Ray Hatton knew fairly early on that his son, Richard, was something special in the boxing ring.
And it wasn't just the usual parental belief that the sun rises and sets on your child, no matter what he decides to do in life; it was something that only a former professional athlete can see, that certain something that sticks out and separates the gifted from the average.
The elder Hatton, a former footballer for Manchester City, remembers his son, then 12, doing things in the ring that most head-hunting 12-year-olds would not.
"We thought he had something when he was 12 years of age because he was already punching to the body," he told MaxBoxing.com.
"But at that early age, anything can happen -- he can fall out with the sport, he can go into something else, as kids do at that age. But he kept at it. He was quite a good soccer player as well, but the boxing even won out over that. So we always hoped that he could deliver what he's starting to deliver now and we had belief in him, but you can never tell at that age."
And when the young pugilist, more commonly known to boxing fans as Ricky "The Hitman" Hatton, decided to forego the family business -- football -- in favor of the prize ring, the die was cast, even though the youngster was signed to the youth squad of his father's former team.
"Richard was signed on with them when he was only a schoolboy, but because he was always going about trying to get fights, he kept missing training and they asked us to make a decision -- is he going to go to football or is he going to go with boxing?" Ray said.
"We left it up to him and he said he wanted to go boxing."
He hasn't had a day of hesitation since, through an impressive amateur career, a 39-0 run as a pro, and two world titles -- one of the fringe variety (WBU) and the other the real deal (IBF and lineal).
On Saturday in Sheffield, England, "The Hitman" attempts to unify two 140-pound division titles when he takes on unorthodox Colombian boxer Carlos Maussa (PPV 4 pm ET).
Although his son's career trek has been satisfying, it also has been bittersweet for the father.
"It [football] is a lot safer and the only thing is, in soccer, if he has a bad game, you're only slightly embarrassed for him. If he has a bad time in boxing, not only do you get embarrassed for him, but you know he's going to get hurt for his troubles as well," said Ray Hatton when asked about his son's decision to leave football behind.
So far Hatton has been the one doing the hurting, most famously in his last fight, on June 4, when he shocked the boxing world with an 11th-round stoppage of longtime champion Kostya Tszyu.
It was as physical a performance that you'll ever see at 140 pounds, with Hatton bullying Tszyu around the squared circle from bell to bell. As the fight entered its second half, Hatton -- fighting before a raucous crowd in his hometown of Manchester -- started to truly impose his will on Tszyu.
After the 11th round, the Australia-based Russian retired in his corner.
And a star was born, not just in England, but worldwide.
"I always wanted the big test and I always wanted to fight the best in the division, and I knew that, but I don't think people believed me," said Hatton.
"But now that I dealt with Kostya Tszyu, people are starting to believe me a bit more."
Those beliefs were starting to falter in the months before the Tszyu fight, as Hatton's record was impeccable but his competition was highly questionable.
Fighters like Ray Oliveira, Mike Stewart, Carlos Vilches, and Ben Tackie were good names for a young prospect looking for a veteran test, but not for a 27-year-old top contender who had defended his WBU title 15 times. And the whispers got louder and louder as Hatton remained in Manchester, not fighting anyone resembling a prime contender. Hatton said all the right things, but at the end of the day, the right fights weren't being made.
"When I first started in my career, everybody thought I was a wonderful prospect and I was coming through the rankings well, but then for a short period the mood had changed for a bit and people started thinking that Ricky Hatton is a good fighter but he doesn't want to come out of England or Manchester, and he's avoiding this fighter or that fighter," said Hatton.
"To be honest, I thought that was a load of crap and in many ways it made me more determined."
That determination was in brutal evidence against Tszyu, and all of a sudden, Hatton wasn't a protected fighter anymore, he was the junior welterweight champion.
Say what you want about the most talented fighter at 140 pounds, Floyd Mayweather Jr. The fact remains that Hatton is the man who beat the man, making him the division's true king.
Maussa, the WBA champion, is riding high after his upset knockout of Vivian Harris in June. But most remember his eight round drubbing at the hands of WBO champ Miguel Cotto in 2003. This makes for an entertaining but very winnable fight for Hatton.
"I've seen the films of Maussa, and I'm expecting a handful," he said.
"He's very difficult and very tenacious, and it's hard to know what he's going to do. The thing is, I'm not sure he knows what he's going to do. But I'm looking forward to it. For the fans, it's going to be a fun fight to watch."
And for Hatton, it's just going to be a relief getting into the ring before the end of the year; not a foregone conclusion after a messy split from longtime promoter Frank Warren, who many feel did a brilliant job with Hatton -- getting him the maximum exposure and gain for minimum risk competition-wise.
But this is boxing.
"I really can't go into detail, but I'll tell you that there were a series of events that made it more difficult to continue to work with Frank," said Hatton.
"We were together for eight years and he did a good job moving me along. In that eight years, we trusted Frank and never once sought out a solicitor or anyone to watch over him. Then some things happened that made me being to question the relationship. When we did ask to see things, there was hesitation on his part and when I tried to bring in legal counsel for help, he just dismissed our efforts further."
To make a long story short, Hatton left, joined up with new promoters Fight Academy, Warren took his former charge to court and wanted to halt the Maussa fight but then withdrew his request, and now we have a fight on Saturday, but a future court battle looming between the former associates.
At least for boxing fans, Hatton's newfound freedom means we might be seeing him back on American shores in 2006.
In fact, Hatton revealed during last week's teleconference that the Saturday fight was originally slated to be held in Atlantic City, but issues in finding a television network on the date brought the fight back to the British Isles. And though his deal with Fight Academy is only for one fight, the Hattons are pleased thus far with the promoter.
"The deal that we have with Fight Academy is for this fight only," said Ray Hatton. "We're hoping that we can continue with them because we've been very, very happy with them and they've been very nice people."
So is Ricky Hatton, who despite hitting the top of the popularity list as far as British boxers go, is as down to earth as they come. Fame definitely has not changed The Hitman.
"He's always believed that it costs nothing to be nice, and I think a lot of people seem to forget that," said his father. "Whether people look at you as a star or whatever, it costs nothing to be nice, and if you can't be nice with people, then it's a poor world."
Well, at least we've got fighters like Hatton to keep things sane in this boxing world with his pleasant attitude, hell-bent for leather aggression, and willingness (at least verbally for now) to take on the best. Now he's just got to pack his bags, come to the States and prove his mettle against the elite at 140.
"You've got to keep setting yourself goals," said Hatton.
"Obviously in beating Kostya Tszyu, I achieved my lifetime goal of becoming a world champion and being the No. 1 fighter in the division. But the junior welterweight division is currently cram-packed full of talent so there are so many great fights there and the best is yet to come. Although that was a fantastic win and a fantastic night, I want more of those nights."
And win or lose, Ray Hatton promises a fight from his son.
"Winning is a bonus," said Ray.
"It's the performance, pleasing the public, and putting [butts] on seats. They're the people that you've got to excite, whether you win or lose, and Ricky will always do that. We'll definitely be over to America next year, there's no ifs, buts, or wherefores. Now that we're in control of our own destiny, we'll do what we've wanted to do for quite some time and come over to America, and we know that they'll just love Ricky's style, win or lose."
Now the fun begins.