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Hatton back on the (basic cable) map
Lyle Fitzsimmons


By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It all seemed so different six months ago.

When Ricky Hatton headed across the Atlantic to face Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the Nevada desert last December, the hard-living common man from Manchester seemed poised to take his place in the sport's most heady -- and most wealthy -- upper echelons.

Not only did a small and vocal minority think the rising 140-pounder was actually capable of becoming top dog at welterweight, but most others concluded he'd at least put on a show sufficient to establish himself as a long-term mainstay of the pay-per-view elite.

But 10 rounds, two knockdowns, and one corner surrender later the landscape changed.

Instead of meeting Oscar De La Hoya in what became the "Golden Boy's" return bout a few weeks ago in Los Angeles or engaging Mayweather in a register- ringing rematch later this summer, Hatton will instead begin his career rebuilding project this weekend on basic cable TV.

Ricky Hatton will begin his career rebuilding project this weekend on basic cable TV.


He'll return home to some 55,000 fans at the City of Manchester Stadium on Saturday to meet veteran lightweight/junior welterweight contender Juan Lazcano -- headlining a two title-fight card on Versus that will also feature fellow 140-pound belt-holder Paulie Malignaggi.

Malignaggi again faces No. 4 contender Lovemore N'dou, whom he beat in June 2007 for his IBF crown.

The broadcast begins at 3:30 p.m. (et) /12:30 p.m. (pt) in the United States.

And assuming both successfully defend, the tea leaves read as if they'll meet later this year.

Unlike six months ago, however, the result of that proposed bout hardly seems a slam dunk.

Malignaggi's star has risen steadily as he's added to his body of work, most recently with a 12-round scorecard defeat of Herman Ngoudjo in January at Bally's Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City.

A gutty performance during his lone career loss -- a brutal decision against Miguel Cotto in the Puerto Rican's final bout at 140 -- has taken on new luster as well as Cotto climbed the ladder to position No. 1a behind Mayweather at welterweight.

Mean time, Hatton's most recent news came as a result of a well-publicized post-Mayweather drinking binge, during which he reportedly took down 57 pints of beer, 17 vodka and Red Bulls, four vodkas, three whiskey chasers and a bottle of Moet champagne over a four-day stretch in Spain.

And at least one observer, though admittedly biased, sees the change in perceptions.

"People don't give (Malignaggi) credit for how tough a kid he is," said Malignaggi promoter Lou DiBella, on hand for the recent Tarver-Woods/Dawson- Johnson card in Tampa, Fla. "He hung in there against Cotto and ended up winning four or five rounds, which is better than anyone else did against him at that weight.

"Meanwhile, Hatton is putting on weight between fights and living hard and he has to really work to get down to junior welter. After a while, that's going to take a toll on a body. People don't think Paulie is strong enough to keep him away, but I'm not sure Hatton ever puts a sustained hurt on him."

Truth told, I'm not so sure I disagree either.

Though Malignaggi is no Mayweather in terms of overall skill and punching power, he nonetheless has the sort of slick style that's bound to give a hard- charger like Hatton more than his fair share of now-you-see-him, now-you-don't headaches.

And while it's surely possible the "Hitman" eventually catches and grinds him down over 36 minutes, it's no less conceivable that the Brooklyn-born speedster dips and darts his way to a combat-free shutout.

Usually, if all else is equal in these sorts of athlete vs. buzz saw matches, I side with the athlete.

So, if it happens...

FitzHitz says: Malignaggi by decision.

* * * * * *

Elsewhere, the third time might be the charm in the week's other major title fight.

Or maybe not.

On Wednesday, Australian native Anthony Mundine risks his WBA super middleweight title when he faces familiar old foe and countryman Sam Soliman in a scheduled 12-rounder at the Vodafone Arena in Melbourne.

Mundine and Soliman have met twice before with Mundine getting the better of both, first via 12-round split decision in September 2001 and later by ninth- round stoppage for the then-vacant WBA crown in March 2007.

The 33-year-old has made three successful defenses since, including decisions over Pablo Daniel Zamora Nievas and Nader Hamdan, sandwiched around a fourth- round KO of Jose Alberto Clavero.

He is recognized as the WBA's "world" champion, while universally recognized 168-pound kingpin Joe Calzaghe gets billing as the sanctioning group's "unified" world champion.

Mundine is 31-3 with 23 KOs.

Soliman, meanwhile, has fought three times since the second Mundine setback, with five- and six-round decisions over Max Alexander and Wayne Johnsen book- ending an eight-round loss to Sakio Bika in the semifinals of season three of "The Contender" on ESPN.

He is 35-10 with 13 KOs.

Lyle Fitzsimmons is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He provides "In The Ring" boxing commentary for Speeding Bullet Network (speedingbulletnetwork.com) and can be contacted via e-mail at fitzbitz@msn.com.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.

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