Boxing is littered with the stories of great champions coming back from retirement in desperate bids to defeat old master time.
Sometimes they do it for money; sometimes they do it for glory. Ricky Hatton did it for redemption.
The first time I saw Ricky Hatton he was fighting the tough Irishman, Eamon Magee. Barely one minute into the first round Magee put Hatton on the canvas. But Ricky got back up, bit down on his gum-shield and beckoned Magee in for more – that’s Ricky Hatton. He was hurt again in the second, but fought on and slowly but surely he turned the fight around and went on to win. I was a fan.
I followed his career through victory after victory after that, until perhaps his greatest moment in the ring; when he took on the force of nature that was Kosta Tszyu; the first man to unify the light welterweight titles in thirty years. Hatton came at Tszyu like a man possessed and forced Tszyu to quit on his stool.
A few more wins against somewhat lesser opponents followed and then it was time for the big one; Floyd Mayweather jnr. I stayed up ‘till the small hours to watch the two undefeated champions duelling to see who would keep that ‘0’ intact. As usual Ricky came forward all night putting his man under constant pressure. But this was no ordinary opponent; this was a pugilistic artist, this was arguably the most skilful and greatest boxer on the planet. Mayweather took everything Hatton could give. He tied Hatton up, took away his inside game, out foxed him and out boxed him. On the outside he picked him off, on the inside he tied him up. He broke him down. Hatton tasted the canvas in the tenth, got back up and went down again – defeated.
Three fights later he suffered an even more devastating defeat. Floyd Mayweather may be the greatest boxer on the planet, but Manny Pacquiao is the greatest fighter. It wasn’t even close. Pacquiao annihilated Ricky. Ricky’s come forward pressure style playing perfectly into Manny’s hands. Pacquiao loves nothing more than a tear up. Twice in the first round Hatton went down and twice he got up. But even then it was clear it was over. He came out for the second and took a monstrous left that almost took his head off. The ref could have counted to a hundred.
A descent into misery and self loathing followed. Three and a half years of beating himself up and thinking he was a failure, thinking he had let himself down, thinking he had left his fans and the people around him down. It wasn’t logical, he wasn’t a failure, sure he’d lost to Mayweather, and sure he’d lost to Pacquiao … so what? … Everybody loses to them. But I think what affected him more, was not the fact that he lost, but that for the Pacquiao fight at least that he didn’t give it his best. His training camp had been a shambles; he came into it having been knocked down in sparring just twelve days before. In his own head he kept thinking ‘what if I’d been at my best … what if I’d given it my all … why didn’t I give it my best?’
I think that’s why he came back. If he was going to lose, so be it. But if he was going to lose he wanted to know within himself that he had given it his best shot. Well he did that last night. He gave it his best, trained hard and gave it everything he had and for a few rounds he had the better of Senchenko. He gave it his best and got a definite answer. It may not be the answer he wanted, but at least now he won’t be dogged with that niggling voice in his head whispering ‘what if, what if.’
Ricky Hatton got his redemption and did himself proud. I hope he can see that himself. He doesn’t need to fight anymore and hopefully he won’t.