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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 December, 2003, 04:40 GMT
Hatton comes of age
By Ben Dirs
BBC Sport in Manchester

Ricky Hatton hugs Ben Tackie after defending his title

If Ricky Hatton was a man at the crossroads before Saturday's WBU light-welterweight defence, he ended the evening knowing exactly where he was going.

Ben Tackie said he was going to "cut Hatton up like a chicken" in Manchester.

To borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill: Some chicken!

Hatton's 11th title defence taught us more than the previous 10 put together and it's now clear he has what it takes to make big waves in boxing's most torrid division.

The usual high-profile names were bandied about at the post-fight news conference, but suddenly Kostya Tszyu, Sharmba Mitchell and Arturo Gatti seem realistic targets.

Undisputed champion Tszyu and the dangerous Mitchell face-off in February and Mitchell's promoter, Gary Shaw, was making positive sounds at the MEN Arena.

"If the money's right, Mitchell will come to Britain," said Shaw.

"Hatton's come of age and he's ready to go."

I always knew I was ready for this level and I've stepped up at the right time
Ricky Hatton
There was even talk of a stadium show, an idea Hatton's manager Frank Warren refused to rule out.

Whether the 25-year-old's next fight takes place outdoors or not, the fact the idea is even being mooted illustrates how significant Hatton's latest triumph is.

With Lennox Lewis and Naseem Hamed in virtual retirement, British boxing sorely needed a Hatton win and a new superstar to lead the sport's battle for the back pages.

That Hatton beat Tackie in such style only increases the anticipation.

No longer can people call Hatton one-dimensional or merely a banger - the pride of Manchester proved on Saturday he has far more to his game.

WBC light-welterweight rankings
c Kostya Tszyu (Aus)
1 Gianluca Branco (Ita)
2 Arturo Gatti (Can)
3 Ricky Hatton (UK)
4 Oktay Urkal (Tur)
5 Sharmba Mitchell (US)

"I felt comfortable throughout, boxed and showed my ability," Hatton said after the fight.

"I showed I've got more than just work-rate. I always knew I was ready for this level and I've stepped up at the right time."

Hatton joked after the fight that his performance was in part inspired by City's 3-1 loss in the Manchester derby.

Poor old Ben Tackie will be thanking God they didn't ship five or six - so complete was Hatton's dominance.

'The Hitman' surprised many in the vociferous 17,000-strong crowd by deciding to outbox Tackie rather than stand toe-to-toe with the rock-solid Ghanaian.

His hand and feet movement had Tackie befuddled throughout and Hatton revealed an intelligence and subtlety some doubted he possessed.

That he didn't manage to fell Tackie will have disappointed Hatton, but a posse of tree surgeons would have had trouble bringing such a proud oak to ground.

Ricky Hatton
Hatton is the best of British but the time has come to conquer the world
In addition, Hatton would have been relieved that, despite Tackie's pre-fight boasts, he emerged from the tussle without as much as a graze.

As for the future, 2004 promises to be an explosive year, whoever Warren manages to line up.

There are no hiding places in the light-welterweight division and Hatton, who acknowledges he is approaching his peak, needs to fill his boots while he can.

Although only 25, Hatton started boxing young, has already had 34 professional bouts and has a tendency to blow up between matches.

Mitchell looks to be the most likely opponent, while Gatti and WBO champion Zab Judah also lie in wait.

American network Showtime will have been impressed by Hatton's latest offering and will be bending over backwards to nail down one of the above.



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