By Graham Houston
For Ricky Hatton, a dream died, for Robert Guerrero the future has never looked brighter. Tears for one, triumph for the other. Such was the story of the two big welterweight fights on the weekend.
Hatton looked in fine trim physically but after three and a half years away from the ring and well-documented lifestyle excesses the engine beneath the exterior wasn’t enough to carry him through 10 tough rounds against Vyacheslav Senchenko. The underdog from Ukraine weathered Hatton’s early storm and was closing the points gap when a left hook to the body sucked the remaining resistance out of one of Britain’s most popular fighters with eight seconds remaining in the ninth round.
Everything seemed set up for Hatton to win. The fight was on his home turf in Manchester against what seemed to be a hand picked opponent, Senchenko having abdicated in nine rounds in his Donetsk domain against Paulie Malignaggi in the Ukrainian boxer’s last fight.
With Malignaggi on site, the stage seemed set for an announcement of a Hatton-Malignaggi rematch for 2013. The trouble was that Senchenko hadn’t read the script. When Showtime analyst Al Bernstein mentioned that Senchenko had been sparring with Ruslan Provodnikov I immediately started doubting the wisdom of this match. The fact that Senchenko had brought in a world-class tough guy such as Provodnikov for sparring spoke clearly to me that the visitor had prepared himself to win and hadn’t shown up in soggy northwest England for a last payday. Hatton-Malignaggi II would have been a financial blockbuster, but as Bernstein noted in a nod to Robert Burns: “The best laid plans of men…” Of mice and men, that is, but we got the point. Malignaggi, interviewed afterwards, ruefully shrugged off the lost megafight — plus the chance to redeem himself for an embarrassing defeat against Hatton in 2008 — and expressed surprise that Senchenko held himself mentally together in Manchester’s Hatton-mania atmosphere.
Briefly, it seemed that Hatton’s claim to have turned the back the clock might not have been as far-fetched as it sounded. Hatton almost threw himself into the attack, and Senchenko occasionally looked flustered, but the longer the bout went the more muted the crowd became. Hatton was getting hit too easily, as illustrated by the purplish bruise spreading beneath his right eye. Senchenko was growing stronger, it seemed, and Hatton was weakening. It looked possible that Hatton could somehow, on guts and experience, drag himself through to the final bell, and the chance of winning a decision — two judges had him up by a point, the other judge by four points, after eight rounds — but Senchenko’s left hook downstairs brought matters to a sudden conclusion.
The ending, I thought, was somewhat reminiscent of Oscar De La Hoya’s count-out against Bernard Hopkins but without the fist pounding the canvas. How ironic that Hatton was literally brought to his knees by the punch that had wreaked havoc on his opponents in better days — the left hook to the body. The oddsmakers had made Hatton the betting favourite, perhaps feeling that Team Hatton must have “known something” in making the match. As the late, great Reg Gutteridge might have written: “It wasn’t the result that was wanted, but it proves the game is straight.”
Across the pond, in the Los Angeles suburbs, Robert Guerrero was too good, too tough and too rough for Andre Berto in their WBC interim title bout. Guerrero’s tactics of crowding Berto seemed risky, bearing in mind Berto’s dangerous right uppercut, but Guerrero’s chin stood up to some big hits. Berto was being bustled and bullied out of his stride. Although Berto was more muscular, Guerrero was stronger.
Down in each of the first two rounds and his right eye already swelling and closing, Berto was in the position of needing to produce a comeback of epic proportions if he was to pull out a win — and Guerrero was never going to allow it.
While Berto’s big hits with the uppercut gave his backers glimmers of hope, Guerrero always came back with fists pumping. Berto was game, battling on while peering through swellings that reduced his eyes to slits in the later rounds. Guerrero’s nose was bloody and his right eye was swollen underneath by the ninth but he was, on this night, simply unstoppable.
When Guerrero re-issued his challenge to Floyd Mayweather Jr. the word “mismatch” didn’t spring to mind this time. There’s a world of difference between Mayweather and Berto, but Guerrero has surely earned the right to give it a go against the world’s #1 fighter.