LAS VEGAS – Anyone looking for a little peace and solitude would be advised to hit the MGM Grand, the erstwhile "City of Entertainment," which bears little resemblance to the place that was overflowing with revelry on the eve of a Ricky Hatton fight just 11 months ago.
Nearly 30,000 British boxing fans – Hatton diehards – descended upon Las Vegas in December to root their man on in his battle with Floyd Mayweather Jr. They nearly drank the city dry, booed the U.S. national anthem and serenaded the townsfolk with the song, "There's Only One Ricky Hatton," so frequently that it's only been recently that locals have been able to chase the melody out of their heads.
Hatton's back, but the scene is hardly the same. He'll fight Paulie Malignaggi in an HBO-televised bout in the Grand Garden Arena on Saturday in a battle for supremacy of the super lightweight division.
The hotel's massive casino is all but deserted, though, and the American media is staying away in droves. Publicists estimate that 6,000 British fans made the trek, but even that seems an optimistic number.
Golden Boy Promotions chief executive officer Richard Schaefer hopes he can put at least 10,000 people in those green seats on Saturday, but that appears unlikely unless there's a massive ticket giveaway.
Malignaggi shrugs his shoulders at the apathy. He's done his bit – and more – to sell the fight and has entertained the media with his dreams of becoming a porn star, his take on Hatton's style, a none-too-kind evaluation of Hatton's previous opposition and his advice for referee Kenny Bayless.
Hatton dropped his first professional bout in the same arena, when Mayweather stopped him in the 10th round of a one-sided fight last year. And Malignaggi suggested that perhaps Hatton's large fan base elected not to travel in the same numbers not because of the foundering economy but rather over fears of seeing their hero lose again.
"They all came over and were obnoxious but they saw Floyd kick Ricky's (behind)," Malignaggi said. "I guess they don't want to see that happen again."
While Malignaggi doesn't share Hatton's profile, he hardly lacks for confidence. He has not been shy in expressing his opinion that he'll win – "I could not have asked for a better match, style-wise, if they had let me pick anyone I wanted," he said, a slight smirk covering his face – and he's pounded the drumbeats for the fight.
Hatton is about a 14-5 favorite, but Malignaggi is hardly bothered. If confidence will win a fight, it's going to be Malignaggi in a rout on Saturday.
"I'm real confident here, because I know how much this means to my fighter," Malignaggi promoter Lou DiBella said. "It's his whole life. I know how well-prepared he is and I know how good he is. He's a quality, quality boxer. People get caught up looking at his knockout percentage, but they fail to realize what a pure fighter he is and what a beautiful boxer he is. He's tremendously skilled and he's the worst possible style for Ricky."
Malignaggi has only five knockouts in 26 pro fights on the way to a 25-1 record, and he doesn't figure to hurt Hatton with his blows so much as irritate him. And though Hatton has hired defensive guru Floyd Mayweather Sr. as his trainer, Malignaggi thinks it's simply hype and that Mayweather will have no impact upon Hatton's performance. Mayweather Sr. was correct last year, Malignaggi said, when he termed Hatton "a punching bag."
"When is the last time anyone ever put the words 'Ricky Hatton' and 'defense' in the same sentence?" Malignaggi asked. "I'll tell you when: Never. Ricky Hatton isn't a defensive fighter and doesn't have the tools to be a defensive fighter. You can teach him all you want, but it's not going to make a difference. He is what he is. He doesn't have the defensive radar to know where punches are coming from or to sense when and where a punch is coming. He's an offensive fighter. From what I have seen, he is as much of a wrestler as he is a boxer.
"He ought to try (mixed martial arts) when he's through boxing, because the way he holds and grabs and wrestles, he's a natural for MMA."
Malignaggi's only concern is the way Bayless will call the bout. Hatton's style, he said, is similar in many ways to ex-heavyweight champion John Ruiz's clutch-and-grab style that has been so reviled.
The difference, though, is that Ruiz didn't punch after mauling an opponent. Hatton likes to fight physically and maul his opponent, but then pushes him into range for a punch. Malignaggi, who said he "went through hell" in his only loss, in 2006 to Miguel Cotto, pleaded with Bayless to make certain Hatton is boxing and not grappling.
"There are no problems with inside fighting, unless Ricky Hatton's involved," Malignaggi said. "Nobody ever complains that the referee is breaking fighters except when Ricky's fighting. The referees want to see action. The referees never stop it when there's action. Referees want to see action just as much as fans want to see action. So, it depends upon what you do.
"If you're wrestling, it's got to be broken up. They say if one hand is free you're allowed to work. Yeah, if you're the one being held, you're allowed to work. But if you're the one holding and one hand is free, you can't work. You have to be broken up. Either the ref takes points or he breaks it. When people complain that Ricky gets broken up, yeah, it's because he's holding. The referee doesn't want to take a point every minute."
Malignaggi said there is occasionally a double standard when it comes to officiating in Hatton fights. He said Hatton's bouts with Kostya Tszyu and Jose Luis Castillo were allowed to become "free-for-alls" because of less-than-fair officiating.
"As a fighter, you're not supposed to pull (straight) back from punches, because you get hit when you pull back from punches, so you slide underneath punches," Malignaggi said. "When you slide underneath a Ricky Hatton punch, a lot of times he grabs you and holds you in place so you can't slide out. He does things like that, and I've noticed they never enforce those rules in Ricky Hatton fights. They let him do it."
Malignaggi said he won't be above dishing out a bit of his own dirty stuff if the rules aren't enforced.
Whether he does or not is open to debate, but he's clearly generated a little attention to a fight that seemed on life support for lack of interest. Malignaggi has done more than his share to pitch the fight. And if he happens to be the bad guy in the show, he's fine with that.
"Whatever people think, I don't care, because all I want is for people to have their eyes on this fight and to watch me and see how good Paulie Malignaggi really is," he said. "Maybe everyone is going to come thinking Ricky's going to kick my (butt), but after a couple of rounds, they'll know it's going to be different."
- Ricky Hatton
- Paulie Malignaggi