By Jake Donovan
Just 50 weeks after suffering a knockout loss at the MGM Grand, lineal junior welterweight champion Ricky Hatton managed to exorcise past demons with an 11th round stoppage of top contender Paul Malignaggi in the very same Las Vegas arena Saturday night.
The scheduled 12-round main event aired live on HBO.
Both fighters shared a card six months ago, producing very different results. Malignaggi barely escaped with a split decision in a rematch with Lovemore N’Dou in a performance largely affected by his faux dreadlock hairdo literally unraveling before his eyes.
Steps were taken to ensure that no such handicap would surface in this fight. Sporting a freshly cropped dome with various designs, Malignaggi entered the ring with his usual confident demeanor, bouncing up and down during a deliberately slow stroll to the ring, to the tune of a remixed version of “Live Your Life” by Rihanna and T.I”
No fighter lives it up outside of the ring quite like Ricky Hatton. It’s in that spirit that came the Fatman ringwalk for the second straight fight, with Hatton sporting a fat suit while the stroll down the aisle was bookended by “Hi-Ho Ricky Hatton” and the modern day rendition of “Blue Moon” in honor of the Manchester City football club (or soccer to us Yanks).
Once the theatrics ended, the action begun – relatively speaking anyway. Many boxing fans and experts feared a dull clinchfest throughout. Malignaggi would prove to be the greater culprit of the two as the fight wore on, but did his best early to avoid the dreaded Hatton hook-and-hold, employing an effective strategy in the early going, as he was able to catch the Brit coming in. It didn’t always work, as Hatton managed an occasional uppercut and enough right hands to send Malignaggi into retreat mode or even resorting to clinching of his own.
Though not employed often, Malignaggi made use of his jab, landing a right hand behind it, including just enough to perhaps still the round if it was in fact on the table down the stretch.
“Everyone has a game plan until they get punched in the face” were the words of wisdom Malignaggi spouted in an international conference call earlier in the week, when asked if he expected Hatton to take to the teachings of newly hired trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr. Another saying Malignaggi should’ve kept in mind, “Don’t spit up, because it’ll fall back in your face.”
It was the Brooklynite who was forced to dramatically change up, beginning in the second when Hatton connected with a monster right hand. Malignaggi was forced to clinch as he desperately tried to regain his legs. Hatton refused to let up, connecting with several more right hands, enough to draw blood from under Malignaggi’s left eye.
“There’s only ONE… Ricky Hatton,” or so echoed the chants throughout the MGM Grand. Malignaggi must’ve felt like there were at least 100, as repeated power shots upstairs had him buzzed and bloody, with excessive clinching serving as his only means of effective defense in efforts to escape the onslaught and the round.
Round three was better for Malignaggi, at least until late in the round when he got caught with another Hatton power shot. If any further proof was needed of who was the stronger fighter, the fourth round was a telling story.
Both fighters did their share of clinching, but Hatton proved to be the far more effective of the two, landing several power shots while holding on the opposite side of referee Kenny Bayless. Malignaggi was limited to a far more one-dimensional approach to clinching, often initiating.
The crowd’s endless chanting and band-playing managed to detract from the fact that little to nothing occurred in the fifth round. Malignaggi appeared to have finally regained his legs, offering better movement than had been the case in rounds prior, but never rediscovering the offensive game plan that worked so well in the early going. The course of action earned a tongue lashing from trainer Buddy McGirt, who demanded that he stop fighting Hatton’s fight.
Malignaggi obliged, with his jab resurfacing in the sixth while sliding back just enough to avoid Hatton’s return fire. It continued briefly into the seventh round, until Hatton connected with a flurry of hooks and uppercuts upstairs that changed the course of the fight. Malignaggi tried to respond, sitting back in efforts to catch Hatton coming in, but the lack of activity failed to keep the much stronger Hatton off of him
Trainer Buddy McGirt demanded more right hands from his fighter prior to the start of the eighth. Once again, student obeys teacher, as Malignaggi began the round by landing… you guessed it, a right hand. It turned out to be the end of the lesson; Hatton landed left hooks in successive sequences, once again sending Malignaggi into clinch mode, at least when he wasn’t moving backwards in efforts to keep the heat up off of him.
A Hatton left hook early in the ninth drew a rise out of the crowd, and a facial mocking by Malignaggi in his best efforts to suggest that he wasn’t hurt. Hatton’s attack was momentarily slowed by loose tape on his right glove, a pause in the action that in theory should’ve greater benefited his opponent. It didn’t, as Malignaggi was far too reluctant, or unable, to let his hands go, while Hatton kept coming forward.
The latter pattern played out for nearly the entire tenth round, prompting McGirt to tell his fighter to either show him something, or he was pulling the plug on the fight. It was no bluff, as McGirt made good on that promise about 30 seconds into the round, climbing up the steps with white towel in tow, forcing referee Kenny Bayless to stop the contest.
The official time was 0:28 of round eleven.
Malignaggi was none too pleased with the call, giving McGirt a not-so-friendly shove over being disallowed to go the distance.
Maybe I would’ve lost on the fights had they let the fight continue,” Malignaggi conceded, “but I’m better than being stopped.”
Hatton agreed, insisting after the bout that his opponent is better than most.
“You could see him running out of gas, but it’s possible that the stoppage was a bit premature on their part,” claimed Hatton, who moves to 45-1 (32KO) with the fifth successful defense of his lineal junior welterweight crown. If you stick Paulie in with any fighter, there’s loads to contend with. He would give anyone massive problems.”
There were problems galore for Hatton the last time he stepped foot in the MGM Grand. It resulted in the lone loss of his career, falling way short at the hands of the very best in the world at the time, Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Needless to say, tonight featured a much more satisfying ending.
“I enjoyed it a lot better this time than I did last time, that’s for sure,” Hatton quipped at fight’s end.
Where he goes from here is basically dealer’s choice. With the sport’s popularity waning in the United States, Hatton remains one of boxing’s true global superstars. So it’s only fitting that the one fight on his mind is against the winner of the December 6 super fight between Oscar de la Hoya and Manny Pacquiao, which will also take place in this very arena.
Whatever he decides, Hatton insists it will be anything but the status quo.
“Nobody will ever beat me at junior welterweight, but what kind of champion would I be if I just stayed at my weight and didn’t accept the bigger challenges.”
Undefeated junior middleweight James Kirkland accepted the physically biggest challenge of his career in the televised co-feature. Having run out of fringe junior middleweight contenders to beat on, Kirkland’s handlers turned to second-tier middleweights to keep their fighter busy.
The latest victim on Kirkland’s knockout tour was fellow Texan and proven spoiler Brian Vera, who suffered three knockdowns over the course of an eight round beatdown.
Kirkland scored two knockdowns in the second round, one early courtesy of a left uppercut, the other coming at rounds end when a straight left caused Vera to spin around and fall off balance to the canvas.
In between floorings, Kirkland exuded efficiency, landing 37 of his 62 punches thrown in the round, a pattern that held true for much of the early portion of the fight – Kirkland landing way too much, Vera never nearly enough.
That changed in the fourth round, when Vera found repeated success with his right hand. Kirkland was still getting the best of nearly every exchange, but Vera finally made his presence felt, including a right hand which drew a rise of the crowd at rounds end.
Unfortunately for Vera, any momentum gained the round ended the moment the bell sounded to start the fifth. Kirkland remained in control of the fight, effective to the body and pretty much with any punch he threw. Vera landed an occasional straight right, but hardly kept Kirkland honest. Such was evident midway through the eighth, when a right hook sent Vera to the canvas for the third time in the fight.
Vera took the eight count, insisting to referee Vic Drakulich “I’m not hurt” as action resumed. It wouldn’t last much longer; Kirkland trapped Vera in a corner moments later, landing enough flush lefts to prompt referee intervention.
The official time was 1:45 of round eight.
Kirkland’s record improves to 24-0 (21KO) in scoring his fifth straight knockout. Trained by former female standout Ann Wolfe, the Texan southpaw continues to progress, even if tonight’s fight included its share of awkward moments. The fight was his first with Golden Boy Promotions after having previously bolted from Gary Shaw earlier this year.
Vera’s abysmal showing comes with a glimmer of sunshine; he’s just the third fighter to extend Kirkland beyond the 4th round. It’s doubtful that was his intention, considering the fight that led to this opportunity, his huge 7th round upset knockout of previously unbeaten Andy Lee earlier this year.
The win remains the highlight of his career for the moment, as Kirkland beats the former Contender contestant back into reality, dropping him to 16-2 (10KO).
The show was presented by Golden Boy Promotions, in association with DiBella Entertainment and Tournament of Contenders.
Non-Televised Results By Mark DeSisto
In a sizable upset, gritty Mexican veteran Heriberto Ruiz (40-7-2, 23 KOs) scored an eight round unanimous decision (80-70, 78-72, 77-73) over touted Fillipino prospect Rey Bautista (26-2, 19KOs) in a bloody and entertaining bout.
The combatants wasted no time exchanging punches in the opening round. A couple of good left digs to the body seemed to bother Bautista in the early going.
Bautista’s aggressive, forward moving manner produced many head clashes, one of which opened up a gash above his right eye in the third round that would bother the 22 year old for much of the bout. Bautista and Ruiz traded bombs at the end of the third round with Bautista being floored by a perfect Ruiz left hook.
Bautista never recovered from the early deficit and a point deduction for low blows in the seventh round, coupled with constant heavy bleeding from his right eye made it an night to forget for Bautista .
Matthew Hatton won a fairly uneventful unanimous decision over Ghana’s Ben Tackie by scores of 98-92 (twice) and 97-93 in a ten round welterweight bout. The Manchester resident and brother of former champion Ricky Hatton, used the rapid fire combination and movement needed to keep away from any danger that the aging and seemingly slowing Tackie (29-11-1, 17KOs) presented.
Hatton improved to 35-4-1 (13KOs) with the victory over Tackie, who suffered his fifth consecutive loss.
Thailand’s Sirimongkol Singwancha scored a majority decision over game veteran Rogelio Castaneda Jr. in an eight round welterweight bout. Scores varied widely at 80-72, 78-74, and 76-76 with the middle score of six rounds to two likely the most accurate. The 31 year old Singwancha, (60-2, 34KOs) in a career that started 14 years ago at 112 pounds, smiled often early in the bout and seemed to be having a good time against Castaneda (24-15-3, 8KOs) who was competitive throughout the fight but not quite fast or strong enough to gain any momentum in the bout.
Nineteen year old lightweight prospect Adrien Broner kept his undefeated record and knockout streak intact with a 6th round TKO over Las Vegas trial horse Terrance Jett (4-12-2, 2KOs) . Jett was heavily staggered at the end of the 5th round, walking back to his corner on wobbly legs. Broder jumped right on him at the start of the 6th round, unloading a flurry of punches that force referee Robert Byrd to halt the contest 33 seconds into the 6th and final round.
Sharp shooting Cincinnati resident Broder, now 4-0 with 4 knockouts, showed serious potential with speed and accurate combination punching that overwhelmed the game Jett, who had only been stopped 3 times in his previous 11 losses.
Philadelphia welterweight prospect Danny Garcia scored a lopsided 59-52 (all three judges) unanimous decision over game but overmatched Adan Hernandez in a 6 round welterweight bout.
El Paso resident Hernandez last fought over 2 years ago in losing a (non-major) title bout to rising prospect Anthony Peterson. The experienced Hernandez (14-6, 5KOs) had mixed with high level competition before his 2 year hiatus, and was able to give rising prospect Garcia (9-0, 7KOs) some good work in extending Garcia the distance for only the 2nd time in his young career.
Garcia’s best punch was a left hook, a punch that floored Hernandez in the second round, but Hernandez drew on his experience to survive against his younger, faster, and stronger opponent.
Jake Donovan is a voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Comments/questions can be submitted to [email protected] .