Ricky Hatton was tired.
It was December 2007 and he was knee-deep in an edgy, highly-competitive round of globe-trotting press conferences for his upcoming mega bout with Floyd Mayweather Junior.
So, when the opportunity came to ease into a comfy chair on a private flight between media events in Los Angeles and Michigan, the Hitman did not need a second invitation.
Unfortunately, it did not last long. There was a call from the captain who was eavesdropping on the conversation currently going on in the sister plane.
A frantic Mayweather was pleading with the pilot: “Please, please. I’ll pay you what you want if we can beat him to the ground.”
That media tour covered five cities and over 5,000 miles with little quarter given by either side. At Universal Studios, Mayweather muttered that he’d break Hatton’s jaw.
In the rain in Manchester, the local lad suggested he had not missed his son that much because he had been travelling with a six-year-old for the past week.
Hatton’s down-to-earth humour had always won him fans in the UK but his aggressive, hard-punching approach had recently added global appeal, with the tough-to-please Mexican fanbase embracing him for personifying ‘their’ style.
Having won world titles at two different weights, he was gambling by travelling to Las Vegas to take on the greatest boxer of the modern era for the WBC welterweight belt.
Mayweather was an unbeaten, slickster with sublime skills and knowledge of every trick in the book. But then, he was coming out of retirement for this bout and, incredibly, would combine his training camp with a stint on Dancing with the Stars.
Hatton had fought in Vegas before, a wide points victory over Juan Urango the previous January. Around 6,000 British fans flew over for that bout.
This time an estimated 30,000 arrived in Sin City, even though the Garden Palace at the MGM Grand only held 16,000.
Queues for the weigh-in began at 6am and there were stories of scalpers making serious money on tickets for screenings in bars on The Strip.
The bucket seats at the back were going for $5000, meanwhile. Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, David Beckham, Will Ferrell, Tiger Woods, Denzil Washington and Sylvester Stallone were all at ringside.
The Spice Girls wanted to meet Hatton before the fight but he could not fit them in. Tom Jones sang God Save The Queen while Mayweather’s ringwalk music was Born in the USA.
Hatton’s demeanour had betrayed nerves at the final press conference but he sent his opponent stumbling backwards in the first round and it was level at halfway.
However, during their pre-fight meeting, Hatton’s trainer Billy Graham had implored referee Joe Cortez to allow his man to fight on the ‘inside’. But the official broke up the fighters every time the Englishman closed the gap. That allowed the elusive Mayweather to pick apart his opponent from distance.
It might not have made a difference in the outcome but it certainly hampered Hatton’s chances. By the 10th, the challenger was spent, felled twice and stopped.
Reflecting in 2020, Hatton said all his post-career troubles of drink, drugs, depression and severed relationships started that night. He split with his trainer, mentor and father-figure Graham, though partially reconciled, they barely speak today.
The replacement for Hatton’s return to Vegas 17 months later would be, incredibly, Floyd Mayweather senior, who had been banished from his son's camp for the first fight for being a disruptive influence.
The pair rowed fiercely over preparations. Hatton was famous for gaining weight between fights thanks to his pie-and-pint diet however, once in camp, he was disciplined and always peaked for fight night.
Mayweather senior put him through the ringer too early. He had been at his optimum a few weeks before the bout but was fading badly by the time he entered the ring against Manny Pacquiao.
A 10,000-strong British contingent came over this time and the build-up to the fight was much more friendly. The Philippine fighter even accepted a present of a shirt from Hatton’s beloved Manchester City whereas Mayweather had taken the stage in the north-west wearing the red of United.
However, the ending was brutal with Hatton sent to the canvas with a shuddering left in the second round and lying flat on his back motionless before referee Kenny Bayliss called off the count.
That should have been the end of the Hitman and his comeback, three-and-a-half years later, ended in a sad defeat to an unknown Ukrainian.
Dark days followed but, thankfully, Hatton appears happier and now works as a coach for many notable British boxers. He says his proudest achievement was his fanbase, that “titles come and go but his fans will stay in his memory forever”.
Certainly, the MGM Grand will always remember those who walked in a ‘Hatton Wonderland’.
In 2020, their spokesman admitted: ‘We couldn’t believe it when Ricky’s fans drank the hotel dry. Then they did it again, even though we were ready the next time and rolling out barrels off non-stop fleets of delivery trucks.”
That type of travelling support suggests Hatton could be the most popular British fighter ever. The only contenders are Henry Cooper and Frank Bruno, two heavyweights whose affable appeal outside the ring outshone their achievements inside it, albeit the latter did win a world title at the fourth attempt.
Hatton was different. Not only beating a legend in Kosta Tszyu but clearing up a division before putting all the chips of his career on red by travelling to Las Vegas to try and dethrone two Bonafede ring legends.
He fought and failed but went down swinging, with his devoted fanbase drinking and singing as he did so.
That is why, when it comes to Vegas, as the old song goes, there really was only one Ricky Hatton.News Now - Sport News