Home Sweet Home?
By Martin Wade (June 1, 2005) 
Photo © Mr.Will/ HoganPhotos.com
On June 4th Ricky Hatton will make the plunge from the neighborhood rec pool to the Pacific Ocean when he faces Junior Welterweight King Kostya Tszyu. The fight will be taking place at MEN Arena in Manchester England (Showtime 9 pm, ET/PT) , the backyard of boxing’s premier British Brawler. Many in boxing feel it’s about time for the step up and many Americans resent the milking of Ricky’s hometown popularity by promoter Frank Warren. I for one never had a problem with Ricky’s ‘grooming’ process, his (Warrens) ability to identify and exploit his core audience is as American as apple pie if you ask me. Let’s face it, Ricky Hatton has every trait of a fighter with a short shelf life; he’s a stocky pressure fighter with brittle skin and a propensity for getting caught with a good right hand (see Kostya Tszyu under ‘great’ right hand). Why shouldn’t such a good guy maximize his earning potential? It’s not like there’s multiple titles at welterweight and junior middleweight on the horizon. The only problem I have with Ricky Hatton fighting Kostya Tszyu at MEN Arena is the timing. 2005 is not exactly the year for fighting in front of friends and family; let’s examine.

What happened to Andrew Golota in Chicago was classic Golata but could the cards have come tumbling down in any other place? Andrew Golota should already be classified as a special case but putting him in an arena with 100 Polish flags is enough to place the burden of obligation on even the most focused warrior; and focused Golota ain’t. As a promoter Don King is the maestro of all maestros, it is his sworn duty to find the mass of humanity and attract them but in boxing (like any other business) there are market ‘trends’. One must examine the landscape and give some credence to what appears to be the established ‘norm’ over the last several months. If I were a part of the Golota team I’d have sworn off of the Windy City with a simple, ‘not now’. If Don would have asked (or screamed) I would have replied, “Hometowns aren’t working out right now”. Golota’s camp should have fought for neutrality understanding the fact that Don King was going to make his living regardless of a fights locale. Their job was to do everything necessary to put their man in the best possible position to prevent him from getting beat.

Listen to athletes in other sports and they readily admit that the level of focus goes up when you are the visiting team because distractions go down. There’s also this ‘me against the world’ mentality, which in boxing can convert into a much-needed orneriness. Media request are drastically reduced as local writers engage in a feeding frenzy to capture the ‘local boy makes good’ angle. Emotional energy (for the hometown fighter) is expended with the demands of assuming normal roles as part of family, role model and close friend. I can’t imagine preparing for combat and having to deal with my daughter’s spats with her mother about boys. Try working the speed bag when cousin Pooky is asking you for a couple of dollars and some guy who swears he went to high school with you hounds you for an autograph – What’s the matter? Now you’re a big shot and think you’re too good to give a brotha a few minutes! If you don’t think there’s a trend going on, that Golota just freezes up against ‘punchers’, then what about Cory Spinks and Miguel Cotto?

Zab Judah’s ascent to the top of the welterweight heap was more than just a great display of power punching, it was a psychological masterpiece. For starters ‘Brooklyn’s finest’ took short money that can immediately transform the most pampered ex-champion into a hungry wolf. Then, Don King took the fight to St. Louis and thus brought the city its first taste of big time boxing since Joey Maxim took on Archie Moore in 1952!

With one touch of magic from boxing’s premier promoter Cory Spinks; a usually reserved sort had to juggle the burden of hometown expectation against a formidable opponent who legitimately had him hanging on to secure victory in their first bout. Spinks embraced the gesture (as only a good guy would) and became even more encouraged by the roughly 23,000 Missourians who came out in support. What followed should have been an indicator of what we all should have seen coming during the promotion. Flanked by rap star Nelly, Cory Spinks, so hyped up by the hometown ‘love’, put on a dancing exhibition that left me winded by merely watching. The rest was history, Zab was afforded the environment where he had no choice but to focus and he utilized it to startling results.

Miguel Cotto’s position as heir apparent to Felix Trinidad was seriously put into question with a lackluster performance against Demarcus (G-string) Corley earlier this year in (you guessed it) Puerto Rico. Now the timetable on the young banger is seriously in limbo, so much so that a victory next weekend against Muhamad Abdulaev won’t do anything to quell the whispers. I believe that in a neutral environment a focused Cotto can correct his performance against Corley, but I’d keep him away from home until 2006.

Later in June ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd Mayweather will invade Atlantic City to take on blood and guts icon Arturo Gatti. Former New York Knick Mark Jackson used to say that when Jordan came to the Garden he asked his family members to stay at home. Jordan relished crucifying the Knicks on their own floor almost as much as he did winning. Word out of Mayweather’s camp is that his preparation for this bout is no more intense than if he were facing a prime Roberto Duran. Factor in Gatti’s acceptance in the mainstream, HBO’s grooming him as a ratings ‘star’ and you have a recipe for disaster. Floyd Mayweather and Zab Judah are close, don’t believe that Floyd did not benefit indirectly (as Isaiah used to when Magic was winning) from the sensation a man can feel when destroying a guy on his own turf. Floyd is already planning after parties and celebrations in anticipation of pissing on Arturo Gatti’s lawn.

And if my hometown theories are viewed as the ranting of a blowhard who can’t think of anything tangible to rant about, Roy Jones Jr. has my back. As of this writing the deposed ‘Mr. Untouchable’ in search of a trinket is open to traveling to England and the backyard of IBF champ Clinton Woods. Remember the late 90’s when Roy wouldn’t even consider leaving the USA to fight then champ Dariusz Michalczewski? Well it seems that RJ has come to terms with the fact that he can’t return without the required focus and what better way to ‘get right’ than a hostile environment. Besides, the Brits will be polite and they won’t ask nasty questions about Antonio Tarver and Glenn Johnson. Take my word for it, boxing will always have its share of ‘hometown decisions’ but in 2005 the only good thing for ‘name’ fighters about fighting at home is the convenience of knowing that the hospital already has all of your insurance information and that it’s only a short drive home.

Until The Next “Jones”
The Boxing Junkie.

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