Sometimes in boxing name recognition is more important than actual viability. With former two-division world champion Ricky Hatton set to make his comeback on November 24 in Manchester after a three-year hiatus from the sport, doubts about his ability to recapture his old championship form are legitimate.
British pundit Steve Bunce speculates that Hatton’s first comeback fight will likely come against a durable yet faded former champion. Bunce singles out Lovemore N’dou as a distinct possibility for Hatton’s ring return, but he does not pull any punches when addressing the stakes of Hatton’s November comeback fight:
But if Ricky faces a guy like N'dou and he struggles, then the comeback will last one bout. Boxing fans aren't stupid: they'll watch the first fight because it's Ricky, but if he looks bad, if he looks slow and bloated—and that can happen to fighters when they come back—then the fans won't buy tickets again. No amount of PR can convince fans to watch rubbish.
Fatalist severity aside, Bunce is absolutely right. In tangling with a foe like N’dou, who can extend him 10 rounds, Hatton’s viability going forward will be starkly evident. At 33, Hatton (45-2, 32 KO) is in need of a rapid and harsh litmus test. Assuming he is in shape and dedicated, it is reasonable to expect him to triumph over the likes of N’dou, and perhaps even look impressive in the process.
Intrigue surrounding Hatton’s second potential fight, however, is far more meaningful in terms of his place in the current junior welterweight/welterweight landscape. According to ESPN.com’s UK outlet, current welterweight titlist Paulie Malignaggi is excited about the possibility of a rematch with Hatton, which would give the flashy American a chance to avenge a 2008 TKO defeat.
While there is undoubtedly excitement about Hatton’s comeback—given his pedigree and rabid fan base—fans and pundits must ensure they remain grounded. At this stage, a Hatton comeback should not even look beyond the likes of Malignaggi (31-4, 7 KO). This has much to do with the fact that Hatton was last seen getting obliterated inside of two rounds by Manny Pacquiao, not to mention his extended layoff and stint in rehab.
Considering how he last left the sport, and given his defensive limitations, it seems highly unlikely that Hatton will ever be in a fight as significant as his tilts with Floyd Mayweather or Pacquiao. Zeroing in on Malignaggi, at this juncture, is just the right amount of foresight, though something tells me that this will ultimately not satisfy Hatton or his fans.
The demand for big fights and potential greatness is a testament to Hatton’s past success and willingness to face the best, even if such encounters ended in dramatic or frightening defeats. Should Hatton win his first comeback bout and step up to face Malignaggi, it will be a reasonably safe fight in the sense that Malignaggi is no puncher and has already lost to Hatton (granted, their fight was four years ago).
Even Malignaggi, according to the ESPN article, is muted and thoughtful when it comes to the prospect of a rematch with Hatton: “Based on how he looks then [in his November comeback fight], it will be a big measuring stick in terms of his name being mentioned with world championship fighters in 2013 and 2014.”
If the usually boisterous Malignaggi is contemplative with regards to Hatton’s comeback, fans and Hatton’s own team need to be prepared to seriously curb their own expectations. Hatton has lost every time he’s stepped up to fight elite, prime fighters, and now—three years removed from his last fight—there is little to inspire confidence in how he might perform at that level again.
If Hatton’s intent is to exorcise the demons from his loss to Pacquiao, then a comeback—within reason—is a fine idea; he’s an entertaining fighter and was a champion willing to fight anyone, for which he should be celebrated. But if his true hope is to return to the pinnacle of boxing, he might as well stick to promoting and training fighters.