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When Matthew Hatton took on an emerging Canelo Alvarez

Canelo Alvarez
‘He looked like Popeye after the spinach.’ Steve Bunce remembers Matthew Hatton taking on future boxing superstar Canelo Alvarez

THERE was always more than just Guinness, karaoke and drinking naked at dawn in Las Vegas between Ricky and Matthew Hatton. Each time they sat down to watch each other fight, they felt the punches. They took every one of the punches, every setback and moment of glory. That happens with fighting brothers. When it looked like Ricky was finished with boxing there was one final big-fight week in Los Angeles for the boys. It was Matthew, not Ricky this time.

In late 2010 there was an offer from Robert Diaz at Golden Boy for Matthew to fight Saul “Canelo” Alvarez; 10 rounds at welterweight in Los Angeles in March, 2011. Alvarez was a baby of 20, unbeaten in 36 fights and his name was starting to carry some hard currency in our business. Oscar De La Hoya was very excited about the kid.  

“We agreed terms for a fight over 10 rounds at 10.7 and then a few weeks into the camp they called back,” remembered Hatton. “The WBC light-middleweight title was vacant and they asked if I would fight him for that title at 10.10. We had a chat about the money and did the deal.” Hatton was never a massive welterweight, but he was a proper welterweight; Alvarez was always a beast, a beast at any weight.

The boys arrived in Los Angeles a week before the fight. They took up low-key residency at first, hidden away, a quiet gym, no red-carpet reception. No fuss, just a tight little group. There was Ricky, Bob Shannon, Ray Hatton, Gareth Williams, their lawyer. More friends and relatives arrived a few days before the first bell – that was the Hatton way.

They switched to the Wild Card and suddenly they landed in big-fight land; children in Canelo hats, old men talking in Spanish about the kid, Freddie Roach being a diplomat. The Hattons had seen and heard it all before, there was no great fear or surprise. They were all big boys, they knew how the business worked.

Matthew could fight, never forget that. His record that week in Los Angeles was 41 wins from 47 fights, he had beaten Gianluca Branco for the European title, made two good defences and been stitched up over 12 against Lovemore N’dou on a show his father promoted. The ringside that night looked more like a crowd at a family christening than a big fight. Home, father and brother advantage never helped: “I might take them off my Christmas card list,” Matthew told me.

Alvarez had beaten N’dou over 12 rounds in his last fight. Yes, Hatton could fight, make no mistake and any canopy of protection extended by his brother’s reputation had long since vanished. I don’t think it ever existed.

“We kept hearing that he would never make the weight and that he was massive,” Hatton added. “Everybody in the Wild Card gym was talking about him. I was not bothered about the weight, but I still told Gareth, our lawyer, and my father to make sure he was 10.10 when we got on the scales.” They all knew that Alvarez was unlikely to be at the weight.

“I got on the scales and I was 10.9 and then he got on and was 10.12. It was no shock,” said Hatton. “I went back to the hotel and left Gareth and my father to sort it out. He had an hour to make the weight – he came back and was slightly heavier; he was not bothered, he was never going to make the weight. That was never his plan.”

Hatton was back at the hotel, relaxing, eating. No panic, he knew what he had signed for, he knew exactly what he was in Los Angeles to do.

“They called me at the hotel and asked me what I wanted to do and I had a choice,” continued Hatton. “I could have pulled out and still got 20 or 25 per cent, but I had about 30 family and friends there: I was going to fight. Then they said they were going to ask for double. I told them: ‘They won’t pay double.’ I just kept eating and then they called back and said that they would pay double.”

There was a new deal with the weight, put together by men desperate to save the night; it was agreed that Alvarez could be no more than 10 pounds heavier the following day. It sounded good, Alvarez was listening and it was just about kept. “They moved the final check weigh-in from 5pm to noon and he got on the scales naked. He made it. Later HBO weighed us – I was 11.1 and he was 11.12. What could I do? I was always going to fight. I never went there for a holiday.”

Alvarez entered the ring about 20 pounds heavier than the initial agreed weight and was probably a stone heavier than Hatton.

“In the ring I was enjoying the atmosphere, I really was and then he came in, wearing one of those big Mexican gowns,” added Hatton. “He took it off and I looked over: F**k me, he looked like Popeye after the spinach. He was huge.” I have witnessed that from ringside and it really must be a nightmare vision for his opponents.

“I felt the weight in his shots straight away and the way he moved – I knew within about a minute – I knew that it was going to be a tough night,” said Hatton, as honest as you would expect and I could sense the shrug of his shoulders in his voice.“I just had to fight.”

And fight he did. It is not the fight you imagine, remember or the fight you was told it was. Take a look, it will not be a waste of your time.  It went the full 12 rounds that night in Los Angeles, Alvarez won on points. The rest, as they say, is history. 

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