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BILL DWYRE

This is no pint-sized passion for Brits

December 08, 2007|Bill Dwyre

LAS VEGAS -- Nobody needed Paul Revere to ride down the Strip with his message this week. There was never a doubt. The British were coming.

They arrived like lava pouring down the side of a mountain and took over a city that seldom has that happen. Everywhere you looked, there were people with pasty skin, ugly T-shirts and beer in hand.

The occasion is a 147-pound championship boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Ricky Hatton tonight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Mayweather is undefeated in 38 fights, is considered to be the best pound-per-pound boxer in the world -- whatever that means -- and is the United States entry in this nationalistic soap opera. He lists himself as being from Grand Rapids, Mich., but he lives here.

Hatton is undefeated in 43 fights, and does not get the same pound-for-pound hype because the boxing PR machine cranks loudest in the United States, where we tend to see the world's boundaries as New York City, Los Angeles, the Canadian border and New Orleans. Hatton is from Manchester, England.

Mayweather remains the betting favorite, and though his odds have slipped from 3-1 to around 2-1 -- the expected late and smart-money wagering usually hits Saturday -- most boxing experts see Mayweather getting through with reasonable comfort.

The English fans who have come to root for Hatton mostly don't see anything at this point. One bragged to a reporter at a blackjack table that he was here for five days "and didn't plan to be sober any of them."

One estimate had between 10,000 and 15,000 fans here from Manchester alone.

Most do not have tickets for the fight, so that made Friday's free weigh-in their reason to fly across the pond. Well, that and the beer.

Many of them began lining up outside the Grand Garden Arena at 6 a.m. for an event that would begin at 2:30 p.m. Once inside, with concession stands inaccessible, one must assume an elaborately organized system of beer runners was in effect.

When the blessed event actually took place -- two semi-skinny little guys in their underwear, getting on a scale -- the Brits were in a frenzy. An estimated 6,000 of them squeezed into the Garden, where they stood, sang and worshiped the ground -- er, scale -- that Hatton would step on.

Their favorite anthem to him is set to the tune of "Winter Wonderland":

"There's only one Ricky Hatton;

One Ricky Hatton.

Walking along, singing a song,

Walking in a Hatton Wonderland."

Over and over and over. It made you want to seek relief at Disneyland's "It's a Small World" ride.

This fight is truly a morality play, and Hatton, "just one of the lads," wears the white hat. He is almost as hard to dislike as Mayweather, with his ever-present bling and bravado, is to like. Their nicknames are also revealing. Hatton is "the Hitman," Mayweather is "Pretty Boy."

It is noteworthy that, at a weigh-in show held in his town, Mayweather was booed and shouted off the stage. The only time there was a similar decibel rating on the boo meter was when George W. Bush's name was mentioned.

As boxing continues to walk the line of being more show than sport, a match that lives up to all the noise might be hard to achieve tonight. Interestingly, two experts seemed to give Hatton more of a chance than the bulk of the gathered grizzled press did.

Shane Mosley, who has multiple world titles but has never fought Mayweather or Hatton, conceded that Mayweather is hard to hit and very fast and that his style of leading with his shrugged-shoulder tends to "smother an opponent."

"Hatton needs to bounce, side to side," Mosley said, "and then counteract the shoulder lead with lots of overhand rights and left uppercuts."

Oscar De La Hoya, who has never fought Hatton but lost a close decision to Mayweather in the most recent fight for each, said that Hatton's best chance is to focus on using his jab and keep jabbing.

"That's what I did in the first six or seven rounds of my fight with [Mayweather]," De La Hoya said. "I kept jabbing. And then I got beat when I went away from it."

Why did he go away from it?

"It's all in my head," De La Hoya said, tapping it. "My next fight, I'm going to bring in Anthony Robbins and see if he can help me."

He was semi-serious, further evidence that he needs to retire from the ring.

In actuality, both the semi-retired Mosley and De La Hoya have a vested business interest in a Hatton victory. De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, where Mosley is employed, is promoting this fight. A Hatton win would probably trigger a real mega-fight for Golden Boy -- Hatton vs. De La Hoya.

There has even been talk of putting that in London's Wembley Stadium next year.

De La Hoya seemed to love the idea. He said, "The Brits and the Mexicans. Can you imagine that?"

No, and neither can the United Nations peacekeeping force.

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Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com.

To read previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

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MAIN EVENT

Floyd Mayweather Jr.

vs. Ricky Hatton

Today at MGM Grand

6 p.m., HBO pay-per-view

* Fight night: Can't get the fight, or won't be around a television to view it? Get round-by-round updates tonight at latimes.com/sports.

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