By Terence Dooley
News of Ricky Hatton’s comeback surprised few people, especially those who had seen the photos of a svelte Hatton that “The Hitman” posted on his Twitter account in the weeks leading up to the announcement. No, the question that has burned in most minds since he made the decision is why the former world light-welterweight and WBA welterweight champion has opted to return after three-years of living the high life. Is it money, the love of fame, was it born out of a need to exercise his body, or a burning desire to exorcise the memories of his last fight, a brutal second-round KO loss to Manny Pacquiao? Only Hatton, 45-2 (32), can answer the questions, but there is one person who feels he understands why the Mancunian is returning to the ring, and it has more to do with the circumstances surrounding the loss to Pacquiao than the defeat itself.
Lee Beard worked with Hatton until 2010. Although Floyd Mayweather Senior was the head coach for Hatton’s fights with Paulie Malignaggi and Pacquiao, Beard had to step in during the chaotic Pacquiao camp as cracks began to emerge in Hatton’s relationship with his brash American trainer. These fractures were almost as cavernous as the gaps in Hatton’s defence on fight night and, according to Beard, the fact that the former linear light-welterweight world champion even made it to the MGM Grand ring is testament to his raw courage and spirit.
“I know his promotional company lost some TV dates, but he says he wants to redeem himself and that’s why he’s doing it,” said Beard when speaking about Hatton’s return. “The Pacquiao loss was terrible. I thought if he was going to come back then it would have been within six-months or a year of that. It is a long time out — he’s coming from a hurtful loss, but as long as Ricky’s got the hunger then that’s fine. The Pacquiao camp had problems, everyone knows that now, and a lot of emphasis was put on a lot of things, such as Floyd himself, and people focused on that, which was wrong.”
Hatton was seen in some quarters as a slight favourite going into the bout, he was at his natural weight, had dominated Malignaggi in his previous bout, his first under Mayweather Senior, and there were many who still felt that his opponent had been flattered when flattening a weight-drained Oscar De La Hoya.
However, Hatton’s “Jack The Lad” personality belies a fine boxing brain; Hatton knew that he was in for a tough night. “Ricky lost a lot of weight early,” said Beard. “His hunger to beat Pacquiao caused that. I was there when Billy [Graham] was there [before Graham was sacked in 2008], and could see him physically in camp and where he was at (at) certain stages.
“The best I’d seen Ricky was for the [Jose Luis] Castillo fight [a fourth-round KO in 2007], he looked ripped and strong. He had lost muscle against Pacquiao and looked smaller. His abs were there, but they would be because of his weight loss, and he looked really bad because Manny had a tanned body, which looked better next to Ricky’s, and he was ripped, so it looked worse than it was. Ricky didn’t look brilliant, but it wasn’t as bad as people think.”
Given the tweaking of Hatton’s usual weight loss schedule and the strained situation between Mayweather and Hatton, Beard knew things weren’t right in the weeks before the contest, but he tried his best to get Hatton prepared.
“I got more involved in the last two weeks (of camp), and obviously by that time it wasn’t a perfect thing to get involved with,” he explained. “Some of the people around Ricky created a monster because Floyd got frustrated with them.”
Rumours that Floyd was unhappy during the U.S. section of the camp — be it over the involvement of Beard, money concerns or any one of the many things that can upset a combustible character like Mayweather — had started to filter through long before HBO’s 24/7 showed scenes in which Floyd turned up late for training sessions and appeared to be staging a go-slow.
A rift was confirmed in the days leading up to the fight, with Mayweather cryptically stating to Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports that one of the main problems was between him and Hatton: “I addressed the situation and the problems I had with him. I addressed things with him. I let him know I don’t play that, don’t do that. He knows now. I won’t disrespect him. If I don’t want someone else disrespecting me in no kind of a way, I’m not going to disrespect anybody else in no kind of a way. We have a very clear understanding between each other. I make sure I have a clear understanding with everybody I train because nobody is going to be jerking me around and I take no mess off nobody.”
Once the dust settled on the loss itself, the attention focused on Mayweather and Beard’s relationship, with Floyd himself stating that Beard had interfered. Tellingly, when things started to go haywire during the camp itself, Beard, who had a long-standing friendship with Mayweather, was asked to placate the former fighter.
“I sat with Floyd until 2am one night trying to calm him down,” he said. “This was a few weeks before the fight. When we got to California, then to Vegas, it turned out they [members of Team Hatton] had lied to Floyd about something, which I can’t go into, so he hit the roof about it.”
Whatever the root of this rift in the camp, it prompted Mayweather to down tools, turn up late and generally act like he was the star of the show, which was not helped by HBO’s obsession with turning trainers into stars of their 24/7 series — Michael Buffer introduced Freddie Roach and Mayweather Senior ahead of the fight. Moreover, Mayweather is not the kind of guy who is prepared to give ground when it comes to boxing, not even to his own son and brothers, and would not have taken kindly to the training by committee — whether overt or covert — approach that creeps in at the top-level of the sport.
“There’s two sides of it, that Floyd wasn’t showing an interest, which was true, but also that he was over-cooking him,” recalled Beard. “Saying that, it is all about trust. If you’re employing someone as a trainer then let them train the fighter — if you don’t have any involvement with the training then don’t get involved.
“For people to criticise Floyd since then is a joke. I’ve seen a lot of trainers over here and in America, but Floyd is brilliant technically and defensively. How can people judge things just on what they’ve heard from a training camp or say Floyd wasn’t a good fit for Ricky. Floyd is brilliant, but there was outside interference. I’ve seen Floyd in a gym without cameras there and seen what he can do.
“If Floyd wants you to throw a left hook, he’ll break it down until it is right, going over and over it. Floyd was doing that with [Beard’s son] Adrian [Gonzalez] when he was just 15. His passion for getting things right comes through his teaching, but if you get on the wrong side of him, if you owe him a dollar, a million dollars or there’s something else that has pissed him off, then he’ll just shut off on you. Floyd has got no time for people who aren’t in boxing. He just wants to fuck them off and they don’t like it because they think they’re an important piece in the jigsaw. When Billy was training Ricky, there were people who thought they knew better than him.”
Indeed, in the years after Hatton’s signature win over Kostya Tyszu the fighter became a celebrity and started to enjoy the trappings of success. His high public profile led to a reality series, At Home With The Hattons, and by the time of the Pacquiao fight Hatton had his own chat show on Nuts TV. Throw in the thriving after dinner speaking engagements and you had a few Ricky Hatton’s: the fighter, the celebrity and the entertainer, no wonder he took to referring to himself in the third-person. Naturally, there was some unwanted crossover between the different teams, as Beard pointed out.
He said: “Ricky knew what he needed to do in the Pacquiao fight, but he was doing things to satisfy other people and should have done what he wanted to do. I could see that. There’s interference around the place, then people blame the trainer if it goes wrong. I think it is insulting.
“People try to make someone look bad to make themselves look good. I was there morning, day and night. Some of the things that happened shouldn’t have. Like the after dinner speaking, should he be doing that when he’s training? Billy didn’t like it. I remember Billy saying Ricky was disciplined, but he shouldn’t be out doing comedy instead of staying at home and resting. Billy was right. Billy saw it as an interference to the training.”
Graham’s presence still looms large over Hatton’s career, for a long time the two seemed a match made in heaven. Despite their split and highly publicised court case, one senses that there is a huge amount of respect for the boxing nous of the other. Like boxing’s very own Trotsky writing his own version of a letter from exile, Graham broke the Pacquiao fight down for a preview article on BoxingScene in a direct, succinct way that impressed both Beard and Hatto. Beard still holds Graham in very high regard.
“I was talking to Ricky before the fight,” revealed Beard. “I was reading Billy’s write up about the fight. I read it and everything he said made total sense, from the way Ricky should approach it to what he should do in the ring. I said all this to Ricky and told him what Billy said. Ricky said Billy’s very knowledgeable in the way he talks. My point is that when you’re just sat there talking about boxing with Ricky, you’re talking to Ricky Hatton, not Ricky Hatton the superstar and all the people around him. You get that normality.
“I learned loads from Billy and Kerry Kayes myself. Anyone can tell you how to hold the pads or instruct you on how to get someone to jump the bar, but a person’s experiences and what they’ve been through, the history of what they’ve seen and witnessed, is the stuff that is invaluable. If you’re around something like that and don’t soak it in, then you’re a fool. It is the same with Jimmy Tibbs — it is the way he is, the way he talks. People like that can entrap you with the way they talk and are — you can listen to them for ages.
“Floyd is the same, he is erratic, but I’ve known him for years, and have driven here, there and everywhere with him, he’s a book of knowledge on boxing. Some of the stories he has told me are incredible. You want to speak to him without a camera there — it is something that you just can’t buy because he’s so knowledgeable. Floyd will start talking boxing, then stand you up, do some pads and go through things for two hours. It is non-stop teaching.
“I didn’t like the targeting of Floyd because there was reasons behind the way things developed. Floyd wasn’t brilliant in the training camp, he had his issues and people know he came in late, but it is not all about one individual. You have to be fair and tell the truth — don’t just target one thing. Just because someone says something it doesn’t mean it is the truth. They just say it to get their point across first. If enough mud is thrown then it sticks. People need to realise it wasn’t just down to one thing.”
He added: “In boxing, everyone looks out for themselves, all I cared about was him [Hatton] winning the fight. What I wanted was for him to get a few rounds under his belt, calm down and go on from there.”
Now training with Bob Shannon, Hatton has claimed that he has “Gone back to his roots”; Shannon trained alongside Billy Graham as a teenager when both boxers worked under Shannon’s father, Robert Shannon Senor. In a recent interview with BoxingScene, Shannon put Hatton’s last defeat down to the wrong tactics, arguing that Hatton was like a raging bull on the night. Beard, though, pointed to the pre-fight stare down as proof that Hatton, always so fearless, often to his detriment, was intimidated, not by Pacquiao, but by the knowledge that he had just come through the most chaotic camp of his career.
He said: “Bob thinks Ricky boxed like a raging bull, he wasn’t a raging bull. Ricky wasn’t even there, if you get what I mean. A raging bull has got the fire in his eyes; a look like he’s going to break down walls, but Ricky had fear in his eyes before the fight. Ricky needed a few rounds, not just to settle down, but to get his confidence up, and he did do better in the second round, although he couldn’t have done worse than the first. Then Ricky got hurt [in round two] and he said he heard me shout: ‘Close the round out’, but thought: ‘I’ve never done that in my life’, and didn’t see it out. Ricky wasn’t dropped in that round until the knockout, he should have closed it out and made it through to round three.”
In hindsight, Hatton should have looked closer to home when appointing a new trainer after his acrimonious split with Graham — both Beard and Shannon would have been ideally placed to take up the reins. As for Beard himself, after that terrible first round, Hatton immediately looked to Lee for advice, which tells its own story as to who Hatton trusted the most after that infamous training camp.
“People say what they think is true, and if the person they say it about doesn’t reply then everyone assumes it is true, so I wanted to set the record straight,” he said. “My final advice to Ricky would be this: trust your trainer, Ricky.”
Ironically, Beard and “Magic” Matthew Hatton are back together again after parting company in 2010, when Beard teamed up with Joan Guzman for the Dominican’s win over Ali Funeka. Prior to this split, Beard was the frontrunner for the head trainer role in Ricky Hatton’s aborted 2010 comeback, but has not worked with Ricky since joining Guzman. Given Beard’s testimony, and Hatton’s experiences prior his second loss, it could well be that the Mancunian’s reason for this comeback is to show people the real Ricky Hatton — Hatton has more than earned the right to head into the sunset with a few more Ws, and hopefully title belts, on his ledger.
Lee Beard appeared in the November issue of Boxing Monthly magazine:
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