MANCHESTER, England -- Before the usual packed house at the MEN Arena,
hometown hero Ricky Hatton and interim IBF junior welterweight champion
Sharmba Mitchell both took care of business in convincing fashion Saturday,
perhaps setting the stage for an intriguing matchup between the two titlists
Hatton (35-0, 26 KOs) scored a sixth-round stoppage over late replacement
Dennis Pedersen (44-3, 23 KOs) to retain his WBU belt, while Mitchell (54-3,
30 KOs) scored three knockdowns en route to a lopsided 12-round decision
over a game Michael Stewart (35-2-2, 19 KOs).
Forced into a late switch of opponents when Brazilian bomber Kelson Pinto
withdrew from the card due to a case of the flu, Hatton -- brought into the
ring with his trademark "Blue Moon" bellowing through the arena speakers --
nonetheless roared into action in his usual fashion against Pedersen.
Looking much bigger than the former lightweight title challenger, Hatton was
obviously going to impose his will on the Dane, and Pedersen appeared to
just be going through the motions in the first round.
Hatton continued to chase Pedersen in the second, and with the partisan
crowd urging him on, he got closer and closer to his foe, and was even
willing to eat some stiff counters for his trouble.
There was more of the same in the third frame, and if there was any
lack of focus from Hatton, it wasn't showing. A left to the body dropped
Pedersen to a knee with a minute gone in the fourth, and Hatton patiently
continued to pick him apart until another ripping hook to the body sent
Pedersen down just before the bell ending the round.
Pedersen was in full defensive mode as the fifth commenced, and Hatton
attacked, looking to land the finisher. But the end wouldn't come until
late in the sixth, when an accumulation of punishment brought in referee
Dave Parris to stop the fight at the 2:32 mark of the round.
As the all-United States battle for the interim IBF crown between Mitchell
and Stewart began, Mitchell's substantial edge in hand speed was evident, but
Stewart was busy and competitive enough to stay in the fight, even scoring
with some good shots in the opening round.
Looking relaxed, Mitchell started to open up a bit more in the second and
third, and Stewart's face showed the results almost immediately, as he was
cut and swollen under the left eye, but still coming forward.
Early in the fourth, Mitchell stunned Stewart with a left uppercut and then
sent him to the floor for the first time in his career with a straight left.
Stewart rose and proceeded to take some punishment, but all of a sudden he
turned the tide, landing some power shots on the surprised "Little Big Man."
The pace slowed a bit in the fifth, and Mitchell took advantage of the lull,
landing another stiff left to the jaw that dropped Stewart again. "No Joke"
rose quickly, but with Mitchell starting to pile up points, Stewart's
trainer Leon Tabbs told his charge that he would consider stopping the bout
if the tide didn't turn.
But Mitchell, a step faster and better than Stewart, wouldn't allow his
opponent back into the fight, even though the Delaware native did fight well
in the seventh.
By the end of the seventh, the outcome of the bout was no longer in doubt,
and Mitchell was content to box and pot-shot Stewart, who took the shots and
kept coming forward, but was unable to do enough to win rounds.
"I went in there and did what I wanted to do," said Mitchell. "I wanted to
go in there and execute perfectly."
Mitchell's straight left put Stewart down again in the ninth, and once
again, the disgusted challenger immediately rose to his feet and for the
remainder of the bout, was courageous but overmatched.
Scores for Mitchell read 117-109, 120-106, and 120-105.