By Terence Dooley

Of all the people watching Ricky Hatton lose to Manny Pacquiao in two brutally one-sided rounds last Saturday no one will have felt more sadness than Hatton’s former coach Billy Graham.  For so long the training Ying to Hatton’s boxing Yang, Graham watched with a mixture of sadness and frustration as the man he still rates as one of the worlds finest boxers repeatedly walked onto Manny’s hammer blows.

In the days after the fight Graham spoke to about his feelings.  These were tough days for Graham, who told me that the outcome of the fight had been a real shock.  For this writer, though, the seeds of doubt in Hatton’s ability to perform at the very highest were sown in the final rounds of his contest with Luis Collazo in 2006.

The Collazo fight saw Hatton fight at welterweight for the first time in his career; Ricky did not take any half-measures, moving up in weight to take on a tough, skilful southpaw, a man most fighters would happily avoid.

Collazo’s strength told in the later rounds, these were stanzas in which Ricky took a lot of right hooks to the head, as well as his fair share of straight left hands.  The final round onslaught had almost put paid to Hatton’s budding welterweight career, with Ricky unable to stop Collazo from landing the big bombs.

All in all it was a torrid night for The Hitman, who managed to fight, and smother, his way through that final session, grabbing a points win in the process.  I feel that this brawl, more than any other, had an effect on Hatton, he was never quite the same after this contest.

The Collazo gamble was, also, my first experience of The Phoenix gym; the first time I met the team, both of them, for it was clear even then that there was Team Hatton, and Team Phoenix, with Graham and Kerry Kayes heading up The Phoenix side of things.

Our early conversations had laid bare the trainer’s fears over the Collazo fight, as well as his frustrations over the promotional chaos surrounding that contest, by this point, however, Graham was unable to pull the plug on the fight, something he had done in the past, it had all become a bit too big by then.  I started our latest chat by asking Graham if the Collazo fight had been the beginning of the end, he said: “Not for me, no.

“Collazo was a tough fighter, and it was a tough fight, but I don’t think it took everything away from Ricky.  In an ideal world I wouldn’t have taken that fight, especially with the notice we were given, but we took it, and Ricky won it.  Collazo is a really tough, strong fighter, look at the problems he gave Andre Berto earlier this year.

“The main problem in that fight was that Ricky carbed up wrong, he did not have the respect for nutrition then that he later had, and he gained that respect because of the toughness of the Collazo fight, but that fight did not finish him at the top-level, no.  I wouldn’t have gone into the Floyd (Mayweather) fight if that had been the case.”

Conditioning is a funny thing, when a fighter has to make the weight he will generally look cut on the scales.  Most fighters will also look skeletal and physically jaded; you can cover this, growing a beard to hide the gauntness of your face. 

When Hatton took the scales for the Manny fight his conditioning told its own story.  Ricky looked terrible, scrawny even, had his conditioning been as good as it could have been, Graham told me that: “I don’t think Ricky’s conditioning was as good as it could have been for the Manny fight, certainly not as good as it had been in recent years. 

“Me, Kerry Kayes or anyone who knows what they are looking at could see that his condition was not good, it is not an easy thing to spot, but there were signs at the weigh in.  It looked to me like Ricky was carrying more body fat, and less muscle.  Kerry can tell you all about that type of thing.”

Kerry Kayes did just that, talking to me earlier this week.  Kerry worked with Hatton during the fighter’s peak years, bringing him in on the weight time after time, whilst also keeping Ricky well conditioned.  Kayes also made sure that the boxer was hydrated at the weight, cutting out the need to rehydrate after the weigh in. 

Kayes has not worked with Ricky since the Juan Lazcano fight, and he was surprised at Ricky’s condition on the scales prior to the Manny contest, as Kayes told me: “Ricky would go to bed the night before a weigh in anywhere between 10st 4lb and 10st 6lb when we worked together, and that is a very, very hydrated Ricky Hatton. 

“A 2-litre bottle of water weighs 4lb.  When you have been on a binge you have a lot of fluid in you, so you get up and have what Peter Kay calls a ‘man piss’, you can easily fill a bottle of water up with one of those.

“That means you are pissing out about 4lb on the morning of the weigh in.  Ricky was very hydrated throughout his camps with me; he would get up every morning and have a man piss.  If you get up in the morning and you are not hydrated, you will be dry.  That means that you have been dehydrated for a long time. 

“I get a fighter very hydrated, and have them drinking between four and six litres of water a day – Jamie Moore has eight litres a day, and is pissing all the time.  If you do that you lose four to six lbs of water without going into the sauna. 

“Immediately after the weigh in I give the boxer a Pro recover, and other supplements.  CNP products have nutrients in them, and the nutrients are mixed in with three or four litres of water, so they can put about six-pounds back on in water and nutrients.  Plus, the carbohydrates are going back into the body, and they are converted into glycogen. 

“After a weigh in Ricky would put on about a stone [Writer’s note: Hatton raised eyebrows by only putting on 12lb between Friday’s weigh in and Saturday’s fight, with rumours persisting that he was dehydrated on the scales].  For the Collazo fight he started higher, as he was at welterweight, and came in higher, but it is always around 14lb of good weight gained, as a general rule.  For the Mayweather fight he came in at 10st 5lb on the scales, he purposefully wanted to come in light, we could have brought him in at 10st 7lb because he was on target for the weight, but he said no, asking me to bring him in light.

“The body composition was completely different for the Manny fight.  There was a lot more body fat and a lot less muscle.  The weight gain was not as high after the weigh in, and it did not strengthen him in the way it should do.  It was terrible to see him come in for a fight like that, and to lose that way.”     

Questions over his conditioning aside, there is no doubt that Hatton fought recklessly in the fight itself, Ricky later confirming that ‘the heart had ruled the head’.  Graham was not surprised to hear Ricky say this, claiming that: “Ricky always takes responsibility when he makes mistakes in the ring, he is a good kid, Ricky does not lie or kid people on when he is talking about a fight. 

“Ricky has admitted to being reckless in the past, and admitted it again this week.  Ricky is a predator.  Ricky wants to destroy people, sometimes to his own detriment.  Ricky has so many fans because of the way he fights.  Ricky will take risks; he wants to hunt you down.  Look at his idols, guys like Jake La Motta and Roberto Duran, he wants to emulate them, and both those men could be reckless in fights.”

Hatton was floored by a right hook in round one, the first of the three knockdowns, the shot was solid but it should not have completely wiped Hatton out, it did, he never fully recovered from it.  The point is, again, raised about his conditioning, could a well-conditioned Hatton have recovered?  Possibly, but, for Graham, Hatton was too brave, rising from the floor, and then looking to take Pacman out with a single shot, only to walk onto a monster left at the end of the second round, Graham took it up: “Ricky got hurt and tried pot-shotting his way back (into the fight) but he should have been claiming the guy, roughing him about until he could get his head clear. 

“Ricky got a bit desperate and tried to hit back when he should have been holding on and taking the guy for a walk.  Ricky made the mistake of looking to go shot-for-shot in the first round when he should have been using his strength, making it ugly, ragging the guy around.  Why stay on the outside against a southpaw?

“I don’t think he had the core strength to come back after being shaken by the first knockdown.  His approach after that first knockdown contributed to his defeat.  That is what went wrong on the night.”

People came crawling out of the woodwork after the Manny loss, looking to crow over Hatton’s demise, for those people it was yet another sign that a man who has won titles across two weights does not know how to box, it is a nonsensical argument, and one Graham holds in contempt: “Look, Ricky Hatton is a fantastic boxer, he is a really, really clever fighter, but in the past his eagerness to please the fans has seen him smother his own work, despite that he always found a performance that would take him to victory, against world class opposition as well.

“Ricky’s biggest strength was taken away from him in his past two fights, his conditioning was not what it could have been, his strength on fight night used to be obscene, there was none of that strength in his last two fights.  Ricky always had massive strength and impressive stamina, and they came from the training he did.

“Ricky’s biggest assets were taken away, and those assets are always misunderstood, people write him off as a brawler, Ricky is not a brawler, he is a technical pressure fighter.  Watch some of his earlier fights for proof, by that I mean the likes of the (Ray) Olivera or (Ben) Tackie fights.”

An aging fighter needs extensive conditioning work, in the post-Graham landscape the people around Hatton invested heavily in the idea that they needed a technical coach, step forward Floyd Mayweather Senior.  Notwithstanding the fact that Mayweather’s abrasive personality, and inability to make any sense whatsoever, embarrassed the camp ahead of the Manny fight, the inclusion of Floyd was also detrimental to Hatton the fighter. 

Hatton’s lawyer, Gareth Williams, has since told the world that Floyd is being replaced by Lee Beard, and, also, that Floyd had been employed in a consultancy role, this, coupled with rumours that Hatton had two separate training camps, one headed by Floyd, the other by Beard, paints a grim image of the pre-fight preparations. 

For Graham the move to Floyd was doomed to failure, as he told me: “Floyd Mayweather talks about being ‘old-school’, that is shorthand for ‘the trainer is old-fashioned’.  The days of running with boots on or chasing chickens around a yard are long fucking gone. 

“Look at all the other sports, track events, football, the lot of them, they all use weights as part of their preparation, and the weight-work is handled by an expert, that is what coaching is about, innovation.  Old-fashioned boxing trainers are trying to do the things that the old trainers did, but conditioning and preparing an athlete has moved on, you have to learn from new things.  That is why you bring in someone like Kerry Kayes, because Kerry can manage weight without losing strength, and Kerry instils the core strength.

“Anyone can look good on a pair of pads, all those different combinations, and the rest of what they do, is choreography, the pads find the shots, they do most of the work, it can make anyone look like they are world class, but that is not always the way things are when the first bell goes.

“I am a realist, I am a fight trainer, and I geared the training towards what the guy needs in a fight.  In Ricky’s case it was the conditioning and strength needed to do the things he wants to do.”

After the conclusion of the Juan Lazcano fight, their last contest together, Graham and Hatton exchanged the most cursory of hugs.  Graham then used the post-fight press conference to lament the fact that Ricky had been reckless in that fight.  Hatton had agreed. 

Graham had been hoping to use the Lazcano fight to find out exactly what Ricky had left in the tank, this plan went out of the window when Hatton picked up a virus during his training camp, Graham took up the story: “I felt that we should take the Lazcano fight, then take Paulie, as Paulie would not beat Hatton in a million years, and I do like Paulie, he is a tough kid.  I felt comfortable with those fights.

“My thinking was that I could monitor him in those fights, that I would be able to tell, in the fight and in the gym, if deterioration had set in.  There was the problem with Ricky having a bug in the run-up to the Lazcano fight, so I was not sure if the wobbles he had were down to that, it was in my mind that I would watch him closely, but the Lazcano fight was hard to judge.

“The training was terrible for that Lazcano fight.  I would have pulled him out if I had that kind of power anymore.  Ricky knows that.  I told people that I would monitor him and see that he was all right, check that it wasn’t just the infection.  If I had seen signs of deterioration in training I would have told him to call it a day. 

“I didn’t get the chance to judge him on the Malignaggi fight, because it was over by then, after I was sacked I wasn’t privy to the things that were around him.  By Ricky’s own admission (when we had our final meeting) there were times when he wasn’t sure if he could get through the Lazcano fight.

“I told him that it was probably the virus.  I told him that last day that I would have pulled him out of the Lazcano fight, had I still had the power to do so, I would also have done the same with the Urango fight, and Ricky said, ‘I know you would (have).’

“With hindsight I realise that Ricky should not have carried on boxing after the Malignaggi fight.  Getting knocked out twice, and nearly knocked out, in three of your past four fights is not great form.  Even though he won clearly against Lazcano he nearly got done. 

“Lazcano hurt him a few times, honestly, the break caused by Ricky’s laces coming undone [in round ten] helped, his eyes were in orbit after taking a left hook, the ref separated them and Ricky nearly fell into the ropes.  The virus did not help, so I wanted to monitor him properly for the next fight after the Lazcano one.  I never got that chance

“Then I saw him in the Malignaggi fight, and there were faults there, and I felt that, ideally, that is when he should have retired, but the Manny fight came along, and you felt that Ricky would have what it takes to beat Manny.

“Malignaggi cannot hit, but the signs were there that Ricky’s punch resistance was going.  I never thought it had gone to the extent we saw on Saturday.  I would have noticed things in the sessions for that fight had I been around.  Ricky’s sparring partners for the Lazcano fight were lighter than him, and he didn’t make a dent in them, you saw that, so I put a stop to the sparring.

“What I would have done for the Paulie fight is look out for signs that he was slipping, and I would have said, ‘That is it.’  In a way you cannot blame Ricky for taking the Manny fight, as it gave him the chance to make some good money, and, more importantly, become the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.  I expected him to have more to offer, but on the night he didn’t.

“The reason why I had no problem with the Paulie fight was that Ricky had told me that he would have two more fights.  It was put out that he could have had five more fights, or whatever, but he told me that he wanted two, and to then get out (of boxing).

“When I went into the gym for the Lazcano fight I said, ‘Ricky is this the last one?’, and he said, ‘No, two more, I want to headline at Madison Square Garden for the Malignaggi fight.’  When he told me that I thought ‘good lad’, and we went to work for the Lazcano fight.  He told me that same day that he was fuming over the statement from his father about having five more fights [a claim Ray Hatton made in December 2007]. 

“For me the Manny fight was a hard lesson, but you cannot blame Ricky for not turning that fight down.  A peak Ricky Hatton beats Manny, too big, too skilled and too strong, but the real Ricky Hatton does not exist anymore, I did say that before the fight, I just thought there would be enough left to win this one.”

Many people overplayed the Malignaggi performance, claiming that this was Hatton reborn, in reality it was a reversion to the kind of boxing that he had shown on his way up the ladder.  Graham believes that claims Hatton was restyled that night are absurd: “Although Ricky won the Malignaggi fight he did not look the same fighter, he should have got Paulie out of there quicker, knocking him about in the process.  Ricky did use his jab better, he kept his poise, and did the job, but I cannot believe some of the stuff that was said about that fight.

“Anybody, or any sports writer, who thought that was a huge return to form and a stellar performance is talking nonsense, they do not know what they are looking at if they think that was Ricky Hatton rolling back the years. 

“There was a return to some of the boxing artistry he has, Ricky has always been a fantastic boxer.  Look at the Olivera fight and tell me that Ricky has never turned on the skills before the Malignaggi performance.

“Against Kostya Tszyu, when we had a plan to take away Tszyu’s right hand, Ricky slipped into doing it on strength alone, that was his biggest win, but there have been bigger performances, by that I mean better boxing performances.

“You know what, thinking about it, I think that what he did in the Tszyu fight worked too well, the plan was to take away certain things from Kostya, Ricky did that but took a few shots, and felt that he could march through the shots.  Once you have marched through Kostya’s shots you are going to think you can do that against anyone.  There was something to like about the fact that Ricky was so brave and tough in that fight, but it put him in line to take some shots from a massive puncher, I was never sure if I liked or disliked that, but it got him that great win.

“Anyway, Ricky had been a boxing artist before the Paulie fight, and if you thought that was a return to peak form then you don’t have a fucking clue what you are looking at.  Malignaggi was not a good yardstick.

“If I had been in the training camp for that fight, looking at the sparring, taking him on the pads, and the body belt, then I’d have known he was on the wane, no matter what he did on the night.”

Graham’s confidence in Hatton’s ability to beat Manny had taken many by surprise, an outsider since the split, having had no contact with his former fighter, Graham’s perspective may have been tinged by nostalgia and desire, remembering what Hatton once was, and hoping that Ricky could still produce the form needed to beat Manny: “I was confident looking at the (Manny) fight, but being on the outside gives you that confidence, you remember the best work he ever did.

“Someone asked me if Ricky would have won the Manny fight if I had been in his corner, I honestly have to say that had I been with Ricky there would not have been a Pacquiao fight.

“I thought that win, lose or draw, and I thought he would win, he should look at retiring after the Mayweather fight, but, like Ricky, I wanted to come home from our American adventures and give the fans a night to remember, so the Lazcano fight was a necessity, it also gave Ricky a chance to brush away the Floyd loss.

“Then you hear that he is going to get in with Malignaggi and you think, ‘Ok, Paulie on his best night cannot trouble Ricky Hatton’, but if I had been with him for that fight, and seen the flaws in training, I would have told him that no matter what they offer for Manny the fight is not worth taking.  I would have said, ‘No’.”

Although many experts expected Manny to win the manner of the victory was eye opening, and should make Ricky cognisant of the need to bow out gracefully.  Rumour has it that a ‘comeback’ fight had already been lined up prior to the Manny tussle, with Michael Katsidis the name in the frame.  Graham, however, thinks that enough is enough: “Ricky should retire.  Ricky is a fighter and will sit down and think, ‘I can come back from this’, but why should he do that?  Why have a farewell fight? 

“He can do what Sugar Ray Robinson did, when Ray eventually went, and have a symbolic farewell to the fans, come out as a promoter, take the centre of the ring, has Ricky so often did, and tell the fans that the ride is over.  His fans will love and respect him for that.  Get in the ring and take your bow, then make a success out of the rest of your life.  Ricky does not owe anyone a thing.

“I know Ricky’s fans, they are the best boxing fans in the world, they love Ricky, and he loves them, not a single one of those fans will begrudge him his retirement.  If Ricky retires the fans can salute him, and then thank him for the days, and nights, they have had with Ricky.  Give him a platform to say farewell, give him his ovation, and then move on, rather than see him take some overmatched guy out, or take on some dangerous fighter down the line.  Ricky is a big fight performer…he needs to be inspired.  Can he get through another 12-week camp?  You cannot cut corners, and you need guidance from those around you.”

Graham then reiterated the call for retirement, imploring those around Hatton to convince the boxer to walk away from the sport: “Ricky has been knocked out twice in his last four fights, at the very highest level for sure, but that Pacquiao loss was really bad.  What is there left for him to achieve, a few more quid?  Forget that, he has had some great achievements.  No British boxer went to the States and did what he did, taking thousands over there for consecutive top-level fights.

“Ricky is one of the best boxers to come out of this country, maybe the best, not only did he have the talent, as the likes of John Conteh did, but he also had the achievements to match that talent.  What else does he need to prove?

“Anybody who loves Ricky Hatton should not want him to fight again.  He has got a beautiful girlfriend, and a wonderful son, a great kid, why put them through all of this again?  Even if Ricky wants to carry on, because fighters do, someone should tell him to call it a day…and we will see how long it takes for another one like him to come along.”