News November 2017

Ricky Hatton Our Fight Part 3 Ray Oliveira


By Michael J Jones

IN THE FAMOUS career of Ricky Hatton, you could say his evolution from contender to genuine world-class operator occurred in the year 2004. Following two unusually quiet performances it was heavily rumoured Hatton was giving promoter Frank Warren constant ear-ache about wanting to step up to fight for world honours following a lengthy reign as WBU champion.

With a bout against IBF light-welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu in the making, the undefeated Manchester star marched right through the respected Mike Stewart before being matched against experienced contender Ray “Sucra” Oliveira at the Excel Arena, Dockland, London. Although, at 36-years-old, a few seasons past his best, Oliveira was nonetheless a sturdy test for Hatton.

A three-time world title challenger who had earned his reputation the hard way with thrilling fights against some of the best sluggers of the 90’s and early 2000’s, Oliveira was known in boxing circles as a teak-tough slickster who could both box and punch.

The Fight

The two men faced each other on December 11th 2004 and both pugilists remained respectful in the build-up. The 26 year old Hatton was a perfect 37-0 (27) while Oliveira was 47-9-2 (22) and ten years older at 36. One advantage Oliveira had was height and reach, towering above the 5’7” Hatton at nearly six feet tall with a wingspan some eight inches superior to his Manchester rival.

As well as being a good body-puncher, Hatton was also known for having a high work-rate which often swamped opponents and prevented them getting their own shots off. For Oliveira, he was no stranger to high-volume punch stats and had featured in the highest punch count in boxing history in a 1993 WBO challenge against Zack Padilla when the two men threw a combined 3020 punches.

Ray also had the distinction of the highest punch count in an individual round when he and Vince Phillips unloaded an unbelievable 463 punches in the last round of their 2000 contest (won by Oliveira by decision).

“I’d been competing at 147lbs before my fight with Ricky Hatton and hadn’t fought at 140 for a while but I had a really good camp and was in great shape” Ray tells Livefight from his gym in New Bedford. “It was an honour to fight in London in front of 80,000 fans booing me but I loved it and I really thought I would win the fight.”

Hatton made his customary ferocious start and was soon sinking in hard left hooks to the ribs but the visitor stood his ground. The first looked to be edging to Hatton before a cuffing right-hand forced the older man to take a count late in the round.

“I wasn’t over-awed by Ricky’s work-rate as I’d had many fighters come at me like that and I had the record for most punches thrown in a boxing match. Even at that time when I was past my prime I could still throw (a lot of) punches.”

Following the knock-down, Ricky would proceed to sweep most of the early rounds but Oliveira had some success when tying the younger fighter up on the inside and slipping plenty with subtle movements of his head and body. Ray would also land some classy counters as Ricky would wade in much to the delight of the crowd.

Although the experienced American was the taller man with the longer reach, he neglected his advantages repeatedly to stand straight in front of the home fighter. Both men were showing the signs of war by the middle rounds with Oliveira injuring his ear in the third before sustaining eye damage which worsened as the fight wore on.

“Ricky’s power was good, he wasn’t the biggest puncher I’d faced but he was precise and smart in there and I always say the best boxing coaches are from the UK” comments “Sucra”. “My style was to work on the outside but he liked to work on the inside which was his game. I was like ‘Alright let’s go I’ll beat you at your own game’.”

“He was clever in there, I burst my ear-drum in the third, it messes with your equilibrium and affects your balance but he saw that and immediately started pounding on my other ear. I was Ricky’s final test before he was unleashed against the world champions. I understood that but we had a beautiful fight and I still get asked about it to this day.”

By the later rounds, Hatton had gained full advantage with the only question remaining; could “The Hitman” become the first to stop the tough Oliveira in 59 pro contests?

The question was answered at 1:38 of round number ten when a final barrage of punches floored the brave New England veteran for the full count. Referee Micky Vann waved the fight off at the count of ‘ten’, giving Hatton his 38th pro victory and making a huge statement to world boxing.

“It was bad enough with one ear-drum popped but, when the second went, my balance completely left me. I knew with one (injured ear-drum) I had to just try and (navigate) the distance but with the second (ear injury) my equilibrium had completely gone.”

“When I went down in the tenth, the ref’ said ‘how are you doing Ray?’ I said ‘real good but keep counting!’ (laughs). Ricky was a lot younger than me but I have no excuses as the better man won on the night.”

“We were ten years apart (in age) but I was in with a great fighter and I gave it my all. If I’d have been in my prime I feel I would have beaten him as I could have taken less and thrown more but that’s to do with a fighter’s pride; Ricky would probably say he’d have stopped me either way (laughs).”

“Tell Ricky he’s a great guy and was a terrific fighter and I’m proud to say I shared a ring with him.”

For Hatton, he would fulfil his dream of becoming world number one in his next fight six months later when stopping the legendary Kostya Tszyu in Manchester to lift the IBF world title. For Oliveira, he would box just once more; getting stopped again on a TKO to Emanuel Augustus eight months later.

Ray is still heavily involved with boxing and has his own gym in New Bedford, Massachusetts where he trains amateur and pro fighters including his son Ray Oliveira Jr. Junior is currently 8-1 as a junior-middleweight-come-welterweight with many already comparing him to his all-action father.

Parting shots

Oliveira would suffer a neck injury in his bout with Augustus where a seemingly light punch had him in obvious distress. Augustus worked only the body until the referee made a compassionate stoppage.

Ray was a former NABF and IBU champion and twice beat the favoured Charles “The Natural” Murray in upsets. “I broke my nose before each fight but still beat him both times.” He also snapped the unbeaten record of a young Vivian Harris.

Oliveira went the full route with punchers Vernon Forrest, Vince Phillips (who beat Tszyu and lost to Hatton), Padilla, Murray (twice) and Ben Tackie.

Ray was on a three-bout winning streak as a welterweight when he got offered the Hatton fight. It would be his one and only fight in the UK and his only pro bout outside the US.

The New Englander was set to return to the ring in 2010 aged 42 to face big-punching Joey Spina at 168lbs but, thankfully, the match fell through when Ray reportedly failed his pre-fight medical. Spina would KO late sub’ Antwun Echols instead.

Ray’s unusual nickname is Spanish for ‘Sugar’. He wanted to be distinguished from the other legendary “Sugar Ray’s”.

Sucra Oliveira was known for much of his fifteen-year pro career as an exciting TV fighter who was involved in numerous hum-dingers. It is therefore somewhat of a surprise that he never won The Ring Magazine’s prestigious “Fight of the Year” at any point. For the record, Hatton never won the accolade either.

The Oliveira victory would conclude Hatton’s reign as WBU champion with fifteen successful defences, including ten knock-outs.

When the retired Ray said he’d boxed Ricky Hatton in front of 80,000 in London it was hard not to think of Carl Froch…

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