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Hatton has points to prove

Ricky Hatton
Hatton says the fight against Lazcano could be his last in his home country

Ricky Hatton v Juan Lazcano, IBO light-welterweight title
Date: 24 May Time: From 2130 BST Venue: City of Manchester Stadium
Coverage: Radio 5 Live and BBC Sport website

By Ben Dirs

It's the day after Ricky Hatton's humbling at the hands of Floyd Mayweather. Joe Calzaghe, in Las Vegas to watch his old mate take on the world's best fighter, has just been crowned the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Next to the ring where Mayweather had dismantled him the previous evening, Hatton - black, blue and lumpen-faced - gamely poses for the television cameras, clutching his third-place BBC trophy and forcing out the odd quip, before gathering up his family and disappearing through a back door of the MGM Grand Casino.

Shattered and emotional, Calzaghe's prize appears to have salted Hatton's wounds and further aggravated his ego. The haunted look says it all: even the British public have deserted me now.

"I couldn't watch the Mayweather fight at first because it upset me too much, it was really hard to swallow," said Hatton in the lead-up to his homecoming fight against Mexico's Juan Lazcano in Manchester on Saturday.

I've fought some of the best fighters in the world, won six world titles over two weight divisions and this is a homecoming

Ricky Hatton

"But after a holiday I stopped feeling sorry for myself. There were so many good things to take from that fight that I buried the defeat well and truly.

"If every fighter had finished after their first defeat there would be no all-time greats. Only Rocky Marciano retired undefeated.

"My legacy would be severely tarnished if I threw the towel in the first time I got beaten. I don't want people to think that Ricky Hatton was never the same after getting beaten by Mayweather. That would kill me."

Of course, Ricky Hatton would have to do something far worse than lose to a great boxer like Mayweather for the British public to desert him. Perhaps ironing out Bruce Forsyth with one of his fabled body blows would do the job, but even then you couldn't be sure.

Hatton is possibly the most beloved British fighter ever. An estimated 35,000 fans followed him to Vegas last December and 55,000 are expected at the City of Manchester Stadium for his first fight in England in more than two years.

"It's all about achieving my goals now and doing right by the fans," says the 29-year-old, who reportedly earned between 15m-20m for his clash with Mayweather.

Juan Lazcano
Mexico's Lazcano has 37 wins from 42 professional fights
"I want to be remembered as a fans' favourite and a people's champion. I put my contract with [American network] HBO and [promoters] Golden Boy on hold so that I don't have to fight at two o'clock in the morning.

"It's for the fans who have supported me from day one back in Great Britain, who probably thought they had lost the chance to see me fight again live. I've fought some of the best fighters in the world, won six world titles over two weight divisions and this is a homecoming."

When Hatton talks of his plans for a special ring entrance, as a two-fingered salute to those he perceives to have lost faith since his loss to Mayweather, you can sense the paranoia, and you suspect it has been deliberately fostered in order to sharpen the focus.

"I feel the knives are out a little bit now," says Hatton, who has lost just one of his 44 fights. "Critics are thinking, 'Ricky's had a lot of hard fights, he's been up and down in weight'. That's driving me on.

"When they see me come out, they're going to think I've flipped. They will think, 'wow, he's just lost his unbeaten record and he's doing that. He's got some bottle'."

Most people would agree he simply lost to a better fighter in Mayweather, rather than the defeat suggesting Hatton is on the slide. And most have not forgotten that he is still the best light-welterweight in the world, unless Lazcano can show us otherwise.

Lazcano, 33, a former world title challenger at lightweight, has campaigned at light-welterweight for three years and was narrowly defeated by New York's Vivian Harris in his most recent fight 15 months ago (Harris was subsequently knocked out by Bradford's Junior Witter).

Despite Lazcano losing only four of his 42 bouts and possessing one of the most magnificently bombastic nicknames in boxing - "The Hispanic Causing Panic" - Hatton, looking fit and focused at his gym in Denton, is a big favourite.

But it is true people will be looking for signs that Mayweather's clinical, scything blows not only dented Hatton's pride but dulled some of his lustre in the ring. They will also be looking for signs, as Lazcano's trainer Ronnie Shields puts it, that Hatton's lifestyle "has finally caught up with him".

An impressive win for Hatton would increase the clamour for a rematch with Mayweather, within the Hatton camp at least, but it would be a fight few would expect him to win.

There is more than a hint of self-delusion in Hatton's belief that referee Joe Cortez, who certainly did him no favours, was the main reason he lost their first match-up, as if Mayweather's sublime skills on the night counted for nothing.

But a return clash would make Hatton rich beyond anyone's wildest dreams, and that, as is usually the case in boxing, will be the bottom line.

"It's the biggest fight of my career bearing in mind the circumstances and what happened in the Mayweather fight," says Hatton, who is set to fight New Yorker Paul Malignaggi, who fights Lovemore N'dou on the undercard in Manchester, in the autumn.

"Losing is not an option. Where do you go from there? It wouldn't be the end of my career, but nonetheless, for someone such as me, it doesn't bear thinking about."

see also
Hatton eyes boxing record books
22 May 08 |  Boxing
Hatton criticised for lifestyle
21 May 08 |  Boxing
Hatton puts fans before US cash
01 May 08 |  Boxing

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