‘Hitman’ set to deliver
at Paris Las Vegas

Jan 16, 2007 6:02 AM

His nickname is "Hitman" and he comes from a grim section outside of Manchester, England, best known for mass murderers.

Don’t feel too sorry for Ricky Hatton. He not only grew up in pubs (mum and dad owned five during his formative years) but developed into one of the best boxers in the world. The undefeated and untied Hatton is in Las Vegas, where on Saturday, Jan. 20, he tries to win back one of his junior welterweight belts.

Hatton gave up a belt in order to move up last year and take one of the welterweight titles from Luis Collazo. He faces Juan Urango of Colombia, who is undefeated (once-tied). Urango should not be any obstacle to the forthcoming June showdown with Jose Luis Castillo, who opens the HBO card from the Paris Hotel and Casino against someone named Herman.

That’s all the research I’m going to do on him. Okay, he was born in the Cameroons, lives in Montreal (probably owning a lousy French accent), is 15-0 and has a last name of Ngoudjo. In other words, HBO is holding an "infomercial" for a future card. Neither bout this Saturday is worth even thinking about betting. The main competition will be Hatton and Castillo vs. the scales.

Hatton, off his career-defining stoppage of Kostya Tszyu in 2005, which got him fighter of the year recognition in many precincts, was recognized as the universal 140-pound champion. But last fight, when Juan Lazcano dropped out with an injury, he agreed to move up to 147 and challenge Collazo for one of the welterweight trinkets.

The Brit did not look like the same man who made Tszyu quit, winning a unanimous decision by scores of 115-112 (twice) and 114-113. He said he had only seven, eight weeks to bulk himself up to the greater weight and I buy that. Hatton didn’t have his usual perkiness. Besides, let’s not forget Collazo is a tall left-hander who is a superior boxer.

This weekend, Hatton won’t be facing a fancy Luis. Urango, he acknowledged, "is a big puncher." The Colombian, like his challenger, goes after opponents.

"I don’t think I’ll have trouble finding him," said Hatton, whose outgoing personality (what you can get from time spent chatting with customers in a pub) only partly explains his great popularity in Britain. His breath-taking "all-out" style, in which he seems not to care about incoming missiles, makes him an Arturo Gatti-like favorite.

Hatton said his arm, which caused a brief interruption in camp, was "fine." Of course, he’s having trouble making weight. -Always did. Growing up in pubs gave him an appetite for food and drink (he’s a Guinness man).

Against Urango, it’s basically like a buzzsaw against a bull. As one of the American believers in Hatton, I expect the result will be chopped meat. If Castillo can make weight, Hatton should make for a real nice matchup in June.

Urango is a danger, but not among boxing’s elite. He was held to a draw by Michael Arnaoutis. Hatton, who surprises with his boxing acumen as well as with his nonstop style, noted "he opens up very wide when he throws."

Plus, Hatton has a terrific chin.

"My chin has always been one of my best assets," he said. "It’s not something you want to rely on, but if it comes to that, it’s there."

He knew it would come to that against Tszyu, the longtime 140-pound ruler and one of the best fighters of the last decade or so. He also knew that the Russian’s big right hand was effective at medium and long range. In close quarters, where Hatton dictated the fight would take place, Tszyu was unable to get full extension and therefore not full power. Hatton felt Tszyu’s strength, though.

"He hit me with a jab in the first round," said the personable Englishman. "I thought, ”˜Hell, if that’s the jab, what happens when the right hand comes?’ I found out. It hurt me. I was really shaken and my legs did a little dance. But I literally dropped my hands as if to say it really didn’t hurt. It must have affected him. Then later, I landed a left hook to the ribs and he knew that he’d have to raise the pace."

If he could take Tszyu’s punches, he should be able to take Urango’s and re-establish himself as the biggest danger from Manchester since that woman and her mate knocked off six orphan kids and "shoved their bodies up to the moors."

Moors! It doesn’t get more British than that, does it? And that doctor, whom Hatton said killed "hundreds." Some guy named Shipman, I think he said. Took extremely gentle care of his patients, who would in gratitude put him in their wills "and then he’d knock them off."

Urango need not worry. At no point will Hatton treat him gently.