Tenerife is like a second home to Manchester’s boxing hero Ricky Hatton who has, over the years, spent numerous holidays in the south of the island.
- Only a few weeks ago I met up with him once again in the Garibaldi restaurant in Las Américas, which is a favourite eating place for him, especially when he’s over here with his lovely girlfriend. As usual he was very friendly with the customers who spoke to him or asked him for his autograph and British boxing is crying out for another really exciting star like him, a man of the people, with an all action style and a great sense of humour. Although I think it will be some time before we have another fighter who will pull in 60,000 to a fight in their home city, or be popular enough for 35,000 to follow him to Las Vegas, as they did for Ricky.
Many people in the boxing game have questioned the wisdom of Hatton deciding to return to the ring after his seven months semi-retirement since his brutal defeat by the world number one fighter Manny Pacquiao last May. However, after watching a video of his dramatic loss to Pacquiao finally, only a few weeks ago, Ricky has decided that he had a really bad off-night, and wouldn’t want to leave the fight game like that.
Since his decision to do battle in the ring once again, a number of names have been banded about as opponents for his first return fight this summer, including Amir Khan, the Mexican, Juan Manuel Márquez and South African, Lovemore N’Dou.
Obviously, a world title fight between Khan who is the W.B.A. light welterweight champion and rated number three in the weight division and Hatton, who is rated at number two in the same division, even though he doesn’t hold a world title belt, could generate something like £30 million, bring the UK to a standstill and would be the one most people would like to see. But I thought at the time, this won’t happen, for Khan’s promoter at the time was Hatton’s former promoter, Frank Warren, who the Hatton’s have had differences with in the past.
However, things have changed over the past couple of weeks, for Khan has split from Warren and signed for Golden Boy, the company of former multi-weight world champion Oscar De La Hoya, in a bid to breakthrough in America and is lined up for his U.S. debut against Paulie Malignaggi in May in Madison Square Garden, New York. So that’s put a Hatton-Khan fight on the sidelines for the time being. But if Khan is successful in his debut in the States, which I expect him to be against Malignaggi, who was one of Hatton’s conquests, and Hatton were to have a good win, especially if it was against the Mexican idol, Juan Manuel Márquez, the current undisputed world lightweight champion, then I can see the two Brits battling it out later in the year.
Márquez would be a tough nut for Ricky to crack, even though he may bea bit past his best at 36. But it’s only a few months ago that he went the distance with Floyd Mayweather and has twice been Manny Pacquiao’s worst nightmare losing one fight to the brilliant Filipino on a hotly disputed points decision and then fighting a draw. The two fights which covered 24 rounds were gruelling for both fighters.
Márquez’s performance against the two best boxers in the world at present may have surprised some people taking into account the fact that he was giving weight away. But Mexican fighters are tough by nature, in fact Márquez hasn’t been kayoed in his 56 contests to date and on occasions has even been mentioned in the same breath as the great Mexican icon, Julio César Chávez, the best fighter of his generation and one of the best of any era, who bowed out of boxing in 2004 after an unbelievable career.
In a professional career which lasted over 23 years, Chávez captured world title belts at junior lightweight, lightweight and junior welterweight and amazingly won 94 fights on the trot before suffering his first loss. His success is without comparison in the modern era, adding the fact that he faced 17 world champions and enjoyed a lengthy stay in boxing magazines as the best pound for pound boxer of the day, and they nicknamed him J.C. Superstar. He was such a skilful and fierce fighter that it encouraged Angelo Dundee, mentor to both Muhammad Ali and ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard and a bunch of other world champions to say of him, “the toughest fighter I’ve ever seen – bar none, especially his relentless hooking to the body, that is the foundation of his technique”.
For opponents, Chávez brought a quality of nightmare to the ring, pressing it so remorselessly, especially with his body shots and the intensity of his assaults. After 16 years as a professional he was well past his peak, and lost more than his title belt when he was stopped in the 4th round by the much younger Oscar De La Hoya on a midsummer night in 1996. The mystique of invincibility and his whole image was shattered.
Only last year, Oscar De La Hoya when being interviewed was asked which were his proudest moments during his successful career and stated, “I would have to say the first Chávez fight, the fact that I was up against a Mexican hero”. Even my family was asking, “why are you fighting him? He’s our hero. Until this day, my little sister asks me why did I beat her hero? It was a tough situation to deal with outside the ring. It was tough emotionally. We grew up with Chávez, being a Mexican family, we idolised him. We always watched his fights when I was a youngster. It was one of those fights where I felt proud of beating him, but at the same time it hurt. I felt resentment from the people, for the first time I was hearing boos.
“After I beat him, I was in the East Los Angeles Parade - probably about a million people watch it. I’m on the float, I feel proud and happy, but right from the start I’m hearing all those boos. I’m looking at all those people yelling. Obscenities were flying all over the place and it was all because I beat Chávez. People were yelling, ‘you’re not Mexican’, and I was thinking, what are you talking about? It’s funny now, but that was the first time I saw first-hand that so many people were angry”.
The fall from grace for Chávez however was a steep one, yet the famous ‘lion of Culiacan’ kept on roaring and two years later, after regaining his super lightweight title belt that he had worn so proudly for so long, 50,000 fans turned up to greet him as he stepped into the ring to face Miguel Ángel González, the young Mexican who many had anointed as Chávez’s successor. After gaining a draw against his young pretender the rejuvenated old warrior forgot all about retirement. Just a shadow of his former self, Chávez, mainly through tax problems, fought on for the next six years until his official retirement in 2004. During this period it was sad to witness him taking beatings from the new younger breed such as De La Hoya and Kosta Tszyu. He was still trying everything to win, but he had nothing left. There must be a lesson in there for someone.
This article appears in the print edition 609 of Island Connections