• Steve Bunce

Hatton to face fallen champion

Steve Bunce September 18, 2012
Ricky Hatton looked to be conquering his demons at a press conference last week © PA Photos

When Ricky Hatton finally broke his silence last week and confirmed he was making a comeback, the first thing that struck me was that he seemed at peace - finally.

Hatton has struggled to deal with his knockout defeat to Manny Pacquiao in 2009, because he feels he let everybody down. The minute he decided he was returning was the minute he started to get a bit of closure.

He wants to exorcise his demons, say thank you to his fans the right way, and finish his career on a high.

He's also coming back to win world titles - he made that very clear last week. His first opponent will be someone we've heard of and someone who, like Ricky, is in the later stages of their career.

It will also be someone who will take him closer to a world title, so look for a fallen former champion, at light-welterweight or welterweight, from the last ten years or so. That's a big old shopping list, don't you worry.

We keep hearing Lovemore N'dou; people were hoping for Paul Malignaggi but he's at least a fight away. What N'dou does is give you at least ten rounds, and Ricky needs that: it's no good fighting some Latvian kid who's going to fall over after five minutes. The crowd of devoted Hatton followers would probably be happy with one punch and 30 seconds!

If Ricky's serious about this, then he must get some rounds under his belt - and, that being so, N'dou is perfect: he's a former world champion who has never been stopped. It's a good gauge of what Ricky still has in the tank: if anything is lacking, N'dou will find it.

Looking ahead, Malignaggi can sell a fight, he's got a legitimate title (WBA welterweight) and we know he'll travel. Would he meet Hatton next year at Etihad Stadium? Absolutely. Malignaggi v Hatton will do 55,000 at the Etihad, and I doubt it will take more than 40 hours to shift the tickets.

Amir Khan is looking for a new trainer © PA Photos

But if Ricky faces a guy like N'dou and he struggles, then the comeback will last one bout. Boxing fans aren't stupid: they'll watch the first fight because it's Ricky, but if he looks bad, if he looks slow and bloated - and that can happen to fighters when they come back - then the fans won't buy tickets again. No amount of PR can convince fans to watch rubbish.

He needs to look sharp and fantastic in victory and then push on, otherwise it could be a one-fight comeback. And if it is just one victory, then at least he will have ended his career with his hand raised in front of a Manchester crowd. That will help keep the demons at bay - and that is the main reason for the fight.

I'm not sure scraping past N'dou will totally satisfy him, but if that happens he'll know in his heart of hearts that he can't go on, and the fans and experts will know. We don't want to see Ricky struggle against N'dou, then talk about how he's going to win world titles. There's enough deception in sport as there is.

Six months after the Pacquiao defeat when there was talk of Hatton coming back, I didn't want him to. I knew where his head was; I knew how crazy his life was. That Ricky Hatton should not have returned, no way.

However this Ricky Hatton, as I've been saying for six months now, is a different beast. He's clean, his head is right and he's back in the ring for the right reasons. The Ricky Hatton in late 2009 didn't know where he was - this one does.

Khan Hunting Virgil?
Amir Khan has been heavily linked with trainer Virgil Hunter, but his people have told me it will be a good while before the new man is confirmed.

The problem with Khan choosing Virgil Hunter is that he's got a full-time guy in Andre Ward, and the problem with Freddie Roach, Khan's former trainer, was that he had a full-time guy in Manny Pacquiao, and Amir moaned because he wasn't getting full attention.

Half the year Hunter is going to be tied up with Ward, so how is the situation going to be any different? It doesn't make sense.

But Hunter is a good fit for Khan: he's a hard taskmaster, he doesn't deal with egos, he's an A, B and C man. Khan needs that: he needs to be reminded what's expected of him.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Steve Bunce Close
Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.