Hatton, Malignaggi Survive Scares in Manchester

HATTON, MALIGNAGGI SURVIVE SCARES

Competing in tune up fights in order to meet one another in the fall, top junior welterweights Ricky Hatton and Paul Malignaggi each found his hands full, if only for a few brief moments, Saturday night in Manchester, England. On a night of thoroughly planned pageantry, there were some unexpected problems for both fighters, who were more concerned with their wardrobes than their opponents coming into the MEN Arena.

HATTON GETS CAUGHT BUT STAYS ON TRACK

Bouncing back from his first professional loss, the humiliating knockout defeat to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in December, Ricky Hatton took on veteran lightweight contender Juan Lazcano. Recognized as the Junior Welterweight Champion, Hatton was looking to prove he was still the king of his division against a fighter would had been out of the ring for more than a year and had lost his last fight.

Given the caliber of Hatton’s opponent, most of the Manchester crowd probably thought it was seeing the highlight of the night when their hometown hero made his entrance wearing a fat suit, a way of acknowledging in good humor the criticism he has long received for his poor eating and drinking habits between fights. Indeed, Hatton’s antics received a much better response from the English crowd than did Paul Malignaggi’s mask on the undercard.

But once Hatton shed the fat suit and got in the ring, he had his share of problems, including a bloody nose from Lazcano in the first round. Curiously, Referee Howard Foster immediately stopped the action after spotting the blood to wipe off Hatton’s gloves, something that rarely ever happens during a fight as it is. Shortly thereafter, Lazcano received a warning for not breaking on time after Hatton clobbered him with a rabbit punch. Biased officiating aside, Lazcano landed the straighter, cleaner blows for the most part to take round one.

Over the next several rounds, Hatton began mixing in sweeping hooks to a two-handed body attack to take over the fight. Foster frequently warned Lazcano about holding despite Hatton’s style being predicated on the illegal tactic of holding and hitting, something he was not allowed to do in the United States against Mayweather. Fighting through the warnings, Lazcano began hammering Hatton with unanswered combinations near the end of round three and into round four as Hatton could do little else but hold during those moments. Hatton finished the round much better, beating Lazcano’s body against the ropes and landing the last shot, an overhand right, just before the bell.

Hatton punished Lazcano with a round of left hooks to start off round five, driving the Mexican into the corner to continue the punishment. A thrilling exchange ensued midway through the round with Lazcano fighting well off the ropes, but Hatton staying on him. After getting pummeled around the ring for nearly all of round six, Lazcano unleashed a flurry in which he nailed Hatton flush with just about every single punch he threw, too late to win the round but making it clear he was a threat to knock the Hitman out given the right opening.

In round eight, Lazcano found that opening, catching Hatton somewhere among his combination punching, possibly with a short left hook that stunned the champion. Hatton spent the last minute trying to hold on and stop the challenger from throwing as Lazcano ripped him with shots from both hands. Hatton demonstrated his heart only moments later when he beat Lazcano into the ropes with left hooks and straight right hands and suddenly it appeared as though the challenger might be the one stopped. But Lazcano survived the round and winked at the British commentary team as he headed back to his corner.

Hatton seized command of the bout once again in round nine, sweeping punishing shots through and around Lazcano’s guard as the crowd roared in approval. Continuing the assault into round ten, Hatton walked right into a left hook from Lazcano – the same punch Mayweather used to knock Hatton down – and once again the Manchester native was hurt. Lazcano let his hands go as Hatton’s legs left him.

Then, out of nowhere, Foster halted the action, sending Hatton to a neutral corner and spending a good ten seconds warning Lazcano for no reason. When Foster thought Hatton had acquired enough recovery time, Ricky requested more by citing a wardrobe malfunction – an untied shoe. Foster again sent Lazcano away and allowed Hatton to take his time walking back to his corner to have his shoe retied. When it was all said and done, fifty seconds had passed, more than enough to re-energize Hatton and see him through to the finish line. To put it lightly, it was a questionable moment when Hatton was clearly in trouble.

Perhaps seeking to erase the taste of the last round, Hatton came out and stabbed Lazcano with a straight right in round eleven. Crisp shots followed from Hatton, who found a second wind after being given new life in round ten. Lazcano had nothing left for round twelve, the sign of a fighter who may need to think about calling it a career, as Hatton easily dominated the championship rounds. The celebration was minimal both from Hatton and his fans, who probably thought Hatton should have gotten the knockout. As it turned out, Hatton was fortunate to not have been stopped himself.

The champion won going away, though two cards had it a shutout at 120-108 and 120-110, which is more than cause for concern because it means the judges saw Hatton winning or drawing with Lazcano in the rounds in which he was visibly rocked. The other judge, who was from the United States as it turns out, produced a card more indicative of what really happened with 118-110. Overall, it wasn’t a great night from Hatton, who may still have doubts about himself after the loss to Mayweather.

On another note, it will be interesting to see if Lazcano spends the next six months complaining about Foster the way Hatton complained about Referee Joe Cortez’ work in the Mayweather fight. The difference is, few will listen to Lazcano should he stoop as low as Hatton did.

MALIGNAGGI WINS ON BAD HAIR DAY

Despite shutting out and knocking down Lovemore N’Dou to win the IBF Championship last summer, Paul Malignaggi had to meet his foe once more in an unnecessary but obligated rematch or forfeit his title; however, the second time around, the feat wasn’t so easy.

Beating a guy the second time is almost never as easy as the first. Ask Vernon Forrest, Shane Mosley, Winky Wright and Ricardo Mayorga about that. Of course, it didn’t help Malignaggi any that a wardrobe malfunction and a broken hand plagued him for much of the bout.

Malignaggi has quickly solidified himself as boxing’s number one hairstylist even if his choice of styles has been questionable at times and, on this occasion, hazardous. Perhaps to mock N’Dou’s own look, Malignaggi sported dark hair extensions for the fight. It could very well be that Malignaggi, not a big puncher by any means, feels he needs to continuously reinvent himself in order to market his fights to the public. This version, however, will probably never show up again.

Just into the first round, Malignaggi’s extensions came untied and dangled in front of his face as he tried to fight N’Dou while fighting his own dreadlocks. Sure enough, the champion appeared to drop the opening round before getting his hair under control and winning the next five pretty clearly, although N’Dou landed some good right hands and knocked Malignaggi off balance with a left hook to the shoulder in round five.

Keeping his right hand cocked for much of the seventh, N’Dou finally landed his money shot and clocked Malignaggi in the waning moments of the round. Though he didn’t need further rest, Malignaggi was taken to his corner by Referee Mickey Vann to have his braids, which had come free once again, retied in round eight. Having injured his hand somewhere along the way, Malignaggi quit throwing punches for most of the round and got caught by a left hook from N’Dou before returning to his corner with his hair covering his face.

Between rounds, Malignaggi’s trainer Buddy McGirt made a mid-game adjustment by having his fighter’s hair cut to solve one problem, but the hand injury remained, and N’Dou spent the early part of round nine chasing the champion down. Malignaggi soon got back on the jabbing path and looked to edge close, crucial rounds in nine and ten.

The boxing went out the window in the championship rounds and, surprisingly, this was instigated by the champion, who bulled N’Dou into the ropes and hit him with flush counter shots in the middle of the ring. N’Dou finished strong with some big power shots in the twelfth round, but without a knockdown, victory seemed out of reach.

The judges officially arrived at a split decision with one awarding the challenger the victory, 115-114, while the other two overruled in favor of Malignaggi, 116-112 and 116-113. As the crowd booed his performance, Malignaggi offered his excuse by gesturing to his right hand.

In truth, Malignaggi surely would have won the bout easier without his dreadlocks in his face and an injury to boot, but he may have done himself a favor. Had he dominated N’Dou as convincingly as he did this time last year, Ricky Hatton may have decided against facing the slick boxer, who is, in fact, everything the Junior Welterweight Champion is not. Now, hopefully, the perfect clash of styles will find itself in the same ring this fall to battle for division supremacy.

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