Hatton hits the Strip

Let there be no mistake about it, HBO's Saturday doubleheader featuring Ricky Hatton-Juan Urango and Jose Luis Castillo-Herman Ngoudjo is nothing more than what the network giant hopes is a prelude to a Hatton-Castillo summer superfight.

It's also the network's second attempt at making Hatton, 41-0 with 30 knockouts, as big a superstar in the United States as he is in his native England.

In his first fight for HBO in the States, Hatton's reputation took a slight hit when he moved up in weight to challenge tough and unheralded southpaw Luis Collazo, the WBA beltholder, in Boston, Mass., in May 2006.

The 28-year-old Hatton had previously gained international recognition and acceptance as the world junior welterweight champion when he stopped Kostya Tszyu in the 11th round of their June 2005 fight and after working over outmatched WBA 140-pound strapholder Carlos Maussa the following November, "The Hitman" took Collazo's crown, but didn't dominate the action and subsequently decided to move back down to the more comfortable environs of the junior welters.

In a conference call last week, Hatton said it was never his attention to become a fully fledged welterweight.

"Like some fighters - Floyd Mayweather is a prime example, he moved up to welterweight. The same with Miguel Cotto," Hatton said. "He had to move; he couldn't make the light welterweights anymore. But that wasn't the case with me."

A junior welterweight fight with Juan Lazcano fell out and Hatton, much to HBO's elation, preferred fighting a more attractive opponent.

"Luis Collazo's name came up and he was the world champion," Hatton said. "I wanted the challenge of fighting for a world title in a new weight class more than anything. I never had any intention of moving up to welterweight."

Hatton dropped the taller Collazo in the second round, but was unable to really let his hands go and had trouble bullying Collazo like he was able to with junior welterweights.

"Normally you have two or three fights to adjust to a new weight division," Hatton said. "I had seven or eight weeks to bulk up to the welterweight limit and fought the world champion straight away. He was a speedy southpaw. Luis Collazo was a lot better fighter than what people gave him credit for. I wouldn't change it for the world, but it's great that I'm in the division that I always wanted to be in now."

And against Urango, of Miami, Fla., via Columbia, that will mean re-conquering some familiar ground. On June 30, 2006, the 26-year-old Urango, 17-0-1 (13), won Hatton's old IBF belt with a controversial decision over Naoufel Ben Rabah.

Rabah appeared to easily outbox Urango, whose come-forward style wasn't particularly effective against the slicker Rabah.

Because of their similar styles, Hatton-Urango figures to be a more exciting match than either had with Collazo and Rabah, respectively.

"He's a very good fighter," Hatton said. "He had a good amateur pedigree. He comes to fight. He's in your face all the time. He's a good body puncher. He's my kind of fighter. He's the type of fighter you would always put on the TV because he goes for the knockout. He's not going to take a backward step, which is very similar to me in many ways. This can't fail to be an exciting fight, because I don't take a backward step."

Although some boxing pundits - The Ring magazine in particular - still view Hatton as the undisputed junior welterweight champion because he never gave up his belts (he was stripped by the IBF and WBA) and moved right back down in weight, Hatton said he was looking at it as a chance to regain his title against Urango.

"Obviously with Urango achieving a lifelong dream in becoming the world light welterweight champion, it would be disrespectful for me to turn around and say that I consider myself the champion," Hatton said. "I consider myself one of the best, pound-for-pound, in junior welterweight boxing and I think I'm putting that mantle on the line rather than saying I am the junior welterweight champion of the world."

Mention the words "pound for pound" and bells and whistles go off. Welterweight champion "Pretty Boy" Floyd Mayweather is the unofficial holder of that mythical title and will be moving up to junior middleweight to face Oscar De La Hoya in May.

While Hatton says he's happy at 140 pounds, he's not saying he wouldn't make another trip 7 pounds north.

"I have no problem with fighting up at welterweight again," Hatton said. "But the only fight I'll probably look at that might tempt me to welterweight would certainly be Floyd Mayweather. Maybe Miguel Cotto. That fight (Mayweather) is still on me radar. Even though it would be at welterweight, I would consider moving up if we had a little more time to prepare accordingly.

"But it's all about putting yourself in the shop window. I have got to put on an exciting performance against Juan Urango. Hopefully I will win my title back - which I'm confident I can do - and that will hopefully lead to a fight with Jose Luis Castillo and then, if Floyd is still fighting, if he chooses not to retire, that would be another fight I'd love."

Against Urango, Hatton will be the only Englishman in the ring. But he'll be far from the only person from the United Kingdom in the Paris Hotel arena.

"I hear that there's going to be about 3,000 Brits coming over, which is absolutely fantastic," Hatton said. "I think it's because of how they hold me in high regard for my fighting style. I think also they like me for who I am. They feel I'm a genuine down-to-earth guy that always plugs Manchester, to fly the flag type thing."

And that "flying the flag type thing" will prove to be interesting in the boxing capital of the world, Las Vegas. Hatton was asked what it was like seeing his name up in lights on The Strip.

"Oh, it's fantastic," Hatton said. "You know where I come from - boxing at the working man's clubs or social clubs in an around Manchester around the council states. To this. It's unbelievable. It's really quite emotional to be honest. And all of these things involved make me more determined to put on a really good show."

Hatton said his fight with Collazo in Boston will help him in this fight with Urango in Las Vegas. He also declined to make a prediction on the winner.

"I don't make predictions," Hatton said. "Funny enough, I haven't made a prediction my whole career. There are enough pressures on a fighter's shoulders to go out there and perform and you don't worsen it by making a prediction. Every fighter is different, but that's just me.

"But Ricky Hatton fights the way Ricky Hatton can and, going into the ring on January 20, I believe there's only one winner. And that's going to be me."

Hatton said it's not about fighting for the belts any more, it's about facing the best fighters. And on Saturday, Hatton will take a step in that and Castillo's and possibly Mayweather's direction by fighting on boxing's biggest network - HBO - and boxing's biggest stage - on The Strip, in Las Vegas.

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