky Hatton stated in the ring at the City of Manchester Stadium that his fans are the best pound-for-pound supporters on the planet.
Sadly though, for the loyal mob of 58,000 who came to see England’s favorite fighter defeat Juan Lazcano on Saturday night, their man can no longer be considered one of the sport’s elite.
Hatton put on a tremendous show heading into his first competition since being pounded by the finessed fists of Floyd Mayweather Jr. amid the dazzling lights of Las Vegas in December.
He dressed up in a hilarious "fat suit" for his emergence from the tunnel – a dig at critics who have chided him for his propensity to balloon in weight between bouts – and was greeted with deafening cheers and a theme song dedicated in his honor.
Although Hatton was too good for Lazcano, with his hand speed and footwork a cut above his opponent’s, there were some worrying warning signs. Lazcano landed big blows in the eighth and 10th rounds and had Hatton rocking, which even in his clouded state dredged up painful memories of when Mayweather clubbed him with a check-hook and sent him headfirst into the corner post.
Hatton’s performance was ordinary, despite winning by a large and unanimous points margin. Even so, his paymasters at Golden Boy are no less interested than they were before he got into a muddle against a puffed-up lightweight in Lazcano, who had been competitively idle for 15 months.
The reason for that is Hatton, alongside the Golden Boy himself, Oscar De La Hoya, has the capacity to draw an audience like few others. Even if Hatton is washed up as a top-level fighter, he will keep churning out profits as long as his people come see him.
Next up for the Hitman is a big-money fight against Brooklyn native Paulie Malignaggi at New York or Las Vegas in November. Malignaggi failed to shine in squeezing out a split decision against Lovemore N’dou on the undercard.
For a boxer coming back from a career-first loss to attract such a crowd says everything about Hatton’s reputation as a man for the people.
The fight was billed as Hatton's "Homecoming." Manchester’s favorite son was embraced back into the bosom of his hometown, in the stadium used by his soccer idols, Manchester City FC.
And while that club is again experiencing turbulent times, having been bought out by controversial former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Hatton is still looked upon as a symbol of sporting hope in a city that blends its grim industrial past with its trendy urban present.
While Manchester’s "other team," United, won the European Champions League final in Moscow this week, their poorer cousins at City have to prepare for a summer without a permanent head coach, with Sven Goran Erikkson widely tipped for the sack.
That is why a Hatton victory here was a must. But even at his favored 140 pounds, Hatton didn't deliver the crushing victory the crowd craved.
The fans will keep coming back for as long as they are told. Hatton praises them, entertains them, and makes them feel they are rooting for one of their own.
A victory over Malignaggi would open the possibility of a superfight against Manny Pacquiao, who fights David Diaz on June 28 at 135 pounds.
On current form though, Hatton would struggle to shake Malignaggi, let alone Pacquiao – and defeat against the former would clamp the brakes onto his career.
Hatton needs to get back on track, but if a return home to familiar surroundings could not awaken the Hatton of old, it is hard to see what will.