Nobody could question the legitimacy of the venerable Jose Luis Castillo as an opponent for the Mancunian terrier Ricky Hatton in June; the 37 year old warrior is a revered fighter, capable of an outstanding punch output, an unflinching desire for combat and a rounded technical game. The clash promises high-octane, high quality toe to toe action and whatever the relative merits of the two in pound for pound terms it is a proper fight and the type Hatton urgently needs. After Castillo however, the way forward is far less clear.
Only two years ago the ten stone division Hatton inhabits boasted a catalogue of exceptional fighters and a strong reserve of capable contenders. Alongside Hatton stood Kostya Tzsyu, Arturo Gatti, Zab Judah, Floyd Mayweather, Junior Witter, Vivian Harris and Miguel Cotto, ably supported by Lovemore N’Dou, Ricardo Torres, DeMarcus Corley, Soulyemane MBaye, Philip N’Dou and with the potential for weight jumps by Diego Corrales, Acelino Freitas and Castillo it was a competition rich and compelling division.
Victory over Kostya firmly established Hatton as the premier fighter in the division. A proven golden boy. Whatever Mayweather’s talent or Gatti’s reputation, Hatton had beaten THE man. A misguided sojourn to the Welterweight division and a publicly announced commitment to ‘chase’ Mayweather swiftly undermined this status and helped enhance Mayweather’s reputation almost as much as his commendable, though cherry-picked, approach to jumping weight classes and finding competition. Just how did Mayweather get through from 130 to 154 pounds without facing Freitas, Mosley, Hatton, Cotto, Tyszu, Margarito or Wright? Another question for another day.
A quick retreat to 140 pounds following Hatton’s mediocre display versus Luis Collazo took him back to a weight division now significantly weaker than when he left it; Cotto, Judah, Tyszu, Gatti and Mayweather had now departed and Corrales jumped straight past from Lightweight to Welterweight. In the void second tier fighters like Urango, Rabah, Torres and N’Dou have stepped up and secured belts. Belts largely meaningless as they were generally vacated by superior champions. Hatton (IBF & WBA) being a case in point, but Mayweather (WBC) and Cotto (WBO) also abdicated to leave a vacuum for inferior fighters.
Looking around for Hatton’s next obvious opponent following his presumed success against Castillo, and personally I expect him to demolish the veteran Mexican, is a harder task than ever. He maintains he is willing to go back to Welterweight for the right fight, i.e. Cotto or Mayweather, but his preference – and that of his trainer Billy Graham – is to stay at 140 pounds where his fearsome strength and stamina have greatest effect. So just who is at 140 or capable of making the weight and being competitive?
We can discount the following as broken or retired fighters, fighters that HBO or whichever network would struggle to sell as believable challengers to Hatton.
1 – Corrales – destroyed by Clottey and stated to be unable to boild down lower than 142.
2 – Tsyzu – retired, and any comeback would be at Welterweight.
3 – Freitas – stopped by aspiring Lightweight Diaz. The Brazilian has retired before, surely the stoppage loss to Diaz is the end?
Of the active fighters the following are unlikely to feature for more political reasons;
1 – Junior Witter – despite looking like the most obvious fight available, the WBC Champion isn’t on the radar because “he isn’t a television fighter”, “brings no fans to the table” or”has been disrespectful”, according to Team Hatton at least.
2 – Souleymane M’Baye – stylish WBA champion is handled by Frank Warren, too much history for Hatton to consider annexing the title he forgave rather than face M’Baye.
3 – Lovemore N’Dou – beaten by Mitchell, Cotto and Witter, the IBF champion is looking for paydays and would snap Hatton’s arm off, but how can a career gatekeeper be sold as an elite opponent for Hatton? He cannot.
Which leaves a sparse collection of others:
1 – Ricardo Torres – WBO Champion with the wild punching style, caused Cotto problems but was bombed at the midway point.
2 – Vivian Harris – Matched to fight Witter next, and Hatton will be praying for an American win to end the whining from Witter and to make the Harris fight more lucrative and sellable.
3 – Demetrius Hopkins – Described as fortunate to survive a battle with veteran Steve Forbes on points, Hopkins carries extra clout because of his name but is a chasm below Hatton in quality
4 – Kendall Holt – Upwardly mobile Holt is gaining momentum following two impressive victories over fellow contenders Hlatshwayo and Arnaoutis but looks like a raw candidate in the ring and as a known entity
5 – Paul Malignaggi – tackles N’Dou for the IBF Light-Welterweight belt next and pushed Cotto the distance, a brave likeable fighter with some American reputation
6 – Joel Casamayor – Lightweight veteran with two wins over Corrales but a defeat to Castillo at Lightweight.
7 – Juan Diaz – the main man at Lightweight following his punishment of Freitas, the chunky brawler named the Baby Bull would presumably want a couple of easy defences at Lightweight before risking all in jumping up.
Looking for a long-shot:
1 – Paul Spadafora – the Pittsburgh ticket seller came close to facing Hatton about two years ago but Warren opted for Harris only for Harris to pull out, in the interim Spadafora is on the fighting comeback from incarceration. A well known fighter Stateside however.
To conclude, without a jump back to Welter where Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito contend – another elite fight comparable to Castillo and Kostya is hard to find these days. Lets hope post Castillo doesn’t see another couple of mediocre fixtures for a fighter everyone believes to a pound for pound contender.