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Saturday excitement: Hatton vs. Castillo
Lyle Fitzsimmons

By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Boxing Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - I don't excite easily.

Oh sure... a playoff win for the New York Jets, a front-row seat at a Springsteen concert or a fleeting glimpse of Alyssa Milano in any post-"Who's the Boss" role usually gets it done... but outside of that holy trinity, it takes a bit more work.

That said, I think the big show in Vegas this weekend might be enough.

When Ricky Hatton and Jose Luis Castillo collide Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center - home to some of college basketball's best and most controversial teams in the early 1990s - the 140-pound division's two best fighters might well provide the year's best fight.

Hatton, who prompted frenzy in Manchester for years before hitting the mainstream with a shocking TKO of Kostya Tszyu two Junes ago, is making defense No. 1 of the IBO light welterweight title he claimed upon returning from a one-night stand with the 147-pounders in 2006.

He dominated overmatched Colombian export Juan Urango to capture that crown in January, winning 11 of 12 rounds on all three scorecards en route to locking up the first major stateside payday of his now 10-year-old professional career.

Meanwhile there's Castillo, a former two-time champion at 135 pounds whose reigns ended in memorable losses to Floyd Mayweather Jr. (UD 12) and Diego Corrales (TKO 10), who's made as much news on the scales as in the ring over the subsequent two years.

Ricky Hatton
Ricky Hatton is making defense No. 1 of the IBO light welterweight title.
His second bout with Corrales - a fourth-round KO win - was relegated to non-title status when he thrice failed to make the lightweight limit, and a subsequent rubber match was scuttled altogether by another failure to boil down to 135.

Two uninspiring decision wins have followed for the 33-year-old Mexican veteran, who won a wide 12-round verdict over fringe contender Rolando Reyes in February 2006 before escaping with a split nod over unbeaten Herman Ngoudjo on Hatton's undercard in January.

But momentum differences aside, it's still a great match.

A pair of fighters with moderate skill sets who make up for lack of athletic acumen with a more-than-sufficient and always crowd-friendly willingness to accept punishment, buoyed by just enough scar tissue to ensure a visceral experience for homebound viewers on HBO.

Make room Chad, Bruce and Alyssa...the trinity's become a Fab Four.

FitzHitz says: Hatton in 10.

Speaking of Castillo, an e-mail chat with Ocala-based guru Nick Fortuna about the aforementioned instant classic with Corrales prompted reflection on one of that bout's most compelling - yet often-overlooked - moments.

When Corrales rose from the second of two 10th-round knockdowns and went to the corner to retrieve a rinsed mouthpiece from Joe Goossen, the trainer was caught by Showtime microphones issuing a pointed crunch-time missive to his battered charge.

"You gotta f'ing get inside on this guy, Diego, right now!"

History shows the colorful directive worked just in time, prompting a stirring barrage that transported Corrales from the brink of defeat to a center-ring belt-raising and cemented his permanent status long before an untimely death in a motorcycle crash last month.

Other trainers have proven equally dramatic.

Perhaps most memorable in the last few decades is the Sept. 16, 1981 performance of veteran Angelo Dundee, who raised an already Hall of Fame career to legend status with a one-minute soliloquy in Ray Leonard's right ear between rounds 12 and 13 against Thomas Hearns.

"You're blowin' it now, son. You're blowin' it."

Hearns earned a measure of revenge in a rematch with the by-then Dundee-less Leonard in June 1989, scoring a pair of knockdowns on the way to what was scored a controversial draw.

What few recall, though, is Emanuel Steward's motivational 60 seconds when the "Hitman" stumbled back to the corner following a brutal Leonard barrage in the fifth round.

"You've got to go in there and fight the man," the Detroit icon said. "Power boxing. I've been a miracle manager for you, son, but unless you go in there and fight him, we've got nowhere else to go."

Last, but not least, is a familiar voice's breakout speech.

Manning the corner for heavyweight challenger Michael Moorer in his April 1994 title try against WBA/IBF champ Evander Holyfield, one-day ESPN analyst Teddy Atlas made his impact felt, both audibly and literally.

Pulling every motivational tactic out of his ringside bag of tricks, including the odd open-hand slap to the face, the crooked-nosed New Yorker roused his man out of an early slumber in time to capture a razor-thin majority decision at Caesars Palace.

And along with Moorer, it worked on my man Nick as well.

"I agree on the corner thing," he said. "When Atlas was shouting at Moorer, 'You're lying to yourself!' I thought that was just great and made his career. It made me want him to be my Mick and I could be his Rocky."

Meanwhile, another 140-pounder made a statement last week.

Paulie Malignaggi, the loud-talking and fringe-wearing Brooklyn native last seen turning black and blue at the ends of Miguel Cotto's gloves, returned to the belt-holding class by beating IBF stand-in titlist Lovemore N'Dou via 12-round nod in Uncasville, Conn.

The 26-year-old swept the scorecards in surprisingly one-sided style against N'dou - an aging Australian essentially handed the belt when it was dubiously stripped from Hatton - winning via scores of 120-106, 120-106 and 118-108.

But impressive or not, the victory might not be enough to separate Malignaggi from comparisons to Hector Camacho, the brash Puerto Rican who flashily climbed the ladder in the 1980s only to lose in one-sided fashion each time he ventured toward the top step.

Julio Cesar Chavez won 32 of a possible 36 rounds on the judges' cards in a September 1992 match with Camacho at 140, before Felix Trinidad performed a nearly similar 28-of-36 surgery in a welterweight title bout just 16 months later.

The circus left center ring for good in 1997, when Oscar De La Hoya pitched a 10-2, 12-0 and 12-0 shutout against the by-then 35-year-old dance master in Las Vegas. Camacho did press on with 15 wins in 17 bouts through 2005, but never again approached elite status.

Still, Lou DiBella sees more than the big top for Malignaggi.

"This kid was into my office after he won the U.S. national championships (in 2001)," he said, in a piece posted on northjersey.com, - and he had had 40 or 50 amateur fights, and he said, 'I'm going to be a world champion some day,' and he is. And he did it the right way, with a brilliant boxing performance.

"You saw him knock the guy down and you saw him come on and want to close the show like a champ at the end of that 12th round. I'm incredibly proud of him and I think he's more than just a regular fighter. I think he is an elite fighter. I think Paulie Malignaggi is a future superstar."

Riding shotgun on Saturday?s card in Vegas and proving that nepotism is alive and well will be British welterweight Matthew Hatton - two years the junior of his paycheck-cashing big brother.

The younger Hatton, who turned 26 in May, will meet Ruben Galvan in the latest stop on a parade of journeymen that's yielded a pair of victories since a DQ loss to 19-15-2 countryman Alan Bosworth.

Galvan, a 34-year-old native of Indiana, was briefly last seen two months ago in Tunica, Miss., meeting former two-division champ Zab Judah in a one-rounder that was declared a no-contest.

Now 27-11-2 overall, Galvan had been 3-4 in his last seven bouts.

Hatton, who stands 30-3-1 with 12 knockouts, began his career with 13 straight victories before a two-losses-in-three-fights stretch over five months bridging 2002 and 2003.

He recovered to go 13-0-1 over 14 subsequent outings before the Bosworth disappointment, though the victims list "featured" names like 7-7 Jay Mahoney (twice), 9-25-3 Peter Dunn and 11-18 Matt Scriven.

The post-Bosworth scalps, for the record, have included Ukrainian nobody Vladimir Borovski (now 19-24-1) and 34-year-old Washington native Frank Houghtaling, who's 4-6-2 in his last 12 outings.

Incidentally, the fight is for the IBF intercontinental title at 147.

But, oh brother, I have no idea why.

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


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