Avert your gaze from boxing for too long and the constants, the equilibrium on which your perspective of the sport was founded can quickly be disconnected and deconstructed. The notion that the gnarled, sinewy frame of gravel-voiced trainer Billy Graham will no longer be strapped into the renown body belt (pictured left) for 15 rounds of torment from Ricky Hatton is hard to believe. OK, Graham and Hatton were never Morecombe and Wise, but together they’ve moulded and tuned Hatton’s natural physical prowess and thirst for combat to make both wealthy and respected. Curious timing? Perhaps.
Terry Dooley, that most loquacious of wordsmiths from the ever pulsing BritishBoxing.net grapevine, has grown closer than most to Graham, preserving the thoughts of the man at his zenith and in darker moments following the humbling by Mayweather. A fighter Graham vehemently maintains Hatton still has the beating of. Dooley sagely reports that the assumption, encouraged by Ray Hatton, that Billy had declared himself unable to continue in his role with Ricky due to health problems was wide of the mark. True, injuries placed incredible demands on Graham’s shattered body – but the Preacher man remains adamant he was willing to make that sacrifice to fulfil his promise to see Ricky’s career through from beginning to end. In short, he was pushed from his role, he didn’t jump.
It would, had Graham fulfilled his ambition with Hatton, proved a preciously rare achievement, particularly with a fighter of the pedigree of Hatton, a trainer rarely survives the varying fortunes of a professional boxer these days. Elite fighters appear willing to apportion blame for defeat on trainers and employ new corner men following every setback. Hatton and Graham were thought to have a bond beyond the usual trainer-fighter relationship. If they did, it has grown strained in the past twelve months. Most notably in the spotlight of the major “event” fight with Mayweather following which Hatton was forced to publicly confirm Graham services were to be retained as rumours swirled of a falling out within the camp.
As Graham explained to Terry at BritishBoxing.net; “I had said that it was always my intention to see out my time in boxing as Ricky Hatton’s trainer. I made the decision to accept the injuries that come with the role in order to retire with the fighter who I will always be remembered for. My retirement was brought forward because I was sacked from my role. I said I would leave (boxing) with Ricky and (I) wouldn’t carry on in the sport after he had retired. The way things have panned out means I have brought my own retirement forward…in the end it worked out well because it means working with Ojay for his (Ojay’s) final fight has more meaning.”
And so the career, which also encompassed the best performances of Carl Thompson as well as Hatton, draws to a close in the corner of Ojay Abrahams, the eccentric journeyman. Just the kind of spit and sawdust contest Graham worked in as a fighter and one with special meaning as it will be the Watford veteran’s 100th, and final, contest too.
I wish both men the best in their respective lives beyond the weekend. It will not be quite the same without either. And Hatton’s victory lap of the 10stone division before securing his pension topping bout with either Oscar or Manny will seem a little peculiar without Billy and his distinctive range of head wear. The marketing of Kangol caps will now fall almost exclusively to Samuel L Jackson one would assume? I also wonder how the Hatton gravy train will miss Graham’s particular brand of straight-talking too. He warned of the dangers of leaving the Light-Welterweight division, he spoke of his fear of Luis Collazo awkward style and he recently remarked on Ricky’s need to rediscover his boxing ability and discard the “hairum scarum” approach to every opponent.
Perhaps, when you’re on the home run it can appear a little too late in the day for improvement or reflective analysis of the type Billy provided – whether you asked him for it or not.