By T.K. Stewart
The popularity of Ricky Hatton is unlike that of any British fighter that has come along in the post-World War II era of boxing in Great Britain.
After all, it's not just any fighter that could sell out the Manchester Evening News Arena for a fight at three o'clock in the morning. But that's exactly what Ricky Hatton did when he ripped the IBF 140-pound title belt from Kostya Tszyu's waist in 2005.
It's also not just any fighter that could compel over 25,000 fans to travel from England to Las Vegas to watch him attempt to upend Floyd Mayweather, Jr. last year. What's more remarkable is the fact that the vast majority of those fans came all the way from England without a ticket that would allow them inside MGM's Grand Garden Arena. Most of those fans cheered on Hatton from various closed-circuit venues scattered throughout Las Vegas.
There were so many Hatton fans in attendance for the fight against Mayweather, Jr. in Las Vegas, that some bars in and around Las Vegas ran out of the ever popular Guinness beer. There were over 7,000 Hatton fans in attendance at the weigh-in for the Mayweather fight and the scene was a virtual mini-Manchester.
It was a festive, raucous, occasion where the fans sang along in unison; "Walking Along! Singing a Song! Walking in a Hatton Wonderland!" which is sung to the tune of "Walking in a Winter Wonderland."
While Hatton's fight tonight against Paulie Malignaggi at the MGM Grand is said to be suffering from anemic ticket sales as a result of the global financial crisis, with Las Vegas and Great Britain being particularly hard hit, it doesn't mean that the English fans have lost the love for their boy Ricky. It just means that many of them simply cannot afford the trip.
Before the world's financial system melted down before all of our eyes, the British pound was worth significantly more than the American Greenback. As a result, it made it very inexpensive and affordable for Hatton's fans to finance a trip to Las Vegas to support their man in person.
So now, things have changed, but that doesn't mean the English fans have any less affinity for Ricky Hatton.
"He's one of us and that's the appeal," says Ian Williams, a 30 year-old insurance salesman who lives on Back Piccadilly Street in Manchester, England which is just a few miles from where Ricky Hatton grew up.
"Ricky is of us and he is us. He came up here on the council estates with all the rest of us," said Williams.
In England the "council estates" are another term for public housing, which is not to say the Hattons were poor, but it is to say they were not rich in the financial sense of the word.
"His parents struggled like all of our parents did," continued Williams. "His Mum and Dad ran a pub and installed carpets and Ricky's roots are our roots. I think that's why a lot of us go so hard for him. I think there was the sense that when Ricky did well, we were doing well too, or at least that's the way it felt," continued Williams.
While he didn't make the trip to see Hatton against Mayweather, Williams did make the trek to Boston, Massachusetts in May 2006 to see Ricky win the WBA welterweight title from Luis Collazo.
"That was a good run and we had a helluva' time," said Williams. "What I remember most about that weekend was that it rained like hell , it was foggy and wet - and that one of my friends missed the Hatton fight 'cause he got arrested by the cops for fighting inside the arena."
That arena was the TD Banknorth Garden, and just prior to start of the main event, several Hatton supporters got into a brief skirmish with some American fans of Collazo's from Brooklyn, New York. Numerous Boston cops were called in (and they were large Boston cops) to break up the fisticuffs in the stands. Several Brits were placed in wrist restrains and led, unhappily so, from the premises.
It was a rude way to spend the night for those Hatton fans from England that came over, along with several thousand others, to see Ricky make his real American debut. But those are the types of fervent supporters that Hatton attracts and they have an attitude toward their man where they defend his honor to the end.
"My fans mean the world to me," Hatton has said on more than one occasion. "Without them, I'm just another bloke that tries to fight for a livin'. I owe all that I have to them and I can't imagine my life without them fans that support me, really."
On Friday afternoon, those fans cheered up everybody associated with the promotion of the Hatton vs. Malignaggi fight. The city of Las Vegas has seen a severe drop-off in visitors and the promoters were glum as they looked around and saw what was basically an empty casino.
A funny thing happened though, and it surprised some who are not familiar with the phenomenon that is Ricky Hatton. The MGM came alive. At the weigh-in there was an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 Hatton fans that showed up to cheer their man on and they pounded away on drums and sang a familiar chorus over and over:
"WALKING ALONG! SINGING A SONG! WALKING IN A HATTON WONDERLAND!
Hatton, under the auspices of new trainer Floyd Mayweather, Sr., made the weight "bang on" as they say in England, at exactly 140 pounds. And he appeared to be in spectacular physical condition.
After a stare down with the hyper Malignaggi and a quick drink of water, Hatton donned an electric blue tank top. He commandeered the microphone from ring announcer Michael Buffer and addressed his fans, who by now, had whipped themselves into an absolute frenzy at the site of him on the stage.
"Thanks, everybody, for your amazing support once again!" said Hatton.
"Are you having a good time?" he asked.
The crowd roared "YES!" in unison.
"Here we go again!" yelled Hatton as he raisede his right hand into the air with his index finger pointing skyward. "We're gonna' do you proud again! Thanks for comin' everyone!"
And then the fans broke into a rendition of "God Save the Queen."
Jim Watt, the former world lightweight champion from Scotland was doing television commentary for Sky Sports and he commented on the surreal scene and the rock star-like attraction that is Ricky Hatton.
"I think what you have to remember is what you've got here is the Ricky Hatton fan club," said Watt. "It's not a boxing crowd, it's a Ricky Hatton crowd. Everybody in the arena here believes if they see Ricky Hatton here in public they can go up and talk to him. And that's what has made him what he is, what with the popularity. And the way he interacts with the crowd has created his persona."
It's a persona that Ian Williams explained so eloquently, "Ricky is of us and he is us."
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