LAS VEGAS — Billy Graham ducked outside of the UFC Gym to grab a cigarette as Ricky Hatton dressed for his sparring session on Wednesday.
The affable trainer, who is covered with more tattoos than the mixed martial artists who usually frequent the gym, spied a small group of reporters and approached them with a query.
"Who do you think is going to win the fight," he said, taking a long drag on his cigarette before smiling wryly.
Graham, Hatton's long-time trainer, knew the answer before he asked the question. All three, of course, told him they expected Floyd Mayweather Jr. would win a unanimous decision over Hatton when they meet in a battle for pound-for-pound supremacy in an HBO Pay-Per-View bout on Dec. 8 at the MGM Grand Garden.
"I've heard," he said, shifting uncomfortably from one foot to another, "that a lot of reporters here think Mayweather is going to outclass Rick. Well, believe me, no one outclasses Ricky Hatton. Someone, I heard, said he wouldn't win a round. I've heard a lot of ridiculous things."
And that was before the caravan headed across town to visit Mayweather's gym, where trainer Roger Mayweather was like a warm-up act while his nephew Pretty Boy Floyd was fashionably late. Mayweather Jr. has been the best fighter in the world for about the past seven years. He is so gifted that he really doesn't need a trainer, which he proved by winning every round a year ago against Carlos Baldomir while his uncle sat in a jail cell on domestic violence charges.
Roger Mayweather's job is to hawk pay-per-views and to provide comic relief, because he blew the chance to be a math tutor.
He was unhappy with the scoring in his nephew's May 5 win over Oscar De La Hoya at the MGM which set a record of 2.5 million PPV sales.
"That (expletive) fight wasn't even (expletive) close," he said. "No (expletive) way. I had it 8-3, 9-4, something like that."
OK, so math isn't his specialty, but Roger Mayweather, who called himself "a specialist in the art and craft of skillful boxing," isn't too concerned. He, like everyone involved in the promotion, can already sense the money beginning to flow.
The fight sold out in about a half hour, generating a total paid gate of more than $10 million. Already, 18,000 closed circuit tickets have been sold in Las Vegas. Sponsors are beating the door down hoping to attach their names to the bout.
And Mayweather Jr., who was derided for much of his career as a poor draw, might set an astonishing mark.
Promoter Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy said all other revenue streams for the Mayweather-Hatton bout are running at about 60 percent of what they were for the Mayweather-De La Hoya bout in May, which was the richest fight ever.
He said the pay-per-view results generally follow that trend which, if true, means Mayweather-Hatton will do about 1.5 million pay-per-view sales. That would make Mayweather Jr. the first non-heavyweight ever to sell more than 1 million pay-per-views in back-to-back fights, as well as the first man to 4 million in one calendar year.
He could generate more than $200 million in pay-per-view revenue alone in 2007.
The kid who was dogged for an inability to sell out a small arena in his hometown might all of a sudden have become the most valuable property in the sport. He's learned fabulously well how to sell a pay-per-view show.
Roger Mayweather still hasn't caught on to the idea that building up an opponent makes a win over him that much more significant. And so Wednesday, he spent much of his time profanely demeaning Hatton's skills to reporters, refusing to concede he was good in any area.
The only thing Hatton has, Roger Mayweather said, was heart. But he laughed uproariously when he was asked about Hatton's skills.
"As old as I am, he wouldn't hit me with that wild-ass (expletive) he's throwing from the ground," the 46-year-old ex-super lightweight champion says of Hatton. "The (expletive) ain't even got a jab. How you going to hit someone who don't have a jab? That means he's going to do what? He'll come in with his (expletive) face. He's going to get the same thing all the rest of them got."
Mayweather Jr. might feel the same way, but he's too smart to say it. He's aware that if he trashes Hatton too much, he'll turn potential customers away.
"If I say it's one-sided, nobody will want to buy the pay-per-view," Mayweather Jr. said, beaming.
Perhaps half of those 1.5 million people that Schaefer expects to dole out $54.95 to buy the pay-per-view will be watching just to marvel at his Leonard-esque skills.
But a fighter is really a draw when there's at least as many who want to see him get his block knocked off as there are who want to see him win. And in Hatton, a gritty, physically strong and unusually determined man who has fashioned a 43-0 record, they're hoping they have the man who can finally wipe the grin off Mayweather's face.
"Floyd has something like no other fighter," Schaefer said. "Half of his audience absolutely loves the guy. They love him for his talent, his smile, how flashy he is, everything he stands for and how brilliant in the ring he is.
"The other half, they hate the guy. They can't wait for the guy to lose. They think he's bad for the sport. It drives them crazy when they see him throwing money around and they ask what kind of a signal does that send to the youth.
"You have these two big, very large groups with different agendas, but one thing in common: They all want to see him fight."
Roger Mayweather was pitching his nephew as the greatest fighter ever, a point Mayweather Jr. has made repeatedly.
Hatton heaped praise upon Mayweather as the best of this generation, but rolled his eyes at the suggestion that he compared favorably with all-time greats.
"I read somewhere that he said he is better than Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali," Hatton said. "Yeah, and my (expletive) is as big as Ron Jeremy's."
It was that kind of day. A little less than two weeks before the fight and everyone can afford to joke around.
But with a potential rematch against De La Hoya looming – Schaefer said it's a possibility for May 3 if Mayweather wins – Mayweather has a serious task ahead of him.
"Floyd pays more for accountants to count up his money than these other guys make in their careers, because he has the one thing that none of them have," Roger Mayweather said. "Skills. Floyd's got the big skills so he can pay them heavy bills."
- Roger Mayweather
- Ricky Hatton