ON a wild night in Manchester, the boxing world was turned on its head.
A young brash Englishman named Ricky Hatton overcame insurmountable odds to dethrone lineal light welterweight ruler Kostya Tszyu. It marked the start of a new era — and the end of an eight year reign for the Soviet-born Australian.
A hostile home crowd of almost 20,000 spectators cheered Hatton (38-0, 26 KOs) from the very beginning. They expected a brave but ultimately unsuccessful challenge. In Tszyu (31-1, 25 KOs), Hatton was facing a fierce, and calculated titleholder, but most importantly, a devastating puncher, as Hatton recalled to BBC Radio 5 Live.
“It was different… it was murderous,” Hatton told 5 Live Boxing.
“If you look in the close quarters of the fight, Kostya had a style where he’d cuff you with shots. It didn’t look like he was getting much leverage in, but they were horrendous.
“Even if you’re losing these rounds. Stay with him, eventually he’s going to break. He won’t be able to maintain this.”
The result, an eventual stool retirement at the conclusion of the eleventh round, was unexpected. But as Hatton reflected on the biggest night of his professional career, it was the combination of relentless in-fighting and a vicious in-ring demeanour that turned the tide.
“Sometimes he’d nail me with a right, and you’d see me drop my hands around my waist and look at him dead in the eye,” he explained.
“As much as it was hurting me. Kostya Tszyu would’ve drilled me, saw me put my hands and wave him on if you like.
“I think from a confidence point of view, I think bit by bit from this stage on, you could see him confidence-wise, strength-wise, power-wise, a little bit less each round, from losing all that weight.”
In hindsight, it may have been easier to see the signs for Tszyu. Longer spells of inactivity, fluctuating weight and a reduced desire to compete at the highest level. Despite this, the divisional leader looked comfortable in stages, challenging Hatton to perform at his absolute peak.
As his sense of urgency began to grow, Tszyu came close to retaining his IBF and lineal light-welterweight titles, with a fleeting moment that wasn’t caused by a punch — rather a push on the tiring Hatton.
“That push, that took a lot out of me,” he explained.
“It didn’t hurt me or anything, but once you get to round eight and you get pushed on your heels — and not only on your heels — on the seat of your pants, that hurt me harder than any of the body shots.
“Getting back to my feet again after eight gruelling physical rounds. I went down, he only pushed me, but to get back on my feet, as soon as I stood up straight… even that took it out of me.
“This was the stage of the fight where I started off well, Kostya won the middle part of the rounds and sent it back into a bit of a rhythm.
“This was the stage where he started to dwindle fast, which was very pleasing to me because he was banking the rounds and I thought that the fight was running away from me. Billy said to keep on him, keep on him [and] eventually he was going to break.”
5 Live Boxing with Costello & Bunce: Greatest Fights – Ricky Hatton on Hatton v Tszyu on Apple Podcasts
Reliving the night in 2005 when Ricky Hatton beat Kostya Tszyu to win his first world title, in front of a packed M.E.N. Arena. Hatton reflects on his greatest night in the ring, how his career developed afterwards and why he has struggled with depression in retirement.
It was a moment of realisation for the self-made Mancunian.
Tired, hurt and with his back against the wall, Hatton rose as the longtime pound-for-pound occupant began to fade, partly due to the roughhouse tactics, which were exchanged by the pair throughout their phone-booth thriller.
“This was when I started to realise that Billy’s words were true and working,” he continued.
“This was the moment he (Tszyu) started to feel as weak as a kitten at this stage.
“To be honest with you, I could feel him dwindling before that, that shot to the knackers might’ve sent him over the edge a little bit. He was dwindling before that. Don’t forget when he was having a breather from the low blow, I was getting a breather too.”
But as Hatton proudly quipped, his signature victory was secured in a more definitive moment.
“He was trying to have one last burst of energy, and it backfired on him,” he declared.
“He has a good burst towards the end of the round, where he picks me off with about four or five shots. I think he put his own nail in the coffin there.
“Billy turned around and said ‘it’s in the balance this, he’s gone. You win these two rounds, you win it’… he knew what he was doing Billy Graham in the corner with me. If he insulted me, he got the best out of me.
“I absolutely knew I had him here now, and that’s why I could sense it. I kept putting my foot on the gas. At the end of the bell he hits me with a right hand, right down the pipe. My legs were stiff, another one on the end there.
“And that was summoning one last bit of energy for him. I think they must’ve thought when he hit me with that right hand, he had all the bite, the leverage. I think his trainer would’ve thought if we hadn’t got him with that right hand, we’re not getting this fella.
“I think that’s why they pulled him out.”
Fifteen years removed from an iconic night in British boxing, Hatton, who finished his decorated punch-for-pay career with an impressive 45-3 ledger, continues to speak highly of Tszyu and his equally accomplished trainer, Johnny Lewis.
“You have different faces that bop their head in around the corner… nobody knows your more than your main trainer,” he concluded.
“No one knew me better than Billy Graham. No one knew Kostya Tszyu better than Johnny Lewis.
“If Johnny Lewis had pulled him out, Kostya, the family and everyone else would’ve thought that was good enough for us.”
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