When Floyd Mayweather landed his knock-out punch on Ricky Hatton's chin in the tenth round, it was felt by all of us who had travelled to Vegas to cheer him on. For in the blink of an eye, all of our dreams and hopes lay in tatters. What threatened to be, and at times lived up to be, the greatest sporting night of our lives, ultimately ended in familiar fashion, glorious defeat. We so wanted it to be different, so much so that we flew across the Atlantic, piling up debt, credit card bills and increasing overdrafts. We stayed up late, drink lots and ate little. We sang in the bars, in the street, in our rooms. We felt like we were part of Team Hatton, trusted lieutenants whose opinion mattered, and whose support counted. We all had our ideas on how the fight would go. Rounds 6-8 seemed most popular, the middle rounds when Floyd would wilt under Ricky's aggression and power. I even threw 20 dollars on a first round knockout, an act so foolhardy I am embarrassed even to mention it. At the time it seemed sensible, an easy way to earn some bucks. But the bookmakers are very rarely wrong and I was wagering my hard earned cash on the overwhelming underdog, a man fighting above his natural weight, in his opponent's home town, a man who had never tasted defeat as a professional boxer. Indeed, this is a man who is universally recognised as the planets supreme pound-for-pound fighter, a multi-weight champion whose place in boxing history is already assured. In retrospect, I should have just placed my 20 dollar bill in the bin as that act would have proved an equally wise investment. But the overriding memory of this most memorable weekend was that it isn't enough just to be tough in the toughest sport of all. No, the real trick is to be tough AND clever.
The very top level in sport is a rarefied place, an arena where only the truly gifted few can operate. Millions of us take part in sport each and every week, with varying degrees of success. And a major part of sport involves following the professional scene, supporting a team or individuals. A true sports fan even follows teams from sports they don't watch, have never tried, or in some cases don't even understand. That is the hold that sport has over many of our lives. And sitting at the very top of the sporting tree are the men and women with God-given talent, a mixture of physical prowess and mental strength, the people who make the unimaginable happen, the impossible possible. To watch them on television is a pleasure, a release from the ordinary. To watch them in action is a privilege, an opportunity to see at close quarters how the truly great operate. Just occasionally, every few years or so, a clash appears on the sporting horizon that truly captures the imagination of all. These clashes transcend that particular sport, enticing viewers previously ignorant or disinterested. Hatton-Mayweather was such an event, a clash between two fighters at their prime, both undefeated, similair in many respects, yet poles apart in their personalities and manner. Hatton, the tough kid from Manchester who has remained down to earth despite his many achievements and accumulated wealth, against Mayweather, the loud-mouthed braggard who constantly reminds anybody who cares to listen of how great he is.
The hype was incredible, even more so considering none was needed. As fight night drew near, the famous and the very famous began to arrive, adding their own unique flavour to this great sporting spectacle. Representing Team Hatton were current and past champions including Joe Calzhage and Lenox Lewis, as well as LA Galaxys favourite son David Beckham. Camp Mayweather was bolstered by the arrival of 50 Cent, a man who has, in the past, bet 1 million dollars on a Mayweather victory. The seats around the ring were filled by some very famous faces indeed; Tiger Woods, Sly Stallone and Bruce Willis, Gwen Stefani, Tom Jones and Will Ferrell. To the ordinary fan, (Definition- worth less than 20 million dollars), this was confirmation that this was a most special occasion. The buzz in the Grand Garden Arena was incredible, the anticipation almost unbearable. When the fighters entered the ring, the roof almost came off. In Sin City, a place which has been home to many special events over the years, this was truly special, an atmosphere one could almost taste. The build-up that had been many months and years in the making, was over. You could almost sense it could only be downhill from here on in.
As we made our way out of the arena, and started the rest of our lives, the sense of disappointment was everywhere. Apart from a small handle of Mayweather fans, the vast majority of the crowd, and millions of people all over the world, had willed Hatton on to an unforgettable victory. When it failed to materialise, we were left with a feeling akin to bereavement, a sense of loss which we hadn't really considered during any time leading up to the first round bell. Yet some of us have lived with this feeling all of our lives and should be more adept at dealing with it. If there was a prize for wanting something to happen, we would make the podium every time. We were all in the ring with Ricky, throwing punches, ducking and weaving, offering advice and encouragement. But we were there in 1990 when Germany beat us to book a place in the world cup final. We were on Henman hill on many a lazy summer afternoon, praying for a British victory at Wimbledon. Euro 96, 2000 and 2004, Bruno v Tyson, Bruno v Tyson 2, the final race of the 2007 F1 season, the list goes on. We have been there many times but it still hurts. The implication is not that we are losers for we have witnessed some successes over the years. But we want it so much and it eludes us time after time after time. And when it doesn't happen, we suffer. We feel real pain. It hurts so much we want to cry, and sometimes do. We tell ourselves that it is going to happen this time, then sob when it doesn't. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I suspect it is not to care so much. But these men and women are living out our dreams and fantasies and we want it for both of us. We are in it together and we can't help caring. And when they lose, we lose. And nobody enjoys being a loser.
The morning after the night before and Roger Mayweather, trainer and uncle to the undefeated Floyd, is preparing to leave the MGM Grand hotel. Asked for his opinion on why Hatton failed to win, he was honest in his assessment. According to him, to be the best you can't just rely on being tough. Boxing is full of tough men and Hatton is up there with the best of them. But the truly great, the men at the top of the tree, combine toughness with brains. Hatton, he proclaimed, just wasn't clever enough to win. Floyd on the other hand combines those two attributes with ease, able to out-fight and out-think even the most formidable opponent. That is why he triumphed on December 8th and remains undefeated.
The world is littered with tough guys and gals. It is also home to many clever people. But there are very few who can claim to be both tough AND clever. Floyd Mayweather is one of the very lucky few.