Back in the early days I followed the Heavyweights, they were larger than life monsters, slugging it out under blinding lights. I remember watching local fighter Herbie Hide defeat Tony Tucker back in 1997 to become the WBO Heavyweight Champion at the Sports Village in Norwich. Prior to that I was glued to the television watching the heroic struggles of Frank Bruno against the likes of Oliver McCall and Mike Tyson, and Tyson, he was the man that made Heavyweight boxing so captivating. I could talk for hours about Tyson.
Then Naseem Hamed arrived. The ‘Prince’ turned my attention onto the lighter weight classes. Hamed’s unorthodox flair, a thing of grace, and the utmost arrogance turned British boxing into a must see spectacle. When Hamed lost against Marco Antonio Barrera the magic had gone. Barrera in those days was a methodical warrior; he out boxed Hamed, and evaporated the hype. It was this defeat which brought a lull to British boxing. The people needed someone to follow. I was a little bummed out about Hamed’s demise, and subsequently The ‘Prince’ retired wealthy, but unsatisfied, and a host of personal issues arose in retirement including a brief spell in prison for driving offences.
I remember watching the shadow of Mike Tyson fight on Sky Sports late one night in the late nineties against Julius Francis. It was Tyson’s first ever fight in England, and for some reason in boxing, a man whose time has gone can still enjoy the big time. Tyson won convincingly, but something else caught my attention that night. I caught this pale looking kid fighting on the undercard. A fighter from Manchester called Ricky Hatton.
Hatton took several shots early in that fight. He was scrappy, tenacious and had the kind of spirit which covered up his technical flaws, but he was watchable, there was a no thrills ferocity, an old fashioned killer instinct about him. It was from that performance against Leoncio Garces that I became a fan of ‘The Hatton’.
Let’s fast forward through the good times because they often fly by so fast. Hatton’s career began to wobble when his ‘0’ was at stake. In boxing being undefeated still matters. If promoted right, a mediocre contender can earn plenty of money through a padded record, leading to lucrative title fights that they’re unlikely to win. When Ricky Hatton fought Floyd Mayweather Jr. both fighters were putting their ‘0’ up for grabs. Hatton’s ‘0’ was a legitimate reflection of his abilities as a World Class fighter, en route to Mayweather he defeated seasoned World Title Holders such as Kostya Tszyu and Jose Luis Castillo and was involved in a number of domestic wars.
There was no shame when Hatton lost against Mayweather, a likely hall of famer who will go down as one of the all-time greats when ‘Money’ finally, definitely retires, nor when Ricky was brutally knocked out by Manny Pacquiao. So, when he announced his first retirement it seemed Ricky could at least look back at his career with pride, he got beaten by two great fighters, he won world titles, and he had twenty thousand odd people fly out from the UK to follow him in Vegas.
The difficulties came from the post-retirement void. It isn’t relevant strictly to boxing, many sportsmen and women throughout the ages have struggled to cope with retirement. Often when a sportsperson retires they are still physically speaking in their prime, only no longer for their chosen profession. If they’ve looked after your finances then a retiring athlete could have a wonderful time, enjoying life at a leisurely pace, only they’re not in sporting prime, and competition was their life. They sacrificed everything for the sport. Nothing else compares to the pursuit of glory.
It was Vyacheslav Senchenko who ended Hatton’s career, putting a final full stop after the word retirement. There is no need for another comeback now. Senchenko delivered the kind of breath taking body shot that was one of Hatton’s signature methods of execution. It was like a Knight of King Arthur’s court dropping his sword, only to turn around and get decapitated by the very blade that he had taken so many victims with. The sword wasn’t now held by a great warrior, but a steady fighter, who wasn’t quite in the same league of greatness.
Senchenko is skilled no doubt, as a former World Champion himself, the Ukrainian has ability yet he fought a faded, drawn out version of Hatton. Notably there was not the same hunger and determination in Ricky’s eyes as he entered the ring and after a couple of rounds Hatton had reached a moment of realization. It was over. Senchenko merely did a professional job.
I had deep reservations about the Senchenko fight, it is one thing to be physically fit, and visually it was apparent Hatton had lost the pounds, however it is quite the other to be fighting fit, to have both the necessary mental and physical capabilities to unleash hell. Hatton talked about crying into his pint during his darkest days, about suicidal thoughts in the buildup to the fight. If anything he was trying to convince the world that he was still a fighter, instead he merely revealed himself to be a man, a mere mortal.
Back when Hatton was winning we could laugh about the drinking, how Ricky was a one of us, although really he wasn’t, because we couldn’t lace up the gloves, we never had that courage. We found it hysterical when he wore one of those padded sumo suits and embraced the cruel ‘Ricky Fatton’ jibes. Yet, we didn’t think that this was bad for him, that the weight cut would get harder for him as time went on, that he couldn’t continue like this if he wanted to remain at the top of the sport. We were too busy enjoying the ride, and the trips to Vegas.
“There’s only one Ricky Hatton” the crowd sang until their throats were coarse. It was fitting that the body shot would reduce the arena to silence. Hatton didn’t need us that night; he could have fought in an empty venue. The most important thing was that he was able to make peace with himself. He said post-fight “I can look in the mirror and be proud of myself and say I gave it my best.”
It was interesting that the week after Hatton’s career ended, another modern British sporting legend stepped into the ring for his professional debut. Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, a former cricketer who had struggled with his own personal demons, lost the inactivity weight gained during retirement, trained properly under the tutelage of Barry McGuigan and fought against an unknown American tomato can. Though he got knocked down, Flintoff was able to win a unanimous points decision. The fight was painful to watch, and one hopes Flintoff doesn’t get back in there again, though ‘Freddie’ proved something to himself, he scratched something off the bucket list. You can’t play boxing, whether you’re a World Champion making a comeback, or even a gifted sportsman with natural athletic ability. It is an unforgiving sport that has taken just as many souls as it has saved.
Ricky Hatton now has to find meaning outside of the ring, guiding himself through the emotional turmoil that comes when considering the end of something. Whether he can achieve World Titles vicariously through training young boxers in his promotional stable or even focus on interests outside of boxing, one only hopes he finds fulfillment, and reasons to live.
There have been many tragic boxing figures who’ve been unable to wrestle with their demons, the extreme cases always spring to mind – Hector Camacho died last week in a drive-by shooting, Arturo Gatti perished in a Brazilian hotel room in 2009 and Edwin Valero hung himself in a prison cell after murdering his wife. Scottish Featherweight World Champion Scott Harrison has battled with the bottle, and constantly found himself in trouble with the law, there are many others, most of them have at one time been at the top of the sport, but were unable to replicate those highs.
Though Hatton has provided his fans many great memories, it is vital for us that he doesn’t fall again.
I’d like to present some opinion on Hatton from across the pond. As Willis Gordon shares his thoughts on ‘The Hitman’ –
To speak of Ricky Hatton is to eulogize him. So many lament his great career as one of the greatest 140 pound fighters of all time, his lightning fast hands and murderous body blows that echoed throughout arenas all over the world. He had a devastating left hook that when landed, could be heard from the deep corners of space. He was a people’s champion, a hometown boy; down to earth and kind, but as explosive as any fighter in his generation. The trouble is there is only room for one man at the top, and “The Hitman” was never to be that man. He dominated the Light Welterweight division for years, and decided to move up to Welterweight to challenge some of the greats. Sadly, after painful losses to Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, as well as bizarre management choices Hatton left the world of boxing in 2009.
He was 45-2 all time, with 32 of those wins by knockout. The problem presents itself the same as it does a power hitter in baseball. When the big bat is constantly swinging for the fences, it’s always at risk of striking out. Ricky Hatton struck out big against both Mayweather and Pacquiao and it cost him his nerve. He was a brawler in the best sense, mixing it up with anyone who’d dare get close enough to him. The problem lied in his defense, or lack thereof. He could close enough to stun his opponent but was left exposed after they regained their bearings. That allowed for both of his losses at the Welterweight level, a TKO and a devastating knockout.
His fall was hard to watch, beginning with his lifeless body sprawled across the middle of the ring in Las Vegas. Then a shameful retreat into obscurity; a self-imposed exile lasting two full years and rapid weight gain decadent enough to make Elvis blush. He was finished; a valiant career ending in disgrace.
In a bizarre turn of events, Hatton declared a comeback while he was still at least 40 pounds overweight. But come October, as though he had been to the crossroads dealing with the Devil Himself, the Phoenix rose to meet the press and silence his critics. It seemed the old Ricky Hatton had returned, a little older and a little worse for wear…But the Hitman was back.
Ultimately he failed, but in his comeback there was so much promise, so much hope. His loss to Senchenko was hard to watch this fall, especially having to see him felled by his own trademark body blow. Hatton is living proof of a harsh lesson, something hard to swallow until it is inhospitably and forcefully brought to our attention. You can still lose even if you really try. The dream was dead, the neighborhood underdog had lost. It no longer mattered how much hope and chaos had gone into his return or how much his fans had invested in him, Ricky Hatton’s train had pulled in for the last time. He should be commended for his courage and dogged determination, enough to gain respect from the hardest of men… but as Bobby Womack used to say, “It’s All Over Now”.
From across the Atlantic here, an American Boxing Fan wishes the Hitman all the best and salutes his valiant reign in the ring.