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Hatton's key fights

Doubts as to whether or not Ricky Hatton had the goods go as far back as 2000, when Hatton went life-or-death with Jon Thaxton. John Gichigi/Getty Images

A look at several pivotal fights in Ricky Hatton's career:

Pro Fight No. 22
Opponent: Jonathan Thaxton (19-5)
Date: Oct. 21, 2000, London
Result: Hatton by decision in 12

Why it matters: Hatton had barely been tested in 21 previous bouts, winning all but four by stoppage. This was baby's first bloodbath; the boyish Hatton, just turned 22, dominated a gruesome slugfest for the British light welterweight crown. The nails-tough Thaxton opened a cut on Hatton's left eyebrow about 15 seconds into the first round. It gushed as Thaxton honed in, and Hatton's ace cut man Mick Williamson had to put all his tools to work. Thaxton banged a looping right on Hatton's forehead in Round 2 and looked strong. But Hatton began scoring with short rights and combinations. He cut Thaxton in the third. By Round 5, Hatton was potshotting Thaxton, whose face became a bloody mask. In the seventh Hatton clobbered Thaxton with rights, and the older opponent seemed ready to go, but Hatton couldn't finish him. When Hatton's own cut opened again a round later, impairing his vision, referee Paul Thomas legitimately could have stopped either fighter on cuts. Even a massive Hatton right to close the 11th couldn't stop the relentless Thaxton. Hatton took a decision, and soon after he had plastic surgery that -- for a while at least -- made him less vulnerable to cuts.

Pro Fight No. 29
Opponent: Eamonn Magee (23-2)
Date: June 1, 2002, Manchester
Result: Hatton by decision in 12

Why it matters: Hatton was dropped for first time in his pro career -- in Round 1. He regrouped to overtake the sinewy Magee, who reportedly had trained for Hatton's brutal body attack by being hit in the stomach with sticks. Magee may have had studied films, too. In the opening round, as Hatton bullied Magee back against the ropes, Magee fired a perfect, short right hook to Hatton's head, over a left hook, and in an instant Hatton was on the seat of his pants. The flash knockdown did little damage, but the left-handed Magee had found a weapon. In the second, Magee scored with another crisp right that had Hatton momentarily wobbly, though Hatton continued to be the aggressor even when he was hurt. Hatton took the abuse to get in close. Hatton's right cheek cut in Round 4, and he bled until the final bell. It seemed he needed to have his head on Magee's shoulder or chest before unleashing barrages -- rights to the head and lefts to the body. Almost half the fight was waged in the same spot, with Magee against the ropes near his corner, where Hatton piled up points and won easily.

Pro Fight No. 34
Opponent: Ben Tackie (24-4)

Date: Dec. 13, 2003, Manchester
Result: Hatton by decision in 12

Why it matters: In defeating his first world-class opponent, Hatton outboxed a boxer, displaying speed and versatility that some still don't give him credit for. (As Hatton explained after an early-career win over Pedro Teran: "I'm not just a pooncher, I'm a boxer as well.") There was clutching and holding early and fouling, but Tackie mostly kept at a comfortable range, landing a long left jab and longer overhand right that he bent forward to throw. Hatton seemed happy with the distance, too, willing to step back, spy openings, and jump in with shots. He drove Tackie back in Round 1 with a left hook and right that ended up with Tackie on the canvas, a tumble ruled a slip. After that, both men landed heavy shots, but Hatton, bouncing and circling, was mostly beating Tackie to the punch. Two Hatton rights to the head in the sixth seemed to stiffen Tackie. With 30 seconds left in the bout, Hatton walked into a hard Tackie right and fell forward into a clinch. But he won his biggest fight yet, landing 324 of 728 punches -- an impressive 44 percent.

Pro Fight No. 39
Opponent: Kostya Tszyu (31-1)
Date: June 4, 2005, Manchester
Result: Hatton by TKO in 11

Why it matters: Tszyu, 35, had held the 140-pound world title for 10 years -- he'd beaten Julio Cesar Chavez and Zab Judah -- and was Hatton's step onto the world stage. The lad from Manchester seized the moment and battered Tszyu into retirement. Referee Dave Parris helped. He let the boxers hold each other for extended periods and punch from clinches. Hatton mugged and manhandled Tszyu, neutralizing the champ's ability to fire off midrange jabs and rights, his most effective weapons. Tszyu did have success counter-punching early, and the fight seemed even halfway through. But Hatton walked through most Tszyu shots. Moving forward with uppercuts to the chin, rights to the face and left hooks to the body. Hatton seemed to grow in stature as the rounds wore on. The fight turned decisively on a foul in Round 9: Tszyu was warned for low punches, then Hatton threw a very low blow that sapped anything Tszyu had left. After Tszyu regrouped, Hatton swarmed. By the end of 11, Tszyu's face was swollen, and he was done. He didn't come out for the 12th. But he took the ring microphone and told the Manchester crowd: "I am a proud man....Today I lost to the better fighter."

Pro Fight No. 43
Opponent: Jose Luis Castillo (55-7-1)

Date: June 23, 2007, Las Vegas
Result: Hatton by TKO in 4

Why it matters: The gut-crushing Hatton left hook that ended this megafight so suddenly, in Round 4, landed low and hard on Castillo's right side. The best word to describe what happened is to say that Castillo recoiled. He took a step back, and did a 360-degree spin move to get away fast, and dropped to one knee and put down a glove to steady himself on the ground, like he was going to throw up. It looked like someone who'd just touched a burning hot stove. And he stayed down; Castillo wanted no more. The high-glamor match had promised to be a war between two champions (Castillo was an ex-champ) who liked to bang at close range. But Castillo never got going. It may have been the weight (Castillo had grown out of the 135 pound class and wasn't used to bigger opponents). It could have been the years of punches taking their toll on Castillo. Or it could have been Hatton -- whose body attack was fierce enough to make another dangerous opponent, coming into the fight, seem like a shot fighter going out.

Pro Fight No. 44
Opponent: Floyd Mayweather Jr. (38-0)

Date: Dec. 8, 2007, Las Vegas
Result: Mayweather by TKO in 10

Why it matters: It all led to this: a superfight between undefeated champs. Hatton, whose weight gains between fights had earned him the nickname "Ricky Fatton," was up at welterweight for just the second time and hoped to make a comfy home in the division. Through six rounds, it had the appearance of a typical Hatton fight as he worked to pin Mayweather against the ropes -- a strategy that Castillo and a few others had established as the only known blueprint for getting to Mayweather. Thousands of singing Brits who had invaded Vegas roared in Round 1 when a stoked-up Hatton briefly wobbled Mayweather with a left. But, quietly, it was really a Mayweather fight. Pretty Boy was punishing Hatton for his aggression with surgically targeted potshots. A Mayweather right hand lead opened a cut over Hatton's right eye in Round 3, and cutman Mick Williamson never was able to keep it closed for long. Mayweather increasingly timed Hatton's moves, and by Round 8, the puzzle solved, Mayweather let his hands go to unleash fierce combinations of his own. He got Hatton in trouble in the corner near the end of the 8th, and in the 10th he dropped Hatton with an exquisitely timed check hook than sent Hatton's head plowing into the turnbuckle as he fell forward. Twenty seconds later, with Hatton up and getting mugged and his trainer Billy Graham about to toss the white towel, referee Joe Cortez stopped the fight. Hatton, in his first loss, connected with a measly 17 percent of his punches.

Pro Fight No. 46
Opponent: Paulie Malignaggi (25-1)
Date: Nov. 22, 2008, Las Vegas
Result: Hatton by TKO in 11

Why it matters: Humbled and exposed, Hatton regrouped. He returned to 140 pounds -- and the friendly confines of Manchester -- in a win over Juan Lazcano. Next, in facing the slick and tough-chinned (if soft-handed) Malignaggi, he hoped to retake the throne as king at 140. Hatton was in classic form this time. Two rights nearly put Malignaggi down in Round 2 and opened a cut at his left cheekbone. Malignaggi mostly crept backwards on springy feet, flicking his quick left to land occasional countering shots, mostly withholding his right. He couldn't stem Hatton's advance, though, and Hatton, now working with trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr., was fast and accurate. He rocked Malignaggi again in Round 8, and in the late rounds his gloves seemed to be chasing Malignaggi's bobbing head around the ring. Midway through Round 11, Malignaggi trainer Buddy McGirt had seen enough and threw in the towel, ending the night for his disappointed fighter. Hatton was back in the big leagues -- and in line to face the winner of the Manny Pacquiao-Oscar De La Hoya superfight.

Don Steinberg, a winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America's award for best column in 2005, covers boxing for The Philadelphia Inquirer.