Wise money says Castillo worth shot against Hatton

Jun 19, 2007 4:26 AM

Ricky Hatton and Jose Luis Castillo deserve to be pick ’em, but it may take a wiser sage to separate these top 10 pound-for-pounders when they meet in Las Vegas next Saturday.

I’m hoping that smart guy is Castillo himself.

Sometimes a fighter can talk me into supporting him financially or otherwise. Castillo, always a favorite for his aggressive boxing and under-appreciated skills (yes, I bet him against Diego Corrales in their great first encounter), is finally moving up in weight after years of struggling to make 135 pounds and not always succeeding.

Castillo now faces the true 140-pound champion in England’s hottest boxing star. And Hatton is a big junior welterweight. He moved up to beat the capable Luis Collazo for a 147-pound title, but did not look comfortable and wisely returned to his natural habitat.

Though pound-for-pound they may be equals, the question is whether Hatton is naturally bigger. I don’t think so. Castillo is taller (5-foot-8 to 5-6) and has a greater reach (69 inches to 65). The surprise to me is that he apparently is able to make 140 comparatively easily this time. The perception that Hatton, an undefeated buzzsaw, is indeed bigger and stronger probably accounts for the early line being in his favor (-170). I wouldn’t be surprised if that late money could go on Castillo (+140) because more Mexicans will show up at the Thomas & Mack,

Physically, the big question I have about the Mexican is his age (33). Hatton is a prime 28. Castillo’s last two appearances since using some extra weight to knock out Corrales in their rematch, have been quite dull.

It could have been the unexciting nature of the mediocre opponents Rolando Reyes and Herman Ngoudjo or that the old warrior is feeling the affects of a strenuous career. Yet, the superiority of competition is what Castillo himself claims as his major advantage in this marquee matchup.

He correctly points out that while the biggest feather in Hatton’s beanie is Kostya Tszyu, a wonderful fighter in his prime, was obviously well past it when he went to Manchester, England, two years ago and quit in the 11th round. Tszyu hasn’t been seen since, a confirmation that there was virtually nothing left in his tank.

Since Tszyu, Hatton has hardly looked like an elite fighter in getting past Carlos Maussa, Collazo and Juan Urango. He has become almost John Ruiz-like in his attack, falling in after a couple of punches and grabbing his opponent. Castillo has long been one of the best in-fighters in the game. He gave Floyd Mayweather Jr. fits in their two encounters, the first of which many ringsiders thought he deserved to win.

Castillo points out that aside from Tszyu, Hatton’s resume does not come close to matching that of the "Mexicali Rose." Hatton’s biggest victories, before Tszyu and while under the almost smothering protection of English promoter Frank Warren, were Ray Oliveira, Ben Tackie and a faded Vince Phillips.

Hatton is a good one, make no mistake about it. However, Castillo has earned more respect with victories over such as Corrales, Julio Diaz, Joel Casamayor, Cesar Bazan, Steve Johnston and Juan Lazcano. He has more knockouts (47) than Hatton has fights (42-0 with 30 stoppages).

With the obvious exception of not making weight, Castillo (55-7-1) has been a pro’s pro for a long while. Hatton did age Tszyu, and there’s always that danger here. Pick ’em fights are seldom sure things.

If Castillo is able to break free from Hatton’s tentacles on the inside, he might have a surprisingly easy night of it. On the outside, his height and reach advantages should translate into decided edges. What I like best about Castillo is that he does not hide behind his physical attributes, but attacks. He’ll be coming forward.

So will Hatton, who does not seem to know where to find reverse in his engine. Most of my colleagues have anticipated this as, on paper, one of the best matches of the year. A -minority, though, is concerned about Hatton’s clutching. The esthetics do not concern us purists as much as the economics. I believe an investment in Castillo is wise, but by no means blue-chip.