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Hats off to Hatton - Guest report by Mark Unwin

Published on June 16th 2004.

During a weekend of sporting tragedy, which most of us that suffered at Pie Club don't want to talk about (obviously (?;-)) who would have thought that boxing would be a more acceptable topic of conversation than football?

Ricky Hatton, possibly Manchester’s most notable sporting son, and certainly the only current Manchester resident that your average Las Vegas resident will have heard of, fought again on Saturday night at the MEN Arena. For those not in the know, Hatton is the current holder of the WBU light welterweight title, which puts him at 10 stone blob. He's had 36 fights unbeaten which makes him exceptional in world boxing and he stands on the brink of entry into the very highest echelons of sport. To those not normally bothered, if he continues at the current pace, he stands to be more famous, and arguably wealthy, than Beckham, Keegan and Flintoff put together.

Over the last two years he has turned the MEN into a haven for both England’s hardened boxing aficionados and his own loyal fans at every fight, pulling in attendances that would make Madonna blush and meaning that Manchester, England (as the yanks like to remind us) is broadcast live across the USA on the Showtime Sports network (a very big deal).

nd so to Saturday, my girlfriend and I had bought tickets well in advance because an 18,000 sell out is the norm, and because of an exceptional line up which - as with all boxing bills - was subject to change all too frequently. Joe Calzaghe, arguably Britain’s other truly world class draw had to pull out at the last minute, but anyone who's seen the rigors that these guys put themselves through both fighting and in training, knew that this sometimes can't be helped. We arrived at 8ish, and if I'm honest, with the smallest amount of trepidation, because fights (and I've been to ten or so) can vary according to the crowd.

However we were more than pleasantly surprised by the easy going, very mixed, nature of the punters in attendance, with a real carnival atmosphere and a feeling that those in attendance were determined to have a good night, the split of the sexes in attendance was similar to Old Trafford on a match day, which helped.

The undercard was a little light (with the withdrawal of Calzaghe) but featured Mancunian Anthony Parnell losing his world champion belt to a (I'm sure they said) Manchester-based Portuguese fighter Eugenio Montero who looked extremely useful and the rest of the Manchester-based fighters on the bill really highlighted the strength in depth our city now enjoys with world class trainers and facilities. However the real entertainment was Hatton and he made his customary entrance at 10ish to the tune of Blue Moon (I forgot to mention that he's City through and through and fights in their colours). I am glad to confirm however that it's not compulsory to sing along.

He was fighting Carlos Alfredo Vilches the South American champion in his weight category as a warm up to a possible fight in September, which he seems to be itching for, against one of the world’s true elite, hopefully Harris the WBA champion. To say that he dominated the contest, which lasted 12 rounds (36 minutes plus stoppages) would be an understatement and my personal opinion is that if the referee hadn't interfered as much (protecting the Argentinian) Hatton would have knocked him out, and added to his record of 26 fights won by way of stoppage. Hatton said afterwards that he wasn't content with his performance, and this only goes to prove the spirit of the guy and anyone reading this should not be put off from future visits on that basis.

All in all the view, as usual at the MEN, was spot on; the tickets at £40 (mid range, there are some at £25 or so in tier 2) were certainly no rip off; the crowd was funny and knowledgeable, particularly the scouse lads sat behind us, and my girlfriend and I came away thinking that if he fights in September at the MEN, a dip into the piggy bank to purchase a couple of £150 ringside seats would not be out of the question. A friend who was going to her first boxing match, (on a first date) who was sat in one of the boxes also raved about the atmosphere and has promised to go back.

If you haven't been to boxing before - you'll be amazed rather than horrified, (at this weight it's much more boxing than punching). If you haven't seen Hatton before - catch him now, so that you can tell the grandkids, and make your mates in the pub jealous. If you want to support a true slice of sporting success, especially one that's Manchester born and bred, keep your eye out for his next fight and get in there early, maybe we'll see you, sat ringside with Gordon Ramsey, Rio and the rest of us.

Mark Unwin

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