Ricky Hatton: Challenging Paulie Malignaggi Is the Best Way to Regain a Title

Zachary AlapiCorrespondent IOctober 22, 2012

LAS VEGAS - NOVEMBER 22:  Ricky Hatton of England (R) evades a left jab from Paulie Malinaggi of USA during their Light-welterweight title fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on November 22, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by John Gichigi/Getty Images)
John Gichigi/Getty Images

According to ESPN.com’s UK outlet, WBA welterweight champion Paulie Malignaggi, who won a controversial split decision against Pablo Cesar Cano on the historic boxing card at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, would consider it an “honor” to box Ricky Hatton again.

Since Hatton (45-2, 32 KO) announced his intention to make a ring return, the possibility of Hatton-Malignaggi II has become popular speculation. In fact, ESPN UK points to the fact that Hatton’s first comeback opponent, Vyacheslav Senchenko, could strategically bolster the chances of a rematch against Malignaggi (32-4, 7 KO):

Former two-weight world champion Hatton is aiming to improve his WBA ranking by defeating Senchenko—who the organisation rates fifth at welterweight—and manoeuvring himself into position for a shot at Malignaggi's belt.

Senchenko (32-1, 21 KO) formerly held the WBA welterweight title, and his last ring appearance was a title-losing TKO to Malignaggi. As for Hatton, whose comeback has been both celebrated and derided, the purpose and scope of his ring return has finally produced some long-term (relatively) clarity.

Of course, all speculation regarding Hatton is mere conjecture until he actually beats Senchenko. If Hatton loses, his comeback will comprise of that one fight, and nothing more. However, should Hatton prevail, a fight against Malignaggi makes logical sense for several reasons.

Obviously, Hatton and Malignaggi have a history. In 2008, Hatton stopped Malignaggi in 11 rounds to retain his IBO light welterweight title, which served as a prelude to Hatton’s retirement-inducing knockout loss to Manny Pacquiao. Malignaggi, undoubtedly, will want a chance to avenge his defeat.

Regardless of where Hatton fought throughout his career, he was one of the sport’s biggest draws at his peak with a veritable army of British supporters following him in droves all the way to Las Vegas. With the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn committed to hosting quality boxing, Malignaggi also has a swanky home-base of operation where he can expect tremendous support.

Hatton fans will flock to wherever a fight against Malignaggi occurs. Naturally, if the fight takes place in the UK, a massive soccer stadium could be easily filled to capacity, though that would certainly leave Malignaggi in the lurch in terms of fan support. Whether Hatton-Malignaggi II was to take place in the United States or across the Atlantic, both men stand much to gain financially.

If a rematch between Hatton and Malignaggi isn’t convincing enough based on the fighter’s shared history and marketability, the hypothetical second bout is starting to appear sound from a boxing standpoint.

Whenever a fighter returns from a lengthy hiatus—especially a championship-level fighter—declining skills are usually more glaring and can sometimes produce frightening results. Because Hatton attained the pinnacle of the sport in terms of participating in major fights, it is reasonable and worrisome to expect that his intention in returning is to ultimately capture another world title.

While putting Hatton in the ring with the likes of Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao again would be considered inhumane, a challenge against Malignaggi could produce a competitive and intriguing fight.

At the Barclays Center, Malignaggi fought an overweight Pablo Cesar Cano, who clearly had an advantage in punching power (who doesn’t against Malignaggi?) and overall strength. However, what was more apparent in the fight was how Malignaggi’s foot movement and reflexes have noticeably eroded.

Malignaggi is still a quality fighter with a great skill set, but the movement and reflexes he relied on to offset his lack of power are gradually starting to betray him, making it harder to slip punches and easily outbox his opponents. Given Hatton’s own ring-rust, this mixture of two fighters past their primes could make for a more competitive fight.

This is proposed in comparison to Hatton facing the likes of Amir Khan or Kell Brook, which appears to be both dangerous and pointless in terms of advancing anyone’s career. By fighting Malignaggi, Hatton avoids the obvious dangers of facing a younger fighter with a strong punch while simultaneously getting the chance to fulfill his championship desires against a very credible champion.

Though Malignaggi isn’t quite what he used to be, he still possesses a beautiful jab, well-schooled boxing skills and a solid chin. However, one aspect of Malignaggi’s performance against Cano (25-2-1, 19 KO) that will have Hatton salivating is the distribution of punches landed for both men.

As reported on Boxing Scene, CompuBox numbers from Malignaggi-Cano reveal that Paulie was out-landed 262-217, despite out-throwing Cano 826-757. Even more remarkable was the distribution of jabs versus power punches. Of his 217 overall connects, Malignaggi landed 160 jabs, meaning that he only hit Cano with 57 of 179 power punches. Conversely, Cano landed 165 of 378 power shots and still nipped Malignaggi with 97 jabs.

While CompuBox is not always a clear indication of who won a fight, the numbers help support the visual evidence that Malignaggi was likely the beneficiary of a home-cooked decision. Though the fight wasn’t lopsided in Cano’s favor, he did appear to sweep the final quarter of the bout, and he almost stopped Malignaggi in Round 11.

Given Hatton’s ability to get inside, it seems plausible that he could eventually out-maneuver Malignaggi’s jab and turn their fight into more of a slugfest. Cano also tagged Malignaggi with repeated right hands, and it would be interesting to see whether Hatton would have the timing to score well with similar shots.

If Hatton looks sharp against Senchenko, a rematch against Malignaggi is a logical fight. While both men are certainly past their best, it could be a fitting way for Hatton to end what should be no more than a two-fight comeback.