Hatton, Urango meet in battle of unbeatens

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LAS VEGAS (AP) – Ricky Hatton’s last business trip across the pond wasn’t exactly a smashing success. About the only good that came from it was he returned home with a shiny new belt to show friends at the neighborhood pub.

That was eight months ago, when Hatton made an ill-advised move up in weight for his first big fight in America and took a beating in the final round in Boston before winning a controversial decision over Luis Collazo for a piece of the welterweight title.

The British brawler is back, and he’s back down in weight to meet Colombia’s Juan Urango tonight in a rare battle of unbeaten fighters for the 140-pound title Hatton used to own.

It’s not only Hatton’s Las Vegas debut, but a chance to show an American television audience that he is a better fighter than the one who barely escaped Boston with both his unblemished record and his reputation intact.

“I had seven weeks to grow into a different weight division, which is quite hard, quite tough,” Hatton said of the fight. “I think I could be a better force at welterweight if I’d given a little bit more time maybe two or three fights to grow into the weight division.”

But I wasn’t given that luxury against Collazo.”

Urango is the champion but Hatton is a big favorite in a fight that figures to be a brawl from the opening bell. Neither fighter has ever lost as a pro and both are aggressive boxers who hate to take a step backward.

Hatton used that style effectively to build a career in his hometown of Manchester, England, where he was already a big crowd favorite before he upset Kostya Tszyu in June 2005 to win the 140-pound title.

It’s how he fights, and the 3,000 or so fans who came all the way from England for this fight expect to see the same “Hit Man” they’ve grown to love back home.

I’m expecting some fireworks, some real fireworks,” Hatton said. “I mean neither of us will be taking a backward step. We’ll each be taking a big punch to give a big punch and go for the knockout.”

Both fighters weighed in Friday at 139 for the scheduled 12-round fight (HBO, 9:45 p.m. EST) from the Paris hotel-casino.

Hatton could use an exciting fight after a win over Collazo that many didn’t think he deserved. Though Hatton knocked Collazo down seconds into the fight, the southpaw seemed to dominate the later rounds.

Hatton (41-0, 30 knockouts) said he learned his lesson about switching weight classes and is back to the weight where he had so much success. He’s also got an opponent who won’t be hard to find this time.

“He’s a very good fighter. He had a good amateur pedigree. He comes to fight, and he’s in your face all the time,” Hatton said. “He’s my kind of fighter.”

Hatton is so determined to make a good showing that he came to town several week early to train, spending Christmas apart from his wife and 6-year-old son. He understands the history of boxing in Las Vegas and wants fans on this side of the Atlantic to embrace him like his countrymen do.

“It’s just a pinnacle for a fighter’s career, especially a British fighter, to fight In Las Vegas,” Hatton said. “It’s absolutely dream serious, a dream come true.”

Urango (17-0-1, 13 knockouts) is also looking at the fight as a chance of his lifetime. He won the title vacated by Hatton when he moved up to 147 pounds with a unanimous decision over Naoufel Rabah and is known as a big puncher.

“I’m a professional. I’m disciplined. I’m not an ordinary boxer,” Urango said. “I’ve got knowledge.”

Also on the card is Jose Luis Castillo, fighting for the first time since failing to the second time to make weight against Diego Corrales. Castillo, who weighed in at 139 pounds Friday, will fight Herman Ngoudjo, who is unbeaten in 15 fights.

Assuming both Hatton and Castillo win, they are tentatively slated to fight each other next.

AP-ES-01-19-07 1815EST

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