Byline: BILL CLARK
THE Russian sparring partner, Maxim Nesterenko, lay flat on his back, gazing vacantly at the ceiling in John Breen's Belfast gym.
Smelling salts and cold compresses were taking uncommonly long to return the comrade to consciousness.
"Left counter," explained Eamonn Magee, challenger for the WBU light-welterweight title on June 1.
"He walked right on to it. It's the shot that will take out Ricky Hatton in Manchester."
Magee believes he will need a knock-out in the MEN arena.
"It's famous for hometown decisions," says the 30-year-old southpaw. "Last time I was there, I saw a foreign kid get a diabolical points verdict."
So serious is the Magee camp that an official objection is being lodged against Mickey Vann's appointment as referee.
"We would prefer somebody who hasn't handled Hatton before or lives in the same area of England," says Breen.
Since the match was made, propaganda has criss-crossed the Irish Sea in increasing offensiveness and Magee cheerfully confesses: "I started it. Hatton has always been projected as Mr Nice Guy so I decided to see how deep it went.
"Now he is snapping back so obviously I've got to him. It's purely professional, part of the job. I want him rattled."
The Belfast boxer's biggest irritation hasn't come from Hatton, however. It's down to immigration officers at Dublin airport.
"We had hired a couple of Panamanians to complete my sparring," he reveals, "but they were deported immediately on arrival. …