LAS VEGAS – A slick, tricky boxer has always been the perfect antidote to Ricky Hatton's physical, brawling style of fighting. And that's why despite the 12-5 odds in his favor, Hatton was concerned about his match Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden with Paulie Malignaggi.
Malignaggi is perhaps the most clever boxer in the super lightweight division and seemingly had everything necessary to cause Hatton fits, if not upset him, in their battle for The Ring magazine 140-pound belt.
But Hatton showed a new dimension on Saturday, and it led him to his most impressive win since his one-sided upset of Kostya Tszyu in 2005.
Catching a slippery fighter like Malignaggi hasn't been easy for Hatton in the past and he conceded that despite how easy the win looked, Malignaggi posed plenty of problems.
"The best way to try to describe Paulie Malignaggi is to think about when you're in the buff and you're trying to catch the soap," Hatton joked.
But Hatton appeared in complete command. He pummeled Malignaggi from start to finish, winning nine of the 10 completed rounds on all three scorecards, and got his 45th victory in 46 starts when Malignaggi trainer Buddy McGirt mercifully threw in the towel just 28 seconds into the 11th round before 9,053 raucous Hatton fans.
The fruits of Hatton's seven-week training camp with new trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr. were obvious. Hatton was jabbing and moving his head, two things he had rarely done in recent fights.
He'd gotten stale with his long-time trainer Billy Graham and felt he no longer was learning. He thought he needed to make a change and to bring someone in who would brush up his technical flaws.
"In the (Jose Luis) Castillo fight, the (Luis) Collazo fight, the (Floyd) Mayweather Jr. fight, there wasn't a lot of method to what I was doing," Hatton said. "I was just tearing in there. I realized I needed someone who would work on my technical side. … I looked at some recent performances and I thought to myself, 'Ricky, if you carry on like that, you'll be finished in six months.' I looked around and I realized the best man in the world for me is Floyd Mayweather."
Mayweather didn't need to look at tapes of Hatton to know the most significant thing he needed to do.
"He got hit way, way, way too much," Mayweather said. "He was like a target. When you're fighting the guys he's fighting, you can't get hit like that. The name of the game is to hit and not be hit. He didn't have any defense. He needed that."
To help him get it, Mayweather preached jab and head movement. And while Hatton didn't do much of either in the first round, which Malignaggi won by popping his jab, he began to move the head and shoulders and use the jab beginning in the second.
Hatton's jab not only neutralized Malignaggi's and allowed Hatton to get inside, where he could rake the New Yorker with crisp, clean shots, but he stunned Malignaggi with it several times and got him into trouble.
"He's a great, great champion and he gave a dominant performance," Malignaggi promoter Lou DiBella said in tribute. "He was great tonight. That's the best Ricky Hatton we've seen in years. He was absolutely brilliant."
The win puts Hatton into position to face the winner of the Dec. 6 fight between Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao sometime next year in what undoubtedly will be one of 2009's biggest events.
He'd give up considerable size to De La Hoya, and has said in the past he wouldn't fight at welterweight again, but said the bout would be too much of a challenge for him to turn down.
"If I have, I don't know, only a couple of years left at this game, what sort of a champion would I be if I turned my back on fighting someone like Oscar or Manny Pacquiao?" Hatton said.
Malignaggi didn't have the power to keep Hatton off of him and when Hatton was able to neutralize his jab, the fight was all but over. He hurt Malignaggi with a big right hand in the second and nearly deposited him onto the seat of his pants.
By the fifth round, Malignaggi was beginning to hold and his face was beginning to turn into a mass of welts and bruises.
Yet, Mayweather wasn't totally thrilled. He was pleased given the short time frame he'd had to work with Hatton, but said Hatton still has plenty of work to do before he fulfills his potential.
"He got some good stiff jabs in, but he was jumping in a lot with his jab," Mayweather said. "He needs to judge his distance better. He can still jab a guy from a distance. I told him to use a lot of pick sticks, which you do when the guy is taller. You catch his jab (with the right hand) and then jab him back yourself. What he has to do is learn to shorten (his opponent's) jab and extend his."
It was a good night for Hatton, who not only got his 45th win in 46 fights, but was given a present of four bottles of Blue Moon beer after the bout from Malignaggi. Hatton's theme song is "Blue Moon," and Malignaggi thought of Hatton when he saw the beer while training in the Pocono Mountains.
There's nothing Hatton likes better than a pint of beer, so he left with a big grin on his face.
Mayweather, who used to train De La Hoya, isn't eager to see a Hatton-De La Hoya bout. He said he'd like to see Hatton face Pacquiao, whom he predicted Hatton would defeat with few problems.
Mostly, though, Mayweather wants a few more camps with Hatton.
"I thought he might be a tough guy to teach, but I was really shocked, and I'm being honest with you," Mayweather said later. "He's a real smart guy and he wants to learn. If he sticks with me and does what I tell him, you're not going to believe he's the same guy you saw against my son. He's already way past where I thought he'd be and I think with the way he works and how much he wants it, he has a good chance to get a lot better than what you saw tonight."