By Terence Dooley
A recent spate of TV appearances by Ricky Hatton led to a flurry of speculation, plus heavy criticism, over Hatton’s weight during his prolonged period of inactivity. A clue as to the reason for his weight gain could be found by considering the above statement – Hatton has found himself waiting eight months for his next fight plus is known to blow-up between fights.
So why is his latest weight gain such big news? What are the reasons behind it? Finally, how will it affect Hatton in the long-term?
Ricky and world-renowned nutritional Svengali Kerry Keyes (a former weightlifting world Champion who now works with many boxers) took time out from Ricky’s training schedule to speak to Boxingscene about this recurring issue.
As Ricky went about his training I asked Kerry if recent TV clips had shown Ricky to be a fighter who lets himself go, I also asked if Kerry worried that over-indulgence on the part of Hatton was making Keyes’ job hard.
“Well Terry the funny thing is that now Ricky is in the dieting phase for this fight he will probably eat more food than he does when he is relaxing as he is burning a lot of food off when he is training.”
Kerry had told me previously that eating correctly and not gaining weight is a matter of making sure that you eat at regular intervals as well as eating the correct foodstuff. In between fights Ricky is evidently not following this programme to the letter, yet Kerry was not as unduly worried as the people who see an overweight Hatton on TV.
“You have to understand that in reality all food is measured in calories and a calorie is not a nutrient, a calorie is a measurement of energy. You’ve got four calories in a gram of carbs and four calories in a gram of protein but you’ve got seven calories in a gram of alcohol and you’ve got nine calories in a gram of fat so it stands to reason that if you are going to a takeaway and eating high-fat food then washing it down with a pint of beer you are probably eating more calories.”
So that would explain the weight-gain yet how can you then get Ricky down to fighting weight without putting him through the mill, in short how can Ricky go up so high then make the weight without harming himself over the long-term?
“In reality what you are taking in (when eating and drinking poorly) are empty calories because there is no nutritional value in them. You can actually have a man who is morbidly obese who has malnutrition because the food he is eating is high in calories – high in energy – but low in nutrients. It is empty weight and falls off Ricky.”
In effect a fighter’s weight has about as much concrete substance as a unicorn, it is illusory in the sense that for a single day – or in fact a single moment – it is in line with their fighting weight. Almost immediately after the weigh-in the weight will bounce up a little. Then the weight will balloon up during a fighters period of inertia before starting the descent down to fighting weight when they are due to fight.
A fighter’s weight is comparable to a coiled spring. You take its original position and coil the spring until it is compact and tightly wound, then you release it and it will spring back into its original position.
A fighters original position is his walking around weight, they get themselves, falsely down, to their “fighting” (it should really be called “weigh-in”) weight for the few minutes they are on the scales then almost immediately their body will begin returning to their original position in much the way water will flow from a breached dam in search of the freedom of movement it has lost through containment.
Ricky has had a long break between Collazo and Urango yet as Kerry explained once he came back into training the weight issue becomes a non-issue.
“At the moment Ricky is eating more food but because it is clean food – four calories per gram of carbs and protein – it has more nutritional value. This speeds his metabolism up and the rate he burns calories goes up. Plus he is back in training. So in reality we haven’t got a problem.”
That may be true yet it is disconcerting for many to see one of our finest fighters appearing on TV looking bloated. Surely that type of weight gain would be hard to shift, women the world over complain that shifting a few pounds is torture so it must be hell for Ricky to drop his weight?
“Not really no. Most people who gain weight improperly look bad because they are high in sodium glutamates a lot of it is in takeaway foods so you can see that kind of puffy look. If you have a big weekend where you drink a lot then get takeaways you end up with it yourself.”
It is a fair point, many who complain about Hatton’s weight gain will themselves have heavy weekends in which they over-indulged before going, sluggishly, back to work on a Monday.
Hatton has not fought since April so in many respects he has had the equivalent of a long weekend, only unlike the rest of us he can counter that with prolonged gym exposure. As Kerry explained this – coupled with the change in diet – sees a dramatic loss of, mostly false, weight.
“Once you clean your diet up you will lose five, six, seven pounds of fluid. So Ricky in the first two weeks of dieting will easily lose ten-fourteen pounds. Now, that is not losing tissue and body-fat it is losing water retention and once you have cleaned yourself up the weight starts coming off in a few days, you’ve seen that yourself.”
“Now, we have twelve weeks with Ricky. If he loses, probably, twenty or twenty-two pounds he is losing a pound and a half a week and we haven’t got a problem with that.”
So far so good yet we have to take into account the fact that Ricky is not living the life, so to speak, of an athlete between fights. Surely this is going to take its toll on his body and shorten his career?
“I can relate that to other sports that I’ve been involved in. I’ve seen some junior bodybuilders who have had fantastic genetics and train all year round every year. Now, bodybuilding is not like boxing. Boxing is highs and lows of training, you get into incredible condition and then you have weeks, sometimes months off. In bodybuilding you are training 365 days a year.”
“The point is that I’ve seen some incredible athletes with great potential but after two or three years of constant living a Buddhist lifestyle they give up or burn-out.”
“The way Ricky does it is he finishes his regime and switches off between fights, don’t forget there is a lot more pressure on Ricky Hatton fights than your average six-round fights, so what Ricky does is he completely switches off. But in fairness to Ricky he always switches back on ten to twelve weeks before the fight.”
So when the call comes Ricky is ready, relaxed and raring to switch back ‘on’?
“Well you’ve seen Ricky in the gym a few times and believe me you can tell by Ricky’s body language that he is ready for it (the Urango fight).”
“What Ricky does – and he has become famous for it – is that he has to switch off to switch on and that is far superior to him coming here and making himself train. You can’t make an athlete train. Not if you want one-hundred percent. They have to want to train. There are a lot of boxers who lower their training standards because they think “I’ve got to go in there and do that everyday”. Ricky says “I need to get into the gym, I’m glad to get into the gym.” Today Ricky walked into the gym and said to me “are we doing weights today Kerry?” and that shows me he is hungry to train.”
So if asked you would say that Ricky needs to take the time he does between his fights in order to get himself into a position where he is excited about going to the gym rather than seeing it as the daily grind?
“I think being a great athlete has got two aspects, we both know it; there is the physical side and there is the mental side. The mental side overrules the physical side. We know there are athletes who perform – who box, play football, play rugby, swim – with injuries and they do that because the mental side overrules the physical side.”
“Ricky has got to be mentally ready to train so the pluses for the mental side can have the odd negative for the physical side and for me that addresses the overall picture.”
What about people who may see Ricky looking overweight on TV then claim that it is disgraceful for an athlete to let himself get into that kind of shape plus it disgraces boxing?
“To say disgrace to the sport in any context about Ricky Hatton is disgusting, like everything in this country we tend to look at negatives and not the positives.”
“People forget all the charity work he does, all the donations he gives, I’ve been around Ricky Hatton for five to six years and I’ve been abroad with him probably four or five times – on holiday and at fights – and I’ve seen Ricky Hatton in bars in Tenerife where two hundred people have walked up to him with mobile phones and said “can I have a photograph with you Ricky” and he has never ever refused them.”
“If that is a disgrace to the sport then how does he get sixteen to twenty thousand people at the MEN? He is a credit to the sport, how many kids have taken up boxing because of Ricky Hatton?”
At this point I took the opportunity to ask Kerry if, without being disrespectful, Ricky is hampered by, to put it bluntly, his face. Does he tend to carry weight on his face to the extent that he often looks heavier than the reality?
“That is a very good point. I have never seen a human body carry so much weight in its face as does Ricky Hatton. I’ve seen Ricky come in looking heavy when he is dressed and he has got abs underneath his tee-shirt. He does blow-up on his face and a lot of the time I think he is getting criticised for having a puffy look in his face even though he is getting in shape. He does actually look heavier than he is.”
Kerry had certainly shown the expertise that has seen many boxers coming to him for advice when discussing Ricky’s weight so armed with the answers he had given me I took the opportunity to ask Ricky the questions he must love being asked.
Firstly I asked him about the weight situation and I did not pat myself on the back for asking an as yet unasked question, Ricky had heard it all before.
“There is nothing to the situation you know. I’m no heavier than I normally am when I start my training.”
“I’m fed-up with this to be honest after all this time. I know you have to ask me the question but it is the same one I’ve been asked for years. People said all this before the Kostya Tszyu fight: that I had put too much weight on, that I was too out of shape, that I was going to get knocked out in four rounds. Since that fight I’ve won two world-titles at different weights so they must have nothing else to write about other than the weight.”
“I got a tee-shirt made the last time (the Ricky Fatton shirt); I might get another one done because they obviously haven’t learned their lesson from that (Tszyu) fight. It is pathetic really.”
Would it be fair to say that any questions about your weight are balanced by the fact that you train like an animal - lots of people can see you looking heavy on TV yet they cannot see you doing some intense work on the heavy-bag.
“I do a twelve week training camp – not a lot of people do a twelve week one but I do it to concentrate and bring my weight down properly. I won’t advise a youngster to do it (put on weight) it is not ideal to put weight on but I don’t go out there deliberately and put on the weight I do it is just how my body reacts. Everybody is different.”
Speaking of which a comparison could be made with Bernard Hopkins, he goes right back into gym as do other fighters.
“Some people like to have a fight and have a couple of weeks off then get back into training but I don’t feel that I can do that. I don’t think my heart would be in my training if I didn’t liven myself up a bit between fights.”
Could your lifestyle come back to bite you on the bum by cutting short your career?
“Well if I have another three years at it – which I hope I do – I should have another six fights so that means I should retire forty-seven fights unbeaten so if that is cutting your career short then people need to think about what they are saying.”
“Cut my career short? I’ve had forty-one fights! I’ve fought for four world-titles and am going for another one so it has not been a bad career even if I do cut it short.”
So you are still enjoying the sport?
“Of course! I’m doing what my heroes did. Forty-one fights unbeaten. Four titles. Winning a title in the USA. Getting The Ring belt. Getting the BBBoC fighter of the year title. World titles at two different weights. I’ve achieved all my goals and more really so I have no complaints.”
Guys like Hopkins fight on forever yet you are a pressure fighter – you need to come onto your guy to draw leads and pour pressure on – and pressure fighters tend to have short explosive careers rather than relying on defensive skills and fighting in spurts when they are forty.
“Yeah, if I carry on any longer (than the next three years) then I won’t fight the same because of the way I fight. Because I fight fast and in an exciting way I only have three more years left and what do people want? Do they want to see me fight on past my best?”
“I don’t see any point continuing boxing when you’ve achieved all your goals.”
“I wanted to have a short and explosive career and if I retire in two, three years time I’ve still been a pro for eleven years so that is a lot of boxing. Years on from when I hit the big time I am still hearing the same things and the people talk about the same old **** (my weight) even though I’m fighting at the top-level.”
Speaking of the same old stuff a lot of speculation about a bout with Junior Witter has come back to the fore. Does that WBC title around Juniors waist bring a fight between the two of you any closer?
“Not really no.”
“He may have won a world-title but I’ve had to vacate the last three world-titles I’ve won because the mandatory opponents are not what you’d call TV opponents. No one knew them in America. It is the same with Junior. So why should Junior Witter think he is mouth almighty just because he’s got a belt?”
A lack of desire to fight him could be taken the wrong way though.
“They obviously say the same old stuff “Ricky Hatton is running scared all these years” and all that but how would you promote it (a fight)? You can lie to the television people, you can lie to the press but you can’t lie to yourself. Junior Witter should go away and put the videos of his last two fights on and sit down quietly, not with any one else, and ask himself “are them fights going to get HBO interested in me?”
“The last few (Witter) performances have been shocking so just ask yourself that question. What does anyone see in them last free fights that will make anyone say “this is the fight I want to see”. Should I give Junior Witter the best payday of his life despite all the disrespect he has shown me over the years? I would lose money fighting Junior Witter, have you seen his last two fights, if they were in my garden I’d draw the curtains! The fight means nothing in America. I haven’t worked this hard to help Witter out.”
“My next two fights are pencilled in anyway. Urango then a guy who is above me pound for pound in Castillo so if during that time Junior can make another defence of his title and put a good performance in then maybe I’ll give him a chance to have that fight.”
So any claims that you are scared of Witter are nonsensical?
“Junior Witter can’t be serious if he says I watched them last fights and am scared of him. I beat an all-time great fighter at light-welterweight then moved up to fight a tough fighter at welterweight and I’m scared of Junior Witter? He may convince himself but he is not convincing anyone else. He must know his last two fights were terrible.”
Castillo is a mouth-watering fight, he will be strong at his new weight plus he has great pedigree. Could anyone seriously claim that you are ducking Junior when you are taking on Castillo?
“Is Witter a bigger fight than Castillo? Well I can’t see anyone saying that to be honest. Castillo is a massive fight he is above me pound for pound and we will fight a great fight.”
All in all there were no massive revelations. Ricky is not planning to be picking and poking his way through fights at the age of forty nor is he bothered about the criticism over his weight; in fact it seems to bounce off him completely – the criticism and the weight. What can be revealed is that after eight months of frustration a fighting fit Hatton will take on Juan Urango (for Hatton’s old IBF light-welterweight title) followed by Juan Luis Castillo, surely that will not be a bad year for ‘The Hitman’?