Ricky Hatton toppled Kostya Tszyu to conquer the world 15 years ago, writes Adam Smith

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Ricky Hatton
Image: Ricky Hatton savoured a world title triumph over the fearsome Kostya Tszyu

Fifteen years on from Ricky Hatton's finest night, Sky Sports Boxing's Adam Smith looks back at his career-defining world title clash against Kostya Tszyu.

The sun was coming up. He was battered, bruised and he had only been drinking water. Not even a single pint of his favourite 'black stuff'. He just couldn't manage it. Normally he shared a beer with most of his legions of fans.

Yes at 6:30am on June 5, 2005, Ricky Hatton was physically and emotionally shattered. The boy next door who had become a boxing sensation.

Just four hours earlier he had shocked the sporting world - dethroning one of the pound for pound kings, the fabulous Kostya Tszyu amid some of the most incredible scenes ever seen on Sky Sports. Now he was walking out of our hotel, the new IBF world light-welterweight champion. Against the odds, driving through the pain like a fighter possessed, Hatton took the huge punching Soviet-born Australian's power and broke Tszyu's will until he was pulled out on his stool after 11 enthralling rounds.

There had been standing room only. Everyone will remember where they were in the cauldron of Manchester's MEN Arena.

Ricky was, without question, the fighter we all had the most special bond with at Sky. Yes Naseem Hamed lit up our screens, but he had come through on ITV. Hatton was ours.

He had that tight family - parents Ray and Carol and brother Matthew. There was leading promoter Frank Warren, and Hatton was guided by that eccentric, likeable trainer honed in Moss Side's famous Champs Camp Gym, Billy Graham. A former police sergeant Paul Speak started as a friend, then he became a driver, unofficial bodyguard, agent, and as he always says to me 'Ricky's general dogsbody'.

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This team clicked, and Ricky Hatton had a phenomenal rise through the ranks. A star amateur, Hatton turned professional in Widnes in September 1997 (which somehow we bizarrely never filmed) and ripped through his early opponents home and abroad on Sky.

I had first seen 'Richard' when he was a chunky, blond, spiky-haired teenager and few knew much about this precocious talent outside Billy Graham's gym. I was up in Manchester filming old favourite Steve Foster - with his 'Viking' fans who brought replica longboats to his fights - and Ensley Bingham, who could put you to sleep if that sweet left hook of his landed.

Ricky Hatton
Image: The pale-faced teenager was a highly-regarded prospect

Billy took me straight over to this teenager who was whacking away on a grubby punch bag. But boy was he giving it some welly.

'This kid is the best young kid I've ever seen, 'Billy told me. 'Honest to God. He's as pale as anything but he hits like a mule. 'The Hitman'. And he's got all the moves. He'd beat most current pros tomorrow. I'm telling you, Adam, this is the one to watch.'

Yes, yes, you always hear that.

This time, though, it seemed Billy wasn't kidding about the young wide-eyed hopeful. I've never forgotten that introduction to Ricky Hatton. What I liked straight away about him was that he was down-to-earth.

No nonsense. No ego. But he was funny. He had an alluring personality.

It was a snowball effect with Hatton. The fans just kept building and building. Despite being an avid Manchester City fan, all of Hyde, Manchester, the North West and soon the world loved Ricky. Rio Ferdinand was one of his belt carriers. So too those Oasis brothers. Everyone wanted to be around him. Like 'The Pied Piper' - except he never acted as the leader. Just one of the lads.

He used to even lob us his house keys to make a brew if he was popping out - although he wouldn't go far from the home-cooked meals and mum's washing service!

We were all welcomed to the 15 round final body belt sessions with Billy and Ricky; many of us sampled the ridiculous fight breakfasts at The Butty Box.

Talk about access. Ricky gave us more than any other fighter of his level ever has or ever will.

Ricky Hatton
Image: The Mancunian fast became one of Britain's most popular fighters

From his love of 'Only Fools and Horses' and driving around town in his 'Trotters' three-wheeler to his Elvis impressions and the fat suits he brought to shows later in his career for a little pop back at his critics who constantly went on about the wild yo-yoing of his weight, Ricky never took himself too seriously if at all. He also never lost touch with his mates from the Hattersley estate - characters like 'The Duck' shone - and he always had a lively 'boxing family' around him made up of a stream of talented, often crazy fighters like Michael Gomez, Stevie Bell, Anthony Farnell, Paul Smith, our own Matt Macklin and of course Ricky's younger sibling Matthew. Billy Graham added his tight-knit team of assistant Bobby Rimmer and conditioner Kerry Kayes to the working party. There was always such a buzz.

Ricky had to overcome an horrific early cut (a problem that plagued the Hitman which is why he employed his 'God' Mick Williamson) to win the British Title against the highly regarded Jon Thaxton in his twenty-second fight, and as Frank matched him brilliantly, he was also pushing him to bigger venues - so many fights at the Manchester (MEN) Arena in front of so many people.

There was an excellent selected mixture of former world champions and experienced campaigners like Tony Pep, Freddie Pendleton, Eamonn Magee (who had Hatton down early and hurt for the first real time), Vince Phillips, Ben Tackie, and very late replacement Dennis Holbaek Pedersen which came as a real surprise. Frustration at the waiting game grew from all of us but then a superb victory over hardened Ray Oliveira was a final test before the big world title challenge against the monstrous Tszyu.

One night, Ricky drove me to a show at the small Wythenshawe forum in South Manchester in a banged-up old motor and he said something very reassuring:

'I'll tell you one thing, I will never ever change. My feet will remain firmly on the ground. I promise you that. I want to be world champion more than anything. But if I do that, you won't see me lording it all over the place. Not me. Not one little bit.'

Of course everyone changes over the years, but I honestly cannot think of a fighter who has achieved so much since that rainy night-time drive in Hyde and who has remained more true to his word.

When the Hitman became a two-weight champion, I remember him saying "I told you I'd never change. If I pranced around the street and people were saying 'There's Ricky know-it-all,' it would kill me. I'd go home and throw my belts in the bin. Straight away. I'd hate people thinking of me like that. I'm just one of them. I really mean it."

That's why the fans loved him. They were Ricky Hatton fans, not necessarily boxing fans. Everyone felt they knew him. He'd probably spoken to, signed autographs for and partied with most of them after his grandest nights at the MEN in Manchester.

That wonderful arena became Ricky Hatton's fortress, and after several thrilling dress rehearsals, his dream came true in the early hours of June 5 2005, amid an electric atmosphere of 22,000 screaming supporters, when he upset and beat up modern legend Kostya Tszyu.

Ricky Hatton, Kostya Tszyu
Image: The Brit had to withstand Tszyu's renowned power
Ricky Hatton
Image: But Hatton's relentless pressure gradually broke Tszyu's resistance

Let's put this into perspective. Kostya was one of the finest ever amateurs winning 259 of 270 fights and had captured multiple world titles, beating the likes of Chavez, Tackie, Leija, and Mitchell.

I was ringside with Ricky and Billy when Kostya also took out Zab Judah in Vegas. Tszyu was sensational and he had always been the Hitman's target.

With brilliant trainer Johnny Lewis - who had guided Jeff Fenech and also worked with Jeff Harding and Joe Bugner - and a huge entourage - including a celebrity appearance from Russell Crowe - Tszyu cut an intimidating figure on fight week even if he was 35. 'The Thunder from Down Under' possessed 25 knockouts - many at top level - in his 31 wins, against just one solitary loss to Vince Phillips which was eight years previously.

Tszyu was a considerable favourite. Few thought Ricky could win this. Yet it was the finest performance of his career.

Frank Bruno, Russell Crowe
Image: Frank Bruno and Russell Crowe watched from ringside

Unbeaten in 38, Hatton and his close team believed every step of the way, and his coronation night at the age of 26 - urged on by the crowd and a ferocious desire - brought ultimate success.

The Hitman simply did it the hard way, walking through walls, to outgun, outlast and at times outclass (with those vicious hooks to the body and head) one of the greatest fighters of his generation; he forced Tszyu to quit on his stool after 11 savage rounds.

There was hardly a dry eye in the place. Not since Frank Bruno became world heavyweight champion at the fourth attempt, at Wembley Stadium in September 1995, could I remember such a triumphant night on home soil.

Ricky Hatton
Image: The hometown hero celebrated after claiming the IBF title

Ricky and Billy collapsed in that iconic celebration on the canvas; then it was to Carol and Ray. Then Matthew. All the team had played their part. The close family. The trainer. The Promoter, who got the timing spot on.

The Guinness then flowed into the wee, wee hours but even though we saw Ricky, I vividly remember he could only drink sips of water - such was the exhaustion and the pain, even in ecstatic victory. And that was and always will be the best night of his boxing life.

He had flown back from a celebratory few days in Tenerife, and he was there for us. A mark of the man.
Adam Smith

The next time I saw Ricky Hatton was the following Saturday. I was standing at an altar in west London - the day of my marriage to Jo. I caught a glimpse of the Hitman. He gave me a little thumbs up from the back. Part of the crowd. No fuss. But he was there. My family had been with his the week before in Manchester. He had flown back from a celebratory few days in Tenerife, and he was there for us. A mark of the man.

Meanwhile Kostya, having retired in his corner, made the sensible call to retire from boxing. An illustrious memorable career, he had nothing left to prove to anyone.

Ricky went on to have huge fights afterwards of course. Carlos Maussa was stopped in nine as Hatton added the WBA 10 stone crown, before he squeezed past Luis Collazo winning the WBA Welterweight belt despite a torrid 12th on a wet Boston debut. Then came a first venture to Vegas which saw a tight decision over Juan Urango, followed by a much better display when Hatton knocked out Jose Luis Castillo in four.

Then of course Ricky brought 30,000 plus back to the strip for the massive fight with Floyd Mayweather. The scenes witnessed had never been seen before and will long be remembered in the famous Nevada desert.

Losses to the greatest fighter of the modern era and then arguably the second in Manny Pacquiao were obviously no disgrace but it checked Hatton's career, and after an ill-thought comeback against Vyacheslav Senchenko, the Hitman retired - with a fabulous record of 48 fights, 45 wins and only three defeats.

Ricky Hatton
Image: Hatton can look back fondly on his successful career

Ricky Hatton was a brilliant, talented, brave and accomplished fighter who was a world champion at two different weights. He will always be the fans' favourite, he made a dream come true fighting at Manchester City(outpointing Juan Lazcano) and he will always have that truly magical night against Kostya Tszyu.

Happy anniversary Ricky. 15 years ago you gave us one of our greatest ever sporting triumphs. We were very very lucky to have been there, at that late late and truly memorable show from 2am on Saturday,June 5 2005.

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