LAS VEGAS – Ricky Hatton dreamed of headlining a blockbuster fight in Las Vegas ever since he was a wide-eyed youngster with big aspirations. He insists there is no place he would rather be for the match-up that will provide the ultimate challenge of his boxing skills and the greatest threat to his blemish-free record.
However, while the 29-year-old Englishman feels his Nevada preparations for Saturday's welterweight showdown with Floyd Mayweather have gone according to plan, he proved there is no place like home by seeking out Sin City's finest British pub for some familiar surroundings.
The Crown and Anchor on East Tropicana Avenue could have been transplanted straight from the suburbs of Manchester where Hatton grew up, and although he could not indulge his love of Guinness when he dropped in last Sunday, he admitted the outing had helped him relax.
"I had a game of darts and had some pictures with the fans that were there," said Hatton. "Unfortunately I couldn't have a drink but it was nice to be in that environment.
"The people who have come out here to support are amazing. They love me and it is fantastic to have that sort of support. I enjoy mixing with them but now I have to get my mind on business."
Hatton has been determined to keep his approach to the Mayweather bout low-key, so it was just as well he chose last weekend for his Crown and Anchor visit.
By Thursday afternoon, the pub had been transformed into Hatton Central, and has become the unofficial headquarters for the British fans that have made the flight across the Atlantic hoping to witness an upset.
"This has become a bit like home away from home for a lot of the fans and I think it was like that for Ricky," said Peter Grave, one of Crown's managers. "When he came in it was fantastic and everyone was delighted to see him, but they all showed him respect and gave him his space.
"This place will go mad if he wins. We are hosting a before and after party and will take people to the fight in double-decker buses. We are right behind Ricky."
Despite the five television screens all playing European soccer when Yahoo! Sports dropped by, all the talk was of boxing, and which pugilist would emerge from the weekend still undefeated.
Any smattering of gossip is gulped down as eagerly as the 30 beers on tap, with the rumor that Mayweather had thrown up in the restrooms following Wednesday's press conference spreading like wildfire.
Given that Mayweather had poked fun at Hatton's enjoyment of a few pints in the lead-up to the fight, promising to make him "throw up all that beer", it would be a unique irony if nerves did cause the American to empty his stomach.
The general feeling among the British supporters is that America in general and the Mayweather camp in particular, are underestimating their man.
"It seems they are taking him lightly," said Mike Irving of Audenshawe, just a short left hook away from Hatton's neighborhood of Hyde. "But that is just fine. For a start, it makes the odds bigger when we put a bet on him and it also gives Ricky a better chance."
English sport has suffered a year of near misses, with the national soccer team failing to qualify for the 2008 European Championships, the rugby side losing in the World Cup final, and Lewis Hamilton frittering away a big lead in the Formula One world championship.
"If Ricky beats Mayweather it will be the highlight of the year," said Irving's drinking partner Tony Keegan. "It would be all the sweeter because he is such a popular character, a man of the people."
Hatton has promised to drop by the Crown and Anchor once more before he returns to England, and won't say no to a beer on that occasion. By then, he hopes to have a crown of his own – the title of best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
- Ricky Hatton
- Floyd Mayweather