Ben Rabah ready to rumble against Ricky Hatton
By Anthony Cocks (October 21, 2005)
Australian-based Tunisian Naoufel ‘Chocolata’ Ben Rabah, 24-1 (13), is biding his time as he waits for his mandatory shot at reigning IBF junior welterweight kingpin Ricky Hatton, 39-0 (29).
Photo © Harry's Gym
Rabah, who is currently vacationing in his native Tunisia, became the IBF number one contender with a dominant twelve round unanimous decision victory over rugged Mexican brawler Arturo Morua on the undercard of the WBC/IBF unification bout between 130-pound titleholders Marco Antonio Barrera and Robbie Peden last month.
With the win Rabah’s trainer Craig Christian believes his fighter is primed to pull off the upset over Kostya Tszyu conqueror Ricky Hatton when the two meet for the unbeaten 27-year-old Englishman’s IBF junior welterweight title early next year.
“We want to fight Hatton, we don’t want to fight anyone else but Hatton” said Christian, who also trains WBA featherweight champion Chris John and world ranked fighters Gairy St Claire and Daniel Dawson at the famed Harry’s Gym in Perth, Western Australia.
“If we had a choice we’d prefer to fight Hatton because he beat Kostya Tszyu, who is an icon in boxing in Australia. Up here at Harry’s we know how good Ben Rabah is. We know that he’s a lot better than everyone else thinks and we want to show them that the man that beat Kostya Tszyu got beaten by the man, Ben Rabah.”
Although the Morua fight didn’t make the televised portion of the HBO pay-per-view broadcast, Rabah impressed those who were lucky enough to be in attendance with his ring generalship and quicksilver combinations as he ran out a comfortable winner by scores of 118-108, 119-107 and 116-110 after sending the hard-headed 27-year-old to the canvas twice.
“Morua was pretty relentless, he kept coming forward the whole fight but Choc just waited for him to come and picked him off,” said Christian. “I think he only got hit about half a dozen times during whole fight. He dropped him in the ninth with one of those punches that Choc throws where he waits back and then all of a sudden jumps forward with a straight jab, and the other was with a right hand in the twelfth. He won ten rounds to two and knocked him down twice, so he had a great fight.
“The thing I was very happy about was his stamina,” continued Christian. “That’s the first time in a while he’s done twelve and although he’s had trouble breathing in the past when he was training in Sydney, since he’s been here in Perth he’s been training different. If Choc is out there for an hour training, he’s training for an hour at 100%. And as a result in the fights he’s had since he’s been at Harry’s Gym his stamina has come good.
“We were wrapped with his stamina against a bloke that put pressure on him for the whole fight. He kept coming forward and Choc loves them coming forward, it’s his forte.”
Christian wasn’t the only one impressed by Rabah’s performance. After the fight a number of large promotional firms showed interest in signing up the talented 27-year-old boxer.
“Golden Boy want to speak to him,” said Christian. “Don King, Warriors, Top Rank, they all want to sign him. Frank Warren was trying to sign him too.
“Sampson Lewkowicz took me around after the fights and introduced me to all of the promoters, but we decided that we’d just wait. We’re in the position now that we’ve got the fight so we’ll just wait and see for a bit. Me and Sampson have got some plans so I’ll confer with him and whatever he says basically goes because he’s the Picasso of boxing. Everything he has ever said he’s going to do for us, he’s done. He’s incredible. He says some things to me sometimes and I think ‘this guy is bullshitting’. But it all comes true, it all comes off. He’s fantastic for us.”
Hatton staked his claim as the best 140-pounder in the world last June with a shocking 11th round stoppage of former pound-for-pound stalwart Tszyu in front of a parochial crowd of 22,000 fans at the MEN Arena in the Englishman’s hometown of Manchester. The rugged Billy Graham trained pressure fighter used his fresher legs and relentless workrate to keep the heat on Tszyu throughout the fight, soaking up everything the longtime junior welterweight ruler had to offer before finding another gear in the late rounds to out-punch and out-hustle the then 35-year-old Russian-born Aussie down the stretch.
With his face battered and swollen an exhausted Tszyu retired on his stool at the end of the 11th round, giving an unlikely victory to the 4-1 underdog who was given little chance of winning against the junior welterweight legend before the fight.
But Christian believes that it was some poor choices on Tszyu’s behalf that cost him the world title.
“I think that Kostya messed up on the time,” revealed Christian. “Kostya was training at four o’clock in the afternoon and then on the day of the fight it changes and he’s got to fight at two in the morning. You can’t do that to your body clock. He’s normally in bed by nine o’clock every night of the week.
“Kostya was here in Perth recently and he did seminar, and then he invited me and Ben to breakfast the next morning. We went down there and talked to him and he gave us a lot of good advice on Ricky Hatton and he said where he thought he went wrong. And then he said I’m not making any excuses, I let this happen to me so it’s my fault. He gave us some good guidance on how to fight Ricky and he told Choc and myself that if we needed anything at all in preparation for the fight to just ring him and he would help us out straight away, which I thought was fantastic for Kostya to do. It gave Choc a lot of confidence too.”
Like most trainers, Christian was reluctant to reveal the finer details of the conversation but said that Tszyu offered them a unique insight into how Hatton prefers to fight.
“We want to keep everything we can under wraps but we just want Ricky to know that we’re coming to fight and if he keeps charging in he’s going to keep getting hit,” said Christian.
And despite Hatton’s impressive win over Tszyu, Christian remains supremely confident that his charge has the tools to inflict the first loss on Hatton’s currently unblemished record.
“Hatton comes forward about another five miles an hour quicker than Morua,” admitted Christian of the difference between the two fighters. “That’s his forte, making up the ground. He just gobbles up the ground real quick and puts it on you. But we’re not concerned about his power or anything like that, we just need to keep away from the wrestling.
“Choc won’t be there like Kostya Tszyu. Kostya just took one step back and was stuck in the ground, which played right into Hatton’s hands. But Ben Rabah won’t be there. Hatton will be asking the referee where he’s gone.”
While Hatton represents by far and away the biggest challenge of Rabah’s four-and-a-half year professional career, it’s worth remembering that it was just four short months ago that the vast majority of boxing pundits were questioning Hatton’s ability to hang with the premier fighter of the 140-pound division.
“Choc boxed beautifully against Morua but let me tell you something and I’m not just saying this because he’s my fighter but Ben Rabah will improve another 50% on the Arturo Morua performance,” said Christian. “There’s no doubt in my mind about that. And Ben Rabah will beat Ricky Hatton because he’s tailor made for us.”
But before Rabah can get a crack at Hatton, the Mancunian Hitman must first get past awkward WBA beltholder Carlos Maussa on November 26th. Maussa won the WBA title with a shocking 7th round KO of talented former champion Vivian Harris on the undercard of the WBC junior welterweight title fight between Arturo Gatti and Floyd Mayweather Junior on June 25th.
“We can’t wait for the fight mate,” said Christian. “We hope that Hatton does his job and takes both titles by beating Maussa and then I know that Ben Rabah will do his job and take both titles off Hatton. But we don’t care about the titles. We just want to beat the man who beat the man.”
According to the IBF’s rules, Hatton has to defend his world title against Rabah prior to March 2006. Christian is planning a twelve week training camp for Rabah and says that they will relocate to London a full four weeks before the bout to become acclimatized.
The real key to the fight, according to Christian, is Rabah’s boxing smarts and ring generalship.
“We’re very confident of beating Hatton and I think Ben Rabah would be the second smartest boxer in the world... I’ve never seen a smarter boxer than him except Floyd Mayweather,” said Christian.
“His brain will help him a lot with Ricky Hatton. Hatton only knows one way while Choc can box any way. When my other boys fight I have Choc in the corner with me because he can sum up what’s happening in two seconds. Choc can read them like a book.”
Chris John vs Juan Manuel Marquez
Earlier this week Craig Christian won the purse bid for WBA featherweight champion Chris John’s mandatory title defence against former dual world titleholder Juan Manuel Marquez with a bid of $125,000.
It wasn’t that long ago that Marquez, 44-2-1 (33), turned down a $500,000 offer to fight a rematch with Filipino bomber Manny Pacquiao, whom he fought to a twelve round draw last year in one of the better fights of 2004.
In what can only be described as a massive bureaucratic bungle, Marquez was stripped of his IBF championship two months ago when not a single purse bid was placed for his mandatory title defence against lightly regarded Thai veteran Phafrakorb Rakkietgym. As a result, the classy Mexican boxer-puncher was stripped of his recognition as WBA ‘super champion’ in accordance with the Venezuelan sanctioning body’s rules as the 32-year-old veteran no longer held multiple versions of the world championship and ‘regular champion’ Chris John, 36-0-1 (20), was elevated to full championship status.
As a form of compensation the WBA installed Marquez as the mandatory challenger to John’s title, but the money he will earn is substantially less than what he could have made as champion.
Now the former WBA and IBF featherweight champion finds himself fighting for short money against a formidable opponent on date to be determined.
Prior to the WBA convention where the purse bid was held, Christian indicated that he was keen for the fight to take place in the USA and said that there was little chance of Indonesian John defending his title in his adopted home of Australia.
“There’s no money over here mate,” said Christian. “They’d be fighting for shirt buttons.”
John, who accompanied Christian to Las Vegas for Rabah’s fight against Morua, was impressed with the big fight atmosphere and is looking forward to the opportunity to fight in the Mecca of boxing in the future.
“Actually we’d like to fight in Vegas,” admitted Christian. “After going with Ben Rabah to Vegas I’d like all my boys to fight over there.”
Green vs Mundine
It’s been described as the most anticipated domestic match-up in Australia’s rich fistic history, but don’t expect Craig Christian to toe the party line when it comes to tipping a winner.
“I think Mundine might be a bit too fast for him,” said Christian. “You have a look at all the great boxers throughout history. All the great boxers have had freakish speed; Floyd Mayweather, Sugar Ray Leonard, Muhammad Ali, all of them have that little edge in speed on everyone.”
While Christian concedes that Green looked good in his sole fight under new trainer Ismael Salas when he stopped American journeyman James Crawford in the fifth round in July, the gun trainer says that he is reserving his judgment until after the Green/Mundine doubleheader set down for December 11th in Perth when both super middleweights will fight opponents to be determined.
“I want to see how much Greeny goes on with it in his next fight, that’s what I want to see,” said Christian.
Two prospects to watch
The roster of quality fighters at Harry’s Gym continues to grow and grow. The latest addition to the stable is an unbeaten Guyanan fighter who is looking to reek havoc on the Australian scene.
“I’ve got a bloke named Lennox Allen and he’s a great fighter mate,” said Christian of his 6-foot-1, 5-0 (3) southpaw prospect. “He’ll be a light middle. He was a welterweight when he came over but he’s growing. He’s a very intelligent fighter, very slick, very fast.
“I think they’re trying to get Daniel Geale for him on the undercard of the Green/Mundine doubleheader over here in Perth. I said yeah if you want, no worries, we’re not scared of Gealey. So that will be a good fight, an entertaining fight for the crowd. Someone’s ‘0’ must go!”
Unbeaten super featherweight Ryan Langham, 3-0 (2), is also expected to be on the undercard, but at this stage his opponent hasn’t been confirmed.
“He wants to fight Ahmed Elomar, but we’ll see what happens,” said Christian. “I don’t think they want to fight him, but I’m not sure.”
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