LAS VEGAS - Art Pelullo, the man who helped Eng-land's Ricky Hatton become a monster attraction in America, won't be in attendance for Hatton's challenge of WBC welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. tomorrow night at the MGM Grand. And, no, it isn't because Pelullo's three-fight promotional contract with Hatton has expired and the Brit sensation is promoted, at least for now, by Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions.

For Pelullo, whose Banner Promotions has its offices in Philadelphia, his absence from ringside owes solely to family obligations. It's a concept the tightknit Hatton clan can understand.

"[The Hattons] wanted me to be there for the fight," Pelullo said. "They called to invite me. But maybe it was meant for me not to be there. Considering the date, maybe I wasn't supposed to go."

Tomorrow would have been the 83rd birthday of Pelullo's father, Peter, who died on Dec. 28, 2004. Each year since Peter Pelullo's death, his family has honored his memory by doing certain things on his birthday.

"Since my father died, my mother, my three brothers, two sisters and I come together, as a family on his birthday," Pelullo said.

"It's a very bad time for us, as it would be for anybody who lost a husband, a father. My mom said, 'Go, do whatever is best for you.' But I'm not going [to the fight]. I want to be there for my mom. Even Ricky said, 'That's where you belong, Artie.' ''

Pelullo admits his comparatively small company scored a "major coup" when it signed Hatton, which sent shock waves throughout the industry. Everyone had presumed Hatton, who was coming off a career-defining upset of the great Kostya Tszyu and was embroiled in a bitter dispute with his British promoter, Frank Warren, would begin his U.S. tour under the auspices of a larger, better-known American promotional concern.

Pelullo signing Hatton, in a sense, was like the Pittsburgh Pirates or Kansas City Royals signing a big-ticket free agent instead of the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox.

"Nobody expected me to get Ricky Hatton," Pelullo said. "He was the biggest thing in boxing at the time. Everybody wanted him.

"I was definitely not the frontrunner. It was De La Hoya, it was Lou DiBella, it was Gary Shaw. It was everybody but me. Don King was even in play. I was way down the totem pole."

So how did Pelullo pull off the upset? Let's just say it was a good thing he did not have the same aversion to flying as, say, John Madden.

"I went to England," Pelullo said. "I called Ray Hatton [Ricky's father and manager] and said, 'I'm coming over, and I'm going to stay there until I sign Ricky.'

"And that's exactly what happened. I stayed in Manchester [Hatton's hometown], I ate fish and chips for 7 days until I signed Ricky to a multimillion-dollar, multifight deal.

"It's pretty simple, really. The reason I got him and not one of my competitors is because nobody else got on a plane. Everybody else talked to him by phone. Nobody but me got on a plane, went there, lived there, talked to his father."

It didn't hurt, of course, that Pelullo immediately presented the Hattons with a very lucrative offer, which was based on the business template he had developed for his previous best-known client, Brazil's Acelino "Popo" Freitas. But numbers on paper only carry so much weight with people who need to connect on a personal level.

"We're in the people business," Pelullo said. "The Hattons wanted someone to look them in the eye and make them believe that he was going to do what was best for them, in every sense of the word. It isn't always about the money."

What sealed the deal, though, was what happened when Ray suggested pairing Ricky with Freitas, with whom Pelullo had been associated since 1997, winning 15 of 17 world title bouts.

"Ray knew what I had done with Popo," Pelullo said. "But when he said something about Ricky maybe fighting him, I wouldn't have any of it. I said, 'Look, Ricky would hurt Popo, and I don't want for that to happen. I care too much about him to allow that to happen.'

"Ricky's mother, Carol, overheard what I said. 'We're going to sign with him,' she said, looking at me. Ray said, 'Why?' And she said, 'Forget the deal. Just remember what he said about [Freitas] when someone tries to get him to throw our son under the bus.' "

Although only the last of their three fights together, in which Hatton knocked out Jose Luis Castillo in four rounds in Las Vegas on June 23, could be classified as a smash hit in this country, Pelullo said it was a highly profitable arrangement for all concerned because of the overseas rights.

"The Hattons made a lot of money, I made a lot of money," Pelullo said.

So why was Pelullo out when De La Hoya entered the picture? Although Pelullo won't discuss particulars, it likely came down to a simple difference of opinion.

Fighting Mayweather (38-0, 24 KOs) offered the best immediate payday for Hatton (43-0, 31 KOs), who will receive $10 million for testing himself against the man widely considered to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. And, should Hatton win, he'd likely be in line for an even bigger bonanza in May against De La Hoya, who not only is the president of his company, but its No. 1 client.

"I didn't think Mayweather was the right fight for Ricky at this time," Pelullo said. "Ray obviously thought otherwise."

Pelullo said he will watch Hatton attempt to take down Mayweather on pay-per-view, and he hopes his once and perhaps future associate scores the upset, even if it is disadvantageous to his business.

"If Ricky beats Mayweather, he will not be back with Banner Promotions because he'll make a deal to fight De La Hoya," Pelullo said. "If Ricky loses, maybe we get another chance to re-sign him."

Not that all is sweetness and light for the Hatton camp with this fight, regardless of how many zeroes are on the check.

"We had 10,800 Brits come in for the Castillo fight, out of a crowd of a little more than 16,000," Pelullo said. "The Hattons didn't get access to 10,000 tickets for this fight. They got 3,900, same as Mayweather. Al Haymon [Mayweather's adviser] is a smart guy. He wasn't going to allow a discrepancy in the distribution of tickets because he didn't want it to be a predominately British crowd.

"Ricky needs more fan support in a very difficult fight like this. Can his people come up with more tickets from scalpers? Yeah, I suppose. But now you're talking $8,000 or $9,000 a ticket.

"I told [the Hattons] when I was in Manchester that the grass isn't always greener somewhere else. Sometimes it's just grass."

Prediction

Mayweather, by 10th-round stoppage. Hatton has the will, "Pretty Boy Floyd" the skill, and too much of it for the British brawler. *