British boxer Ricky Hatton has some thoughts to share about Floyd Mayweather, the recent Dancing with the Stars performer and the universally acknowledged top pound-for-pound fighter in the world. The two undefeated boxers square off in Las Vegas Saturday night, for the WBC welterweight title, in the most highly anticipated boxing match since Mayweather trumped Oscar De La Hoya this past spring. During a recent press tour in his native Manchester, Hatton said he thought Mayweather, 30, was especially disrespectful toward him and his fellow Brits. "He alienates himself from the fans," says Hatton of Mayweather. "He doesn't talk to them. He's got five managers around everywhere he goes." Hatton, 29, ponders a basic question. "I mean, what's the point of being the best fighter in the world, if everyone thinks [you're] a d--khead?"
Ah, leave it to boxers to never mince words. And leave it to the straight-shooting Hatton, an ex-carpet fitter from Manchester whom much of Britain's sporting public is pinning their hopes on, to throw the sharpest darts. Part of his wide appeal is that he really does throw darts every Thursday night at a local pub, where he has often been known to down several pints of beer.
Whereas Mayweather, a serial cruiser of the Vegas night scene and flasher of serious bling, represents the glitz and glitter of Sin City and the boxing world, Hatton is Britain's working-class hero, now preparing for what the U.K press is calling the biggest bout in the country's history. Pro boxing may have started in Britain in the early 18th century, and the country has produced such champs as Lennox Lewis and Ken Buchanan, but the sport has long faded from prominence there. Still, some 20,000 Brits, only a few with actual tickets to the fight, are flocking to Vegas to support Hatton. "Not too many British fighters can say they were the best on earth at one point," Hatton says. "If I beat him, that's where I'd go. I don't need to stress how big it is not only for me, my friends, my family, but for the country."
Reaching that pinnacle, however, won't be easy for "The Hitman." Mayweather (38-0, 24 KOs) is the overwhelming favorite; he has beaten prime fighters like De La Hoya, Carlos Baldomir and Arturo Gatti in his storied career, while Hatton has mostly trounced relative no-names. To try and make up for his lack of prime-time experience, Hatton promises to swing hard, and often. "I want to set a hot pace," Hatton says. "I think my heart will explode before I leave him alone for one second."
But that aggression could play right into Mayweather's hands. "Pretty Boy Floyd" has made his living luring boxers into slugfests, and tiring them out by side-stepping their blows, a defensive style that has always annoyed bloodthirsty fans. "I'll take the less punishment," Mayweather says, "but make the most money in the sport." That he will; between the De La Hoya fight and Hatton purse, Mayweather will earn close to $50 million on his bouts this year. Hatton won't do badly either he is expected to take home $10 million for this fight.
That's a ton of pounds, and not bad for a man who, according to Hatton's father, Ray, was just "a little stocky kid, with blond, spiky hair a bit like Bart Simpson, eh?" While growing up in Manchester, Hatton wasn't a bully, though he wasn't shy about enforcing playground rules with his fists. "If he went off a slide, he would never jump the queue," says Ray. "But equally, he wouldn't let anybody go before him. That would be a mistake."
By the time he turned 15, Hatton showed great promise as a boxer. But Ray insisted his son find a fallback career. The family had a carpet fitting business, so Ray taught Ricky the trade. There was just one problem. "He was the worst carpet fitter in the world," says Ray. One time, Ricky cut four of his fingers with a Stanley knife. "How he didn't chop off his fingers, I don't know," says Ray. "So I spoke to me wife, and I said, 'He's going to injure himself. If he is going to have any career in boxing, he just might need his fingers.'"
With that in mind, Ray made Ricky a salesman, and gave his son a shop. That didn't help either. "He was a nightmare," Ray says. "I used to have carpets there, he was selling them at the price we bought them for. If an old lady came in, and she liked one but didn't have the money, it was, 'go on, now, we'll do you for that.' Which is all very, very nice. But it wasn't great for business."
Hatton's alternative career has gone much better. He has racked up an impressive record (43-0, 31 KOs), though his critics say gluttony will keep him from greatness. Pints of beer in hand, Hatton regularly balloons 40 pounds above his fighting weight of 140 lbs. between his bouts before starting intense 12-week training sessions to trim the fat. "I need to put loads of weight on, and I need a bit of a mountain to climb so I knuckle down to it," he says. "Ideally it would be best if I didn't put as much weight on. That's what makes me what I am, you know?" To pay homage to his habits, Hatton promises to wear a T-shirt in the ring Saturday night, emblazoned with his nickname: Ricky Fatton.
As if the weight jokes weren't enough motivation, Mayweather's verbal jabs should fire Hatton up. "I'm not really a Ricky Hatton fan," says Mayweather. "I'm going to spank his ass."
During their pre-fight press tour, featured as part of a documentary on HBO (whose parent company, like TIME, is Time Warner), Mayweather taunted Hatton at every stop. Hatton's not afraid to fight back. At a joint press conference in Manchester, Hatton mentioned that he was happy to come home and see his young son again. Then he offered this beauty: "But I probably haven't missed him quite as much as you'd probably think, because I've had the fortune to spend the full week with another f---ing six-year-old." Hatton turned toward Mayweather, and the crowd roared. Britain's Sky Sports was carrying a live feed of the event: a broadcaster profusely apologizes for the potty mouth, making the clip a You Tube classic.
After all the pre-fight bluster, one can only hope the actual bout turns out as entertaining. Hatton swears he'll deliver. "As the fight gets nearer sometimes doubt can come in," says Hatton. "[This time] it's not been the case. Yes, these are the days you dreamed of. It's massive. It's huge."