Ricky Hatton's name is up in neon lights on the Las Vegas Strip this weekend, a kind of reality check for the fighter's fighter who still prides himself on being "the happy-go-lucky, relaxed, sarcastic, laughing, joking" guy next door.
The 29-year-old from Manchester, England, has seen his life change enormously since he won The Ring junior welterweight championship from Kostya Tszyu on an unforgettable June night in 2005 at the MEN Arena in his home city.
Now, of course, he is preparing to face the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world, Floyd Mayweather, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Dec. 8, a long way from the Kingsway Leisure Centre in Widnes where he had his first professional bout 10 years ago against Colin McAuley, who retired in 1998 with a modest career record of 8-54-3 (1 KO).
Yet the more things have changed for the self-styled Hitman, the more they have remained the same.
His home, which he calls Heartbreak Hotel, is just around the corner from the house on the Hattersley estate in which he grew up with his brother and best friend Matthew, who also will appear on the Dec. 8 show.
"I can literally walk out into my back garden and shout across to my mum, which I frequently do, though it's usually the other way round, my mum shouting over to me, it has to be said," Hatton joked shortly before departing for Las Vegas. "Everyone knows me round here. The cab drivers, when I call them up and they hear my voice, they just say, 'All right, Ricky, pick you up at the Heartbreak, is it?' My friends are still the same friends I grew up with, and the way we are with one another hasn't changed just because I'm doing well in my boxing career.
"I remember a few weeks before I fought Kostya Tszyu, I was out running along the Stockport Road around two in the morning because that was the time for the fight and some of my mates passed by in a taxi on their way home from a pub in Stalybridge. They were steaming drunk. Anyway, as the cab crept past, they dropped their trousers and stuck their arses out the windows, crying out, 'Want a lift, Ricky lad? The night's not over yet.'
A few nights later, Hatton was running again about 2 a.m. and turned into the Hattersley estate where his friends lived. He began knocking the doors and windows in an attempt to return their humorous "favor."
"'Come on, you so-and-so's, rise and shine,' I shouted out, and I could hear them all wakening up one by one, all my mates," he recalled. "My mate Steve left a message on my phone, which I picked up when I got back in the house: 'I hope that [Tszyu] knocks your ----ing head off.' I was in hysterics and, to be honest, it means everything to me that I can still have a laugh and joke with the lads and they treat me no differently to anybody else."
The walls of Hatton's home are adorned with memorabilia he has acquired over the years. Several years ago, he became a serious collector, and he has framed and autographed posters of some of his favorite actors and movies around his house, actors such as Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Sharon Stone and Clint Eastwood. There is a guitar on display at the bottom of his stairs, signed by the Gallagher brothers -- Liam and Noel -- of Oasis fame, who grew up about 15 minutes away. At their last concert two years ago at the City of Manchester Stadium, the band dedicated a song to Hatton.
"I was on holiday in Tenerife," Hatton explained, "and my phone started bleeping with text messages. There was a whole load of them, and I thought, 'Flippin' hell, what's this?' The next minute, someone rang, and I said, 'What's up?' They said, 'We're at the Oasis concert, and they just dedicated a song to you.' Apparently, Liam went up to the mike and went, 'Manchester, this one's for Ricky Hatton,' and the whole place erupted. It's incredible, really."
Hatton also has some priceless boxing memorabilia, such as the set of boots, shorts, dressing gown, gloves and two pictures all signed by Muhammad Ali and displayed in a large case. Oscar De La Hoya recently sent him a piece of the canvas from the ring in which he beat Julio Cesar Chavez in their first fight.
But pride of place goes to his own memorabilia items, such as the gloves he wore the night be beat McAuley and a brilliant montage of his amateur career, which includes the bronze medal he won in the world junior championships in Cuba. "The medal's right at the top of the display, and I've got all my certificates for my national titles in the same frame," Hatton said. "My medical record card is in the montage, too, and you can see, reading it, that I was still known then as Richard Hatton and my address was the New Inn pub in Hattersley. To be honest, it might as well still be my address because I'm always in it!"
As a child, Hatton was a Bruce Lee fan. He actually started out in kickboxing at the age of 10.
"I wasn't bad, but these short legs of mine just weren't built for kicking, and that's when I switched to boxing," he said.
His great-uncle, Spider Hatton, was a famous fighter in the Manchester area, and his great-grandfather, Daniel Slattery, was a famous bare-knuckle boxer in Ireland. But like all young British boys, Hatton had dreams of being a professional footballer. His father and grandfather played for Manchester City, which also happens to be the team he supports. Just as with kickboxing, however, he quickly realized his talent was in his hands, not his feet.
"The Louvolite in Hyde was my first boxing club, and I still remember the first day I walked in with my dad. I didn't take it seriously at first. I was a kid and I mucked around, but, at 13, I won my first national schoolboys' championship, and even at that age I was building a reputation for my body-punching and aggressive style. People were noticing me, and that made me want to do even better."
The desire to represent himself well -- and, by extension, the place from which he comes -- runs strong in Hatton. The Hattersley estate is infamous for being the place where Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, the Moors murderers, lived. Brady and Hindley killed five children between 1963 and 1965, and the stigma still hangs over the area.
Just down the road from there in Hyde is the surgery clinic where Dr. Harold Shipman became notorious as Britain's most prolific serial killer, killing hundreds of patients.
"When you walked out the back of the New Inn pub, which my dad once owned, you came straight to where Brady and Hindley lived and where some of the murders actually happened," Hatton explained. "The house is no longer there, but everyone knows where it was. Hyde is also the place where Harold Shipman had his clinic, of course, so we've had more than our fair amount of bad news from around here. I was actually at school with Shipman's son [David].
Hatton hopes that his success as a boxer overshadows the dark shadow that might hang over the area in which he grew up. "You couldn't meet nicer people than the people who live here," Hatton said, "and I've always wanted to generate better news for the area through my boxing career."
So, while he walks along The Strip in the coming days and soaks up some of the atmosphere that will be generated by 20,000 of his countrymen congregating in Vegas, Hatton will look up at the lights and see his name. But it is precisely because he has never forgotten his roots that Hatton has made it onto the big stage -- and, in a way, this is why he will be a danger to Mayweather.
Brian Doogan covers boxing for The Sunday Times and Ring magazine.