Ten years ago today, Ricky Hatton stopped Kostya Tszyu in 11 rounds to win the IBF and lineal welterweight title. It was the breakout win of Hatton’s career, transforming him from an extremely popular domestic star in the United Kingdom to a legitimate player on the world stage. It would be Tszyu’s last fight.
Tszyu had recorded one of the most famous knockouts of this century over Zab Judah in 2001. The win had unified his WBC and WBA versions of the light welterweight title with Judah’s IBF belt, establishing him as the lineal champion at 140 pounds.
A Russian native, Tszyu had been an outstanding amateur before turning professional. Coming into his defense of Hatton, he had stopped Sharmba Mitchell and Jessie James Leija in back-to-back fights. I remember thinking Hatton would have little chance against him.
But instead Hatton bullied Tszyu around the ring, punishing him and forcing him to quit in his corner as the packed
M.E.N. Arena in Manchester, England exploded with celebration.
Hatton became one of the beloved British boxing stars in history. Following his win over Tszyu, Hatton won four straight defenses, culminating in a 2007, Round 4 KO of Jose Luis Castillo.
The win over Castillo marked Hatton’s second-straight fight in Las Vegas. His popularity had followed him across the Atlantic and a showdown with fellow undefeated star Floyd Mayweather Jr. became inevitable.
In December 2007, Hatton challenged for Mayweather’s welterweight title. Although the fight was in the MGM Grand in Mayweather’s home city of Las Vegas, the crowd was packed with British fans, chanting the Manchester fight song. However, Mayweather proved to be a step to high for Hatton. Their fight had competitive moments, but Mayweather ultimately outclassed him and stopped him in Round 10.
After beating Juan Lazcano and Paulie Malignaggi, Hatton would appear in one more super fight, against Manny Pacquiao, in 2009. Once again, his countrymen followed him to the desert in droves. Pacquiao knocked him out in spectacular, one-punch fashion in just two rounds.
Although his performances against Mayweather and Pacquiao revealed Hatton to be a solid step below the very elite of the sport, he was nevertheless a talented champion and one of the most popular boxing stars of this century. Tszyu is already in the Hall of Fame and Hatton will join him there when he becomes eligible in 2017.