Collazo laughs off opponent’s hype

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BOSTON (AP) – WBA welterweight champion Luis Collazo showed up at his pre-fight news conference with a gift for challenger Ricky “Hitman” Hatton: A six-pack of Guinness, to remind the Englishman of home.

On Saturday night, Collazo will try to send Hatton back to Manchester with little more than a hangover.

“This is the only six-pack he can have, because he can’t have mine,” Collazo said Thursday, turning down an offer to share a brew after the fight. “We can have some tea together, not Guinness, because I don’t drink.”

In a cuddly scene that replaced the usual boxing bluster, Collazo and Hatton joked around and praised each other at the pre-fight press conference. Collazo (26-1, 12 KO) even passed up a chance to play the respect card when all of the buzz was about Hatton (40-0, 30 KO), who is fighting in the U.S. for the first time since 2000.

“That doesn’t bother me,” said Collazo, who picked up the title last year when he outpointed Jose Antonia Rivera in nearby Worcester. “Come Saturday night, it’s just the beginning of Collazo’s invasion.”

Until then, though, promoters are playing up Hatton’s arrival on these shores, trotting out taglines like “The Hitman Invasion,” “One if by land, and two if by sea,” and “The British are Back.”

Hatton is the WBA junior welterweight champion, but the excitement surrounding him stems from his victories over Kostya Tszyu and Carlos Maussa last year. He was named the fighter of the year by the Boxing Writers Association of America, Ring magazine and ESPN.

That put to rest some of the doubts that surrounded him because he has fought almost exclusively in England in front of adoring fans. Hatton said he stayed close to home because that allowed promoters to sell out large arenas.

“For years, I’ve been considered overhyped, protected, afraid to leave my hometown. What a difference 12 moons makes,” said Hatton, who received his BWAA award at the news conference. “Those are my dreams, to top the billing in the United States. I could have stayed in Manchester in my comfort zone.”

Hatton hopes a victory on Saturday will allow him to begin unifying belts. Such talk rankled Collazo, who didn’t want to look beyond this weekend.

“This is the fight of my career right here,” Collazo said, cupping his hands out in front of him. “This is the world right now. I”ve got it in my hands. That’s the only thing I need to motivate me.”

On the undercard, Valdemir Pereira and Eric Aiken will fight for Pereira’s IBF featherweight title.

AP-ES-05-11-06 1815EDT

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