The night The Hitman set the target for The Turbo
HUBBARD’S CUPBOARD – 19.2.17
By Alan Hubbard
As the countdown quickens to Manchester’s big night on April 8,when BoxNation and BT join forces in an historic breakthrough for televised boxing, the memory flicks back through some of the great fights we have witnessed at the atmospheric Arena.
None more memorable than that when Manchester’s all-time favourite fighting son Ricky Hatton became the IBF world light-welterweight champion in June 2005 with a tumultuous conquest of the holder and strong favourite, Russian-born Aussie Kostya Tszyu.
Manchester has always been a production line for classic contests. Less than a year later the same venue hosted Joe Calzaghe’s masterclass against the American Jeff Lacy, arguably the finest exhibition of fistic skills seen in Britain in post-war years.
But as an enthralling spectacle Hatton-Tszyu surely caps them all.
Hatton himself has always maintained it was his zenith as a fighter.
But last weekend he achieved another personal peak, gaining his own first world champion as a trainer.
Kazakhstan’s Zhanat Zhakiyanov survived two first-round knockdowns to outpoint American Rau’shee Warren and claim the WBA bantamweight title in Ohio.
The 33-year-old, trained by Hatton at his Hyde gym since 2013, was given a split decision 111-115 116-110 115-111.
So, not only does the one-time Soviet satellite Kazakhstan have a Triple G, it now has a Double Z. And Hatton has something to celebrate again.
Zhakiyanov stunned many inside the Huntington Center with a tenacious comeback as the fight progressed in Warren’s home city of Toledo.
He improved his record to 27 wins and one loss, inflicting a second defeat on 29-year-old Warren’s 16-fight professional career.
Hatton fully understood the emotional outpouring from Zhakiyanov after he had achieved his long-term ambition.
It was also a proud achievement for Hatton after watching Zhakiyanov become the first world champion from his own gym.
The Hitman’s many out-of–the ring tribulations have been well documented. He was disgracefully treated by Sky in his early days as a promoter so it is heartening to see how he has bounced back.
There has also been a welcome rapprochement with Frank Warren, who nurtured him to the world title and beyond, and was among the first to tweet his congratulations to him and ZZ.
“From my own personal standpoint, I don’t think there are that may champions that have been a world champion and trained a world champion,” says Hatton.
“It’s another box ticked for when I look back. I retired from boxing, had all my difficult times out of the ring, but this is what it’s all about for me now to bring the next champions through. This is my first one and hopefully more to come.
“It was very emotional for me, because I know what he put into it, and I knew what I put into it when I was fighting for a world title.
“A tear came to my eyes. It’s a lifetime dream to call yourself the best fighter in the world.”
Well he should know.
Recalling his own world title win coming up 12 years ago, 38-year-old Hatton admits that he was never as motivated again. Even for his fights with Mayweather and Pacquiao.
“Once you had achieved Mount Everest, you have to really try and psyche yourself up to get going again. I achieved Everest with that Tszyu fight and then it was Maussa for my second world title, Collazo, Urango and so on. You have to psyche yourself up that little bit more to get out of bed in the morning.
“Tszyu was universally recognised as the undisputed champion at 140lbs. Oscar De La Hoya described him as a knockout machine and he was. He was such a spiteful, horrible puncher. He fought for the knockout. That was his style. He was one of the best light welterweights of all-time.
“It was in my hometown in front of 20,000 and the fight was absolute war. If I’d have knocked Kostya out it wouldn’t have been any better than him quitting on his stool (at the end of the eleventh).
“For someone like that to stop on his stool said a lot. He’s not a quitter, he just had had enough. He didn’t want any more.”
Hatton had been a huge underdog, because of his style. But he was confident, after 15 defences of the lesser WBU crown, that he could do a number on Tszyu.
“They were talking about it being one of the biggest wins in a British ring if I’d managed to pull it off.
“I was a massive underdog. I think I started at about 6/1. He was such a formidable champion. When you look at my style, very aggressive and attack-minded, and Kostya’s style, with that horrendously powerful right hand, you thought, style-wise, that wasn’t really the world title we should be going for. I think that’s what Frank (Warren) was thinking. But I never shied away from a challenge. I wanted to be the best and Kostya Tszyu was the best in the division.
“I was very, very nervous. Who wouldn’t be? But I was also extremely confident. And when I look back at my career, my 15 defences of the WBU title – I think Frank did an exceptional job of bringing me through. I ticked every box along the way. I had fights where I was cut, I had fights where I’d been cut and given one more round to finish my opponent. I’d suffered knockdowns against Eamonn Magee. I fought guys on the fringe of world-class like the Oliveiras, the Tackies, the Phillipses. I don’t think my preparation could have been better.
“I was massively confident even though nobody – and I mean nobody – gave me a chance.
“I think I broke his heart. Not in the sense that I took everything he hit me with – he hit me with the same right hands he’d used to knock out previous opponents – but more in the sense that when he tried to bully me, he got some back. When he tried to hit me low, he got it back straight away. He got it back tenfold.
“It was a build up of everything. In close I was able to maul him and push him around and take that right hand away. If he hit me on the back of the head, I’d do the same to him. I don’t think he expected that because he’d had so many clean wins with that right hand. I beat him at his own game. He was a monster but I monstered him that night.
“He quit on his stool as if to say ‘no more’. It couldn’t have finished better if I’d hit him with a left hook and knocked him out. For a champion as respected as Tszyu – one of the best light welterweights of all time – to quit on his stool and say ‘no more’ was the best ending possible.”
Throughout his 48-fight career, and to this day, Hatton’s engaging, personality, accessibility and witty quotability have been manna for the media.
Now it is the turn of The Hitman’s successor as a home-town hero, Terry Flanagan, to top the bill at the Arena on April 8 against another Russian-born opponent, Petr Petrov in the fifth defence of his WBO world lightweight title, and attempt to emulate the scintillating performance of the fellow Mancunian who has been his career-long inspiration.
There are similarities between the The Hitman and The Turbo. Both are dyed-in-the-sky-blue City fans and venomous body-punchers whose trademark is perpetual motion.
Flanagan (32-0) has the best unbeaten record of any current champion in Britain, and is the first Englishman to acquire a world lightweight belt.
“I’d like to achieve more than Ricky and that would be hard because he was such a great champion with such a big fan base, but I believe I can do it,” he says.
Well, Manchester eagerly looks forward to watching him try.