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True Brit

Nobody keeps it real like boxer Ricky Hatton, who is beloved in England for his down-to-earth attitude. He puts his unbeaten record on the line against Mayweather in Las Vegas.

December 05, 2007|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

MANCHESTER, England -- "Three sausage, three bacon, two hash browns, two black pudding . . ."

Wait, a point of information: Black pudding is a sausage made from pig's blood et al., but now let's continue with manager Alison Threadgold of the wee Butty Box cafe in Hyde on the thoroughly unpretentious eastern edge of Manchester, as she reels off the items in her menu's "Megabreakfast" . . .

" . . . two slices of Spam, two eggs, beans, mushrooms, and tomatoes, and . . . "

This Lipitor daydream goes for £4.50 ($9.26 as of Tuesday) and doubles as Ricky Hatton's favorite meal, but hold on, she's not finished . . .

" . . . two pieces of toast, and tea or coffee."

So the "or" represents the lone restraint. Hatton used to down the "Mega" traditionally between adoring well-wishes on fight mornings, and breakfast at the Butty Box surely ranks among the most telltale things about Hatton.

He has earned millions boxing, he's 43-0, he'll fight similarly unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Saturday night in Las Vegas for the PPBFIW title (pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, as they say), he has a whole nation loving but better yet liking him, and his favorite cafe during non-training times would be . . .

It would be the kind of outmoded sidewalk business that suburban shopping malls have slaughtered, a bastion of modesty with a painted black sign with neat pink lettering, five tables and three women toiling inside, the Chinese Delight restaurant next door, Bravo Seamstress Services after that, and Vittorio Tansella & Son Gents Hair Stylists just across Mottram Road.

"No airs or graces," they say about the Butty Box, and about Hyde, and about Manchester, and always, always about Hatton. On a sports planet utterly besotted with PR and marketing of elite athletes, here's a 29-year-old elite athlete who lacks the PR-and-marketing gene to such degree it's bracing, yet has wound up wildly popular because -- because people do love the absence of PR.

"I think that's why, to be fair, he's so well-liked throughout the world," said David "Duck" Owen, a New Inn pub denizen in Hatton's home of Hattersley who has known Hatton forever. "No one could have any dirt on him 'cause he tells it to you! That's what's good, because it spoils it, doesn't it?"

It's not just that he'll tell about his fondness for a Guinness or several or for a fat gram or several hundred; it's the way-it-is tone that craves no approval and dreads no disapproval. When wrapped in approachability and suitable wit, it can win over a country, especially one with a knack for realism.

"I don't lie about a single thing," Hatton told reporters last week on a conference call. "People say, 'Do you like to have a drink of alcohol?' and I say, 'Yes, yes, of course, I love to.' 'And do you like fat foods?' 'Yes.' 'And do you put weight on?' 'Yes.' And these people are maybe a little bit more vain, would probably not admit to that, and I do.

"And I think with what you see with me, you see an honesty in my life, the way I am, period. There's honesty in the way I train for me fights."

In ersatz-Ali mode, Mayweather even tried the "Ricky Fatton" insult born of Hatton's habitual cycle of Butty Box and Guinness followed by pre-fight whittling of the Butty Box and Guinness. Hatton's reaction? "I guess he doesn't realize I named myself 'Ricky Fatton' in the first place," he said.

He's Manchester; he's not trying to be London.

Manchester: England's third-largest city. The world's first industrialized city. Home to a phenomenal late-20th century music scene. Its sky seldom seems to smile. It's home to much of the world's gray. Its winter wind can be hateful.

Historian A.J.P. Taylor called Manchester "the only place in England which escapes our characteristic vice of snobbery." George Orwell went for "the belly and guts of the nation."

Noel Gallagher of the Manchester band Oasis told the BBC in 1998, "The thing about Manchester is . . . it all comes from here."

He pointed to the heart, deemed one of Hatton's best hopes against Mayweather, as when Hatton warned, "I mean, if you don't hurt me, I'll keep coming all night."

So while Manchester's newer architecture might shine here and there, and its residents did once include Becks & Posh, its legacy abounds with working-class family trees like Hatton's, said Dawn Mines of the Hattersley & Mottram Community News, where Hatton grew up.

His father, Ray, played for Manchester City in pre-lavish soccer days, and still has the carpet business where his first-born pugilist once worked. His mother, Carol, still works a carpet stall at the Glossop Market in the Peak District to the east, and has enough moxie to admit to British reporters she endures her son's bouts by gracing her water bottle with one mixed drink of the vodka persuasion.

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