and what he did with the $100 bills the Money Man threw at him in LA restaurant
Ten years on from defeat by Floyd Mayweather, the humour and humility that made him one of Britain’s most loved fighters remains. But so does some of the pain.
On December 8, 2007 in Las Vegas, Hatton challenged for the WBC welterweight crown in a meeting of two undefeated world champions and a war of two worlds.
The fight was scheduled for 12 rounds, Hatton had prepared for 15. In the end Mayweather would need only 10.
‘It f****** winds me up to watch it now, honestly it does,’ the Hitman cries when Sportsmail visits his gym to watch and relive the money-spinning showdown.
‘I knew it was going to be the toughest fight of my life,’ he remembers.
‘I still to this day think I had a chance of beating him but I think they pulled the rug out from under me, I really do.’
After nine-and-a-half ferocious rounds, Hatton was stopped for the first time in his career by the former five-weight world champion.
‘Embarrassing,’ is Hatton’s verdict on the official’s performance 10 years later. ‘Absolutely disgusting,’ snarls his then-trainer Billy Graham.
The frustration is understandable. Victory would have catapulted the Hitman to heights few, if any, British fighters have ever reached.
After 43 straight victories, Hatton struggled to cope with the setback. A burning sense of injustice at Cortez’s role in the result did little to soften the blow.
A decade on, the 39-year-old looks back with ‘pride’ at his performance and his part in a momentous occasion.
Two years after capturing the IBF light-welterweight title, the Hitman’s dismantling of Jose Luis Castillo in June 2007 put him firmly in the sights of the finest fighter on the planet.
‘It was a perfect fight,’ he says. ‘I was unbeaten, he was unbeaten, he was from the United States, I was from England. He was the cocky, blingy celebrity, a red-carpet merchant, and I was — I’d like to think — the down-to-earth chap, the lad who’d go to darts, to football and have a pint. You couldn’t have had two people more different.’
During a five-day, five-city press tour, Mayweather goaded Hatton with typical bravado and trash talk. The mind games were relentless, even off stage.
‘In Los Angeles, me, Billy Graham, my dad (Ray), (strength and nutrition coach) Kerry Kayes and (agent) Paul Speak were all in this restaurant having a meal and the next minute Floyd comes in with all the press,’ Hatton recalls.
‘Floyd’s chucking $100 bills all over the table and he said: “Ricky, I’ll get you that, that’s nothing to me”. All the press are taking pictures and he thinks he’s being a smart-a***.
‘So I got all the $100 bills and said: “Can I have the bill, please?” The bill came and it was something like $400-$500 and there was about $1,400 there. So I said (mimics putting money on the table): “That’s for you” (puts the rest in his pocket). “Cheers, d***head!” The press were all in stitches.’
The roles were cast. Not that Hatton’s fanbase needed much persuasion.
By 2007 he already boasted tremendously loyal support. For the biggest fight of his career, around 30,000 fans would descend on the Nevada desert.
In the days before the first bell, the Hitman’s faithful drunk Vegas dry, sung themselves hoarse and turned The Strip sky blue.
‘Ricky Hatton’s fights weren’t fights, they were events,’ legendary MC Michael Buffer recalls.
‘Thousands of fans came knowing they couldn’t see the fight… they just wanted to be on the same part of the planet as their fighter.’
Come Saturday night, official records put the British contingent inside the MGM Grand at 4,000. Estimates suggest there was closer to three times that number.
‘You can see me here,’ Hatton says as he makes his way to the ring on screen. ‘I’m not nervous, I’m just as keen as I’ve always been.’
The atmosphere was electric for the meeting of two champions, unbeaten in a combined 81 professional fights. But in the heat of battle, was he really able to take it all in?
‘Oh yeah,’ the Hitman claims. ‘I used to thrive off the fans. They used to be like my second man. I think the fans for the Kostya Tszyu fight pulled me through.’
Two years on, they tried to do the same. But very quickly it became clear that Hatton’s ‘worst nightmare’ had become reality.
‘From as early as the first two rounds, I thought “something isn’t right here”,’ he recalls.
The plan was to get on Mayweather’s chest, rough him up and outwork him on the inside. Unfortunately, Cortez refused to let him.
‘Up close, when I was able to punch, it was working. And that’s the thing that will always upset me,’ Hatton remembers.
‘I’m not saying I would have won anyway. But I think if I did have that half chance of beating him, the referee put a stop to that.’
Fans of Hatton cheer him on before his bout against Mayweather, who was also undefeated
Very quickly a pattern emerged. As Hatton marched forward, Mayweather sought to keep him off with sharp shots. When the Hitman did get within range, Cortez broke the two fighters up almost immediately.
As rounds pass by on screen, Hatton interrupts our discussion with periodical cries of ‘and he’s in again’ as the official interferes once more.
But despite the frustration the fight was in the balance heading into round six.
Then everything changed when Hatton was deducted a point for hitting behind the head. It was then, he claims, that ‘the fight was over’.
‘Where do you want me to f****** hit him?’ he asked Cortez after comically offering his backside as a target.
But still the chants of ‘walking in a Hatton wonderland’ rang out as the British fans urged their man forward.
Minutes earlier, they had booed the US national anthem. Ten years on, Hatton can’t help feeling that affected the officials.
‘You have to imagine if an American fighter came over to Great Britain and (his fans) took over our weigh-in, were in our bars, drinking our beers, singing Star Spangled Banner and then booing our national anthem on fight night,’ he says. ‘I can’t help but think if I was a British referee I’d think: “Who the f*** do these lot think they are?”.’
As the rounds wore on, Mayweather began to pull away from his increasingly frustrated and desperate opponent.
As fatigue set in, the already difficult task of cornering his opponent was now nigh on impossible.
‘When I was going like the clappers, (he knew) when to just take a breather, soak it up as best he could and the minute I had a bit of a flurry and I wanted a breather, he knew when to step his foot on the gas.
‘That’s a 12-round fighter, you have to work when your fella wants to rest and you have to rest or nick a breather when your fella wants to work. He goes, you go, and that’s the thing. It’s his boxing brain.’
By the end of round nine, Hatton was shattered and his corner were in crisis mode.
‘I had a couple of my fighters, Matthew Macklin and Paul Smith, sneaking looks at the (judges’) scorecards,’ Graham says. ‘They came up and told me at some point that they had him a mile behind.’
He adds: ‘Ricky was there to win. So I just told him: “They have you a mile behind, you’re going to have to f****** knock him out”.’
But it was Mayweather who would land the decisive blow moments later.
‘I always got tired in rounds eight, nine, 10, 11, 12. But I was always able to keep going, keep my composure and shape,’ Hatton claims.
‘But because I had to work a little bit harder than normal I ran out of steam more. Don’t get me wrong, that is not just because of the referee, that’s partly because of Floyd.
‘A lot of the time I was hitting fresh air because he’s so good defensively. So I would have probably tired a bit quicker against Floyd than anyone else. But along with all the other stuff, come the end of the fight I was just gone.’
Mayweather caught Hatton with a sharp left hook that sent his head crashing into the ring post and onto the canvas. The Manchester fighter climbed to his feet but moments later, after another Mayweather flurry, the fight was waved off.
‘What a fluke that was,’ Hatton joked in the post-fight interview.