Theres only one word I can use to describe your support and that is legendary.
Ricky Hatton was emotional, bruised and ecstatic, but he wasn’t going to forget the thousands of fans in the MEN Arena whose celebrations were in full swing on what was one of the biggest nights in British boxing history on June 4, 2005.
Hatton, 26 at the time, beat the heavy favourite who did not answer the call for round 12
On this day 15 years ago, ‘The Hitman’ forced Kostya Tsyzu to retire on his stool after round 11, but this moment had been years in the making – in his mind at least.
Hatton first encountered Tszyu in Las Vegas, the mecca of boxing he was about to become very acquainted with, while on a trip with his former trainer, Billy Graham.
We went to see the Tszyu vs Judah fight at the MGM Grand [in 2001],” he recalled. “We were checking out of the hotel and I saw Kostya standing nearby so I introduced myself, congratulated him on the win, and said Id probably be fighting him in the near future.
He must have thought who in the hell is this Englishman, saying he wants to fight me, but when we did the press conference for our fight he remembered that discussion. He said You were right about fighting me one day and fair play to you. That was actually a really proud moment for me.
Wherever Hatton went, he brought with him a huge dedicated fanbase, who enjoyed descending on Las Vegas in their thousands
Who are Tszyu?
Tszyu was among the best pound-for-pound fighters around at that point, which is why it was hard for many to see a win for Hatton, but the Soviet-born Aussie did’t box again afterwards.
“When you’re talking about Kostya Tszyu, you’re talking about someone who – at that stage in his career – had the sort of reputation of a Mayweather,” former IBF cruiserweight world champion Glenn McCrory told talkSPORT.
“He was the big name that nobody wanted to fight, the guy that beat the top names. We are talking Rafael Reulas, Julio Cesar Chavez – great fighters that he had beaten and stopped.
Tszyu was a fighter nobody wanted to face and leading up the Hatton bout, had fought three times in just three years – he never stepped into the ring after losing to The Hitman
“He was a marauding, tough, rugged sort of fighter – a real warrior. So you knew that anybody that he fought was going to be in for a beating and I think I remember at the time all of the journalists were picking Kostya Tszyu to win.
“A lot of the knowledgeable press guys were going for Tszyu because they thought it was a bit early for Hatton.
“But I think if you just read between the lines it was kind of a great opportunity and I had been around Hatton since when he was a 17-year-old turning pro.
“You knew he was going to be a terrific fighter.”
In Tszyu, Nick Peet, of the popular Fight Disciples podcast remembers a man who struck fear into others.
It was a fight nobody wanted on paper. The last fight you wanted Ricky in was that fight. Hed lost one freak fight but he was the undisputed 10st champion of the world,” he told talkSPORT over the phone this week.
He came to Manchester and we were all terrified. I remember driving to Manchester that night and thinking to myself just get good rounds in and do yourself justice. You can come again as you are still only a young lad. This is your first step up to the pinnacle of the sport.
As long as Ricky does himself justice we can come away and rebuild and Kostya Tszyu and get him on the way down.
Not in my wildest imagination did I think Ricky was going to do what he was going to do. Kostya Tszyu didnt know what hit him.”
Hatton had built up a sizeable following fighting at the MEN Arena, but he didn’t appear there again until his attempted comeback against Vyacheslav Senchenko in 2012
It was a gruelling fight and the noise inside the arena could be heard for miles and reached fever pitch when he finally made his way to the ring at 2am – the fight being scheduled for those watching in America.
Thousands followed the Manchester City-mad supporter around the world before and after, drinking Vegas dry in the process, so what was it like to be at a Ricky Hatton fight back in those days?
A football match
Dom McGuinness, talkSPORTs boxing commentator, who later wrote a book on Hatton, was at MEN Arena – as it was known then – as a punter.
He came out to Blue Moon and managed to not alienate Man United fans – he was a Mancunian first,” he recalled. ”
Ricky just tapped into that tribal mentality. It was like a football match and all you needed to hear was the start of Blue Moon to get people going.”
Ricky Hatton out for a run during coronavirus pandemic
McCrory, a respected boxing analyst since his retirement, knows what it’s like to have an entire region behind you.
“There’s not many people that can get Manchester United fans and Manchester city fans to sit and cheer for the same person!
“He got the whole of Manchester and the whole of the country behind him. I’ve seen it first hand myself with the whole of the North East turned out for me in a fight that I wasn’t backed to win.”
One of us
McGuinness remembers a man who was basically every fan who watched Hatton fights.
“Afterwards, in the press conference he was asked by an American journalist what it was like to fight at 2am and he said Im from Manchester, were used to fighting at 2am. He always had those lines,” he said.
Hatton was a proud Mancunian and, despite his love for City, had plenty of United fans cheer him on
“The arena was very much his home and in terms of noise you wont see anything like that again.”
Having sold the arena out for many years prior, Hatton had built a huge following and Peet believes even someone as experienced as Tszyu wasn’t expecting the deafening, raucous noise.
“He was used to huge events but I dont think he was ready for Manchester, 20,000 crazy Mancunians and a little pasty Ricky Hatton that turned up that night.
Everybody was there for Ricky and Ricky was there for everybody else. You felt like he was one of us. Right down to the way he prepped and the way he talked, the way he spoke to people and how hed have a Guinness with people after. A greasy spoon before the fight as tradition.
“Everything about Ricky screamed just a normal northern lad.
Mayweather and Hatton fought for the welterweight world titles in a memorable Las Vegas clash in December 2007, which Hatton lost
His mum and dad were landlords of a pub and everything was endearing about his personality and character. He never lost that when he went on to fight Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao and reached the upper echelons of the sport.”
The aftermath
Hatton had plans of world domination and declared his fantastic triumph: “If I can be half the champion Tszyu is, I’ll be doing very well.
“He’s not a champion, he’s a champion-and-a-half. I’ve become a champion and now I want to become a great one.”
And he didn’t do badly.
“It launched him into the US and beating a legend put him on the map,” McGuinness said.
Hatton was named the Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year in 2005 as his star began to rise
“He knew he would earn stupid money after that.
“That year he won the Ring magazine Fighter of the Year. It was his night.
“He’s more popular in Las Vegas now than Mayweather ever will be.
“I was in Vegas for Fury vs Wilder and the American journalists still talk about Ricky now.”
Peet agrees this was the best of Hatton.
“I was fortunate to cover 80 per cent of his fights and went to Vegas when he fought Mayweather and back again when he fought Pacquiao, they were incredible times for those travelling with him.
The barmy army and all the travelling Ricky Hatton fans. Those were special moments. The Pacquiao one really stands out because of the atmosphere outside with the Manchester fans and the Filipino fans.
For me the defining moment, and the night he became an absolute superstar and one of Britains best fighters, was Kostya Tszyu at the MEN Arena.”
Best of British
McCrory believes that very warm evening in Manchester 15 years ago is among the best wins on these shores – second to his obviously.
“It’s nice talking about Ricky and Kostya Tszyu because I understand exactly what he felt like, I understand the situation exactly because I had it myself.
“So I understood exactly what he needed to do and when I watched that fight, I knew what he had to do from the start and I kind of figured what he would do.
“But when he went out and did it, I was just like ‘Go on my son’.
“I was kind of reliving it for me and watching him do it, having known him for such a long time, I was proud to call him a pal.
“I love it when you see fighters come through and they accomplish their dream because you know how much it means to them. You know how much work they have put in and the hardships and the sacrifices that they have had to endure.
“So when they have that night, you live it again with them.”