LAS VEGAS - Ricky Hatton is the pie-eyed piper.
He struggles with his weight, and his face is about as authentic as Jerry Jones', and a large, unkempt segment of Great Britain's male population looks at that face and sees itself.
So the blokes follow him to Vegas and throw down enough beer, whisky and lighter fluid until they've convinced themselves they're in Hatton's ring, dealing his jabs, feeling his pain. Last call? Forget it. These guys are there for first call.
But, as they attempt to clap their trembling hands, they'll be in the MGM Grand tomorrow night to see another one bite the dust.
The kid from Manchester has called out the best. He's risking his undefeated record against Floyd Mayweather Jr., who is also undefeated and who is long past comparing himself to the pond scum that is boxing today. No, Mayweather and his followers contend he's the modern Muhammad Ali/Sugar Ray Robinson.
Mayweather spreads $100 bills around the casinos like air freshener. Hatton is more like the guy who lives one flat down.
"He's a god in Manchester," said Billy Graham, his trainer (Oral Roberts is on call, too).
"He can't go anywhere, to dinner or anything, without people stopping him, but he's OK with that. He still hangs around the guys he grew up with. He really hasn't changed, and that's why people love him."
But Hatton, 28, also received an M.B.E. from Queen Elizabeth in January. A recent poll ranked Hatton the second most popular athlete in the U.K., behind Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton. When Hatton fought Jose Luis Castillo, soccer star Wayne Rooney carried one of his belts into the ring.
Hatton is 43-0 with 31 knockouts. Several impartial folks aren't sure Mayweather is going to survive him when they go for Mayweather's WBC welterweight championship.
Hatton, who isn't impartial, agrees.
"I don't think he's seen pressure like I'm going to give him," Hatton said. "He fought [Oscar] De La Hoya, if you call that pressure. People fight me and they don't know when it's going to end. It's round 4-5-6-7-8-9 and now they're saying, 'Oh [crap], he's still coming.' Floyd hasn't faced a good body shot by somebody who will follow it up.
"I think I did better against Castillo [four rounds on June 23] than Floyd did [two 12-round decisions in 2003]. I think most people who saw those fights would say that. If I'm not mistaken, five of the last six guys Mayweather has fought were over 30. Styles make fights. Everybody's got a nightmare, and I'm his."
"You see, Ricky has the speed that you don't see very often," Graham said. "He isn't just easing into it. He's aggressively getting after you and stepping right in there."
Which he must do, with a seven-inch reach disadvantage. Hatton's hope is to get close enough to find some ribs to whack, and still avoid Mayweather's rat-a-tat-tat to his own face.
He claimed, last Wednesday, that the 147-pound weight limit hasn't been a problem, and he said it while wearing a "Ricky Fatton" T-shirt with a bulbous image of himself.
Just the kind of guy with whom to talk boxing, over a pint. Or five.
"He walked into my gym when he was 17," Graham said. "He'd already been an amateur champion, and now he was going to spar with a couple of national champions I had. He got in there and I was amazed. The type of knowledge he had and the things he could do.. . . I said, right that day, that he'd be champion of the world."
Hatton's father, Ray, formerly a carpet shop owner, is his manager, and brother Matthew will be on the undercard tomorrow. Ray played soccer in his time, and the family regularly attends Manchester City matches.
Promoter De La Hoya watches intently. He wants to fight in May and September, with one of those fights in a big L.A. stadium. The Home Depot Center makes the most sense for Golden Boy, with its promotional tie-ins to AEG, but Oscar is amenable to Dodger Stadium and maybe even the Coliseum, provided it doesn't collapse by then.
Hatton could make that feasible. He could bring enough Brits to fill up Topanga Canyon.
To make it happen, Hatton must either beat Mayweather or look good losing. If he does neither, he's still an attraction. Since he controls the British pay-per-view till, he might be looking at $12 million for this fight alone.
Graham has been a trainer long enough to know how special it is when a kid climbs out of a ring with more than he brought into it.
"Boxing hasn't been that good to that many people," he said, unwittingly providing a motto for the entire sport.