December 17, 2014

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Tim Dahlberg: There’s only one Mayweather

LAS VEGAS  – Their man was lying sprawled on his back on the canvas below, and still Ricky Hatton`s fans in the cheap seats at the MGM Grand hotel-casino were waving beers high and singing his praises to the tune of “Winter Wonderland.”
“There`s only one Ricky Hatton, one Ricky Hatton,” they crooned collectively, though slightly off-key.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. heard them, partly because Mayweather hears everything that goes on in the ring. Once, HBO`s Jim Lampley was babbling too much ringside at a Mayweather fight, and Mayweather stopped in mid-action to urge him to calm down.
Hatton heard them too, though at the moment he wasn`t hearing much of anything. A savage left hook from a boxer who supposedly couldn`t punch began his downfall and a flurry of punches put him down and out for the second and last time on this night.
Besides, he had already heard enough.
“I`m about sick of that song myself now,” he said after recovering what was left of his senses.
Credit Hatton for his honesty, though this wasn`t a fight built on honest expectations. About the only ones who thought the undersized brawler from Manchester had much of a chance against the best fighter in the world were the thousands of fellow Brits who traveled across the pond to drink, sing and cheer their man on.
They did their job well, even bringing a small brass band along to help with the only tune they seemed to know. It was all in the spirit of good drunken sportsmanship until they dishonored both themselves and their country by drowning out the national anthem sung by Tyrese Gibson with loud boos and ear-splitting whistles.
The few Mayweather fans among the 16,000 or so who packed the hotel arena tried with little success to overcome that by singing the national anthem as loudly as they could. And there was no shortage of one-fingered salutes to the Brits, including some from the ringside press section.
But it was left to Mayweather to extract the best revenge, and he did his best for God, country and about $11 million. Hatton had some early success with his frenetic, brawling style, but there hasn`t been anything Mayweather hasn`t seen in a boxing ring and he wasn`t going to let the challenger to his throne be the only one doing some dirty work.
They went after each other with fists to the face, elbows to the neck and heads to the head. They held and clinched and wrestled despite the best efforts of referee Joe Cortez, who did everything humanly possible to turn it into some sort of a boxing match – including stopping the fight twice to lecture both fighters.
But it was always going to be that kind of a fight largely because it was Hatton`s only possible way to win. The style had carried him to victory in all 43 of his other fights, and he wasn`t going to change it even against a fighter who possesses the best defensive skills of anyone of his generation.
“Tough as nails,” Mayweather said of his foe. “I had him hurt a couple of times and he was still coming forward.”
By the middle of the fight, Mayweather was scoring effectively with right leads and left hooks as Hatton continued to come forward relentlessly. Hatton was falling behind, and it didn`t help his already slim chances when Cortez took a point from him in the sixth round after he pushed Mayweather`s head between the ropes.
Hatton knew the point deduction made it even more unlikely that he could win by decision. So he played into Mayweather`s hands by starting to take more chances on the distant hope that he might catch the 147-pound champion with a big shot to turn the fight around.
“I think I put my foot on the gas a bit too much when the point got taken off,” Hatton said.
Soon, Mayweather was administering a beating. In the eighth round he rocked Hatton with big punches to the head, landing 32 punches in the round to only six for the challenger as desperation grew in the Englishman`s corner.
The end finally came in the 10th round when Mayweather, fighting with his back to his corner, unleashed a left hook he had been working on in training camp and used early in the fight before Hatton began catching on to it. He called it a “chip hook,” and Hatton never saw it as it connected to the side of his jaw and he went sprawling on the canvas.
Hatton got up, but he wasn`t going to last long. Mayweather caught him with two more shots to the head and he went down in a delayed reaction at the same time Cortez was moving in to stop the fight and his corner was throwing in the towel.
Mayweather answered his few remaining critics who complained that he only fought defensively and was afraid to take chances to finish a fighter. In his first fight since his megafight with Oscar De La Hoya, he delivered the kind of performance expected from the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Mayweather hinted at retirement as he usually does after a fight, but there`s little doubt he will be back, possibly against Shane Mosley or Miguel Cotto.
“What else is there for me to prove?” he asked. “I`ve beaten so many champions. I`ve beaten the brawlers and the boxers. And I can beat them at their own game, that`s the difference. I said I would fight him inside and I did. I knew he was going to get dirty and I had to do the same.”
Hatton, meanwhile, was in fairly good spirits after his first defeat and vowed to come back himself though the knockout loss probably spoiled a big May payday with De La Hoya. He had $5 million to take home, and the band was there at the post-fight press conference to serenade him once again.
This time, though, it was Mayweather singing, and he had some new lyrics.
“There`s only one Mayweather. There`s only one Mayweather. He talks the talk, and he walks the walk, walking to the money land.”
So what if he didn`t sing any better than Hatton`s fans. Mayweather didn`t need to.
He had already done his job for the night.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org.