The Belfast man had entered the ring to the strains of “You’ll never beat the Irish” much to the delight of his two thousand fans positioned high up in M.E.N. Arena. Their vocal enthusiasm was quickly drowned out by boos from the locals who were in no mood to be hospitable to the visiting Belfast man. The hostile reception had little effect on Magee though as he surveyed the crowd from behind tricolour covered sunglasses. After soaking up the atmosphere he commenced his short ring walk seemingly unfazed by the whole experience. Once in the ring Magee seemed relaxed and even looked like he was enjoying the fact that he was causing so much annoyance to Hatton’s fans. The roof lifted for Hatton’s entrance as his fans sang along to the Manchester City anthem, Blue Moon. Magee seemed quite unconcerned by the whole experience as he surveyed the crowd picking out familiar faces and acknowledging his pocket of fans.
Magee’s serenity was the calm before the storm of an explosive opening round. Early in the opener a short right hand from Magee caught Hatton high on the side of the head and put Hatton down for first time in his pro career. He was up quickly but was hurt again later on in the round with a left hook.
Hatton made a more purposeful start to the second but soon found himself in trouble again after a volley of punches from Magee. The Belfast southpaw though failed to take advantage and Hatton finished the round with a clear head.
The third saw Hatton finally get a foothold in the fight. Two right hooks seemed to rock Magee on his heels but he came back to end the round by landing a solid right.
There were further problems for Hatton in the fourth when he was cut under the right eye from a Magee left. The punch left a nasty gash but as it was under the eye it didn’t obscure Hatton’s vision. Magee’s camp implored him to make further use of his sharp southpaw jab to inflict more facial damage but he seemed happy to stay in his own corner hoping to catch Hatton on the way in.
Magee decided to adopt a similar strategy in the fifth spending the entire round in his corner beckoning Hatton in. Hatton was only too happy to oblige and his smothering assaults won him the round.
Magee looked to change tactics early in the sixth by getting on his toes and boxing but he was soon parked back in his corner awaiting Hatton’s assault. Credit to Magee that he was hit cleanly with very little but Hatton’s swarming aggression was impressing the home fans and so too it seemed the judges.
The seventh and eighth were quieter rounds than what had gone before but generally following the same pattern. A telling moment occurred in Hatton’s corner at the end of the eighth round when trainer Billy Graham asked Hatton, “How’s his punching power, can he hurt you?” Hatton’s reply was revealing, “He did hurt me, he put me down!”
The ninth round probably belonged to Magee with the highlight of his work a powerful left hook, which Hatton did well to absorb. Round ten was another close round with Magee making more use of his skills to box and move.
With two rounds to go it was obvious that the fight was close but equally obvious that Magee was unlikely to get the verdict in a close contest. Hatton’s aggressiveness probably saw him sneak the round with an eye-catching uppercut the best of his work.
The final round was dominated by Magee who once again appeared to hurt a tiring Hatton. Magee’s corner were frantically waving their man on knowing that Magee needed at least a knockdown to give him some chance on the cards. The final bell went with both men raising their hands in victory. I had it scored a draw at 114 apiece and there was an acknowledgement around ringside that the fight was close. There was however no surprise that Hatton was adjudged a unanimous winner on the scorecards. Judges Des Bloyd (Australia) and Glenn Feldman (U.S.) had it 116 – 111 while Howard Goldberg (South Africa) saw it 115 – 112.
Magee accepted the decision although understandably was a bit miffed that the judges made Hatton such a clear winner. In fact both corners seemed a little down after the fight. Magee’s camp felt the fight was there to be won if Magee had upped his workrate. The Ardoyne man’s tendency to lose concentration and focus has always been a concern in the middle rounds of his fights and it cost him against Hatton.
In many ways the pattern of the fight mirrored Magee’s performance against Shea Neary in Belfast. On that night Magee hurt Neary early but coasted through the middle rounds before hurting him again late on. On that occasion Magee got the decision in what was another close fight but that was never going to be the case in Manchester.
For Hatton’s part he seemed a bit disheartened afterwards at the realization that he may not be the finished article yet. Hatton’s defence and lack of head movement was exposed while he also demonstrated that he can be hurt and floored. The honest and affable Manchester man admitted surprise afterwards that his body punching had not dissuaded the teak tough Magee like so many previous opponents.
Both boxers may now need to readjust future career plans. Last Saturday nights fight has shown that Hatton is still some way off Kostya Tszyu’s level. He may need to content himself with domestic scraps against Junior Witter and Bobby Vanzie for the rest of this year. For Magee he can certainly still be a factor although he seems incapable of fighting at full pace for twelve rounds. This seems a mental flaw more so than any lack of physical conditioning and it’s hard to see how he can address it at this advanced stage of his career. However with his power and iron chin it would be foolhardy to write Magee off.
Irish-Boxing.com reports from the M.E.N. Arena on Saturday nights clash
between Ricky Hatton and Eamonn Magee as well as looking at other Irish interest on the bill.