Can Hatton catch up to Mayweather?

Kevin Iole

LAS VEGAS – Ricky Hatton has made three trips to Las Vegas in 2007 and proven conclusively that his name belongs on a marquee on The Strip.

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He'd make a brilliant standup comic who could headline at any number of trendy clubs up and down Las Vegas Boulevard.

Hatton will get his opportunity to prove his marquee value in the boxing ring with the most difficult of tasks on Saturday, one that figures to be more daunting than swapping jokes with Jay on The Tonight Show.

Hatton, clearly irritated by what he perceives as a lack of respect despite a 43-0 record and world titles at 140 and 147 pounds, noted facetiously on Wednesday that he's shocked he won't be a 10-1 or 20-1 underdog on Saturday when he meets pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. at the MGM Grand for the WBC welterweight title.

As it stands, Mayweather is a little better than a 2-1 favorite in the MGM's sports book and an overwhelming choice among the media and boxing insiders to hand Hatton his first defeat.

Hatton's been through it before, so he understands how it feels to be overlooked. He was a massive underdog against Kostya Tszyu when they fought for the IBF junior welterweight belt on June 4, 2005, in Manchester, England.

Hatton not only wound up dominating the fight, he made Tszyu quit on the stool. But in Tszyu, he was not only matched against a fighter nearly 36 years old, but he was facing someone who favored a toe-to-toe fight. Hatton rushed from the corner at Tszyu like a blitzing linebacker chasing a limping quarterback.

He'll undoubtedly blitz Mayweather, but the key is whether he can get to him.

He faces two problems in that pursuit. Mayweather has a large edge in speed and quickness and also has a seven-inch reach advantage.

And so as Hatton tries to burrow his way inside, Mayweather can circle and pop his left into Hatton's face.

Hatton clearly understands what he's up against. He noted that he left the U.K. to fight both of his previous 2007 bouts in Las Vegas with the hope of facing Mayweather and proving he deserves to be recognized as one of the game's elite.

"It would have been easy to stay in the comfort zone in England, but I chose to come to America to accept this challenge," Hatton said.

He's doled out his share of praise for Mayweather's skills. He's called Mayweather the best fighter of this era and lauded his boxing skills.

But Hatton has clearly been irritated by what he sees as the adulation being heaped upon Mayweather. As he was concluding his remarks at the podium during Wednesday's news conference at the MGM, Hatton said, "I'll turn the mic back over to Oscar (De La Hoya) so he can introduce Bruce Almighty."

Jim Carrey played the lead role of television news anchor Bruce Nolan in the 2003 film Bruce Almighty . Nolan wished for God's powers, but once he got them, he found out it wasn't easy to deal with them.

Hatton, who had problems with Luis Collazo when he moved up to welterweight last year for a one-fight appearance, is likely to find it's not easy to deal with the problems Mayweather presents.

"Mayweather is so quick and he's so smart in that ring and he kind of has this sixth sense where it's almost like he knows what you're going to do before you do," said Oscar De La Hoya, the fight's promoter who was Mayweather victim No. 38 in May, when the two combined to sell a record 2.5 million pay-per-views. "That's going to be tough for Ricky or any fighter, because Floyd is so smart and so good.

"But if there is a fighter whose style is right, it might be Ricky. If he can get in and put that pressure on like he does and just fire and fire and take Mayweather out of his comfort zone, maybe he can pull the upset."

Rafael Garcia, the veteran cornerman whose primary job is to wrap Mayweather's hands, said Mayweather has been as sharp during training camp as he's ever seen him. Mayweather used former welterweight champion Carlos Baldomir and former junior welterweight champion Lovemore N'dou as his primary sparring partners.

Garcia said the ease with which Mayweather handled them was remarkable.

"These are good, tough fighters, former champions, and it was like he was facing nothing," Garcia said. "He was incredible."

But Mayweather won't have the benefit of the oversized sparring gloves that were used to protect his notoriously fragile hands. He'll be wearing the 10-ounce gloves and will put a lot of pressure on them.

A Mayweather assistant, former Olympic bronze medalist Nate Jones, said he expects Mayweather to open up offensively. It's a thought that Hatton relishes.

Hatton watched as Zab Judah had success with Mayweather by pressuring him early in their 2006 fight at the Thomas & Mack Center. But as Judah tired, Mayweather picked up the pace and won going away.

Hatton has vowed he won't get tired and will keep the pressure on Mayweather throughout.

"You wonder what might have happened if Zab had been able to sustain that pressure," Hatton said. "I know I'll be able to sustain it. We'll see how good Floyd is when he's facing that heat."