By Terence Dooley
Ricky Hatton’s comeback may have fallen at the first hurdle at the Manchester Arena on Saturday night against former WBA welterweight titlist Vyacheslav Senchenko, prompting a brutally honest and tearful Hatton to head into retirement for the second time, but his trainer Bob Shannon had to hit the road in the early hours of the following day in order to ensure that Commonwealth welterweight champion Denton Vassell remained on course for his showdown with Ronnie Heffron at the same venue on Friday night.
Vassell and Heffron clash on the undercard of Freddie Flintoff’s pro debut, their fight is a far more attractive proposition than Flintoff’s, which sees him take on Richard Dawson — a 2-0 23-year-old from Oklahoma. For Shannon, this will be his second outing in the huge arena in the space of a week, it will not be as packed out as it was last Saturday yet the venue will have a healthy turnout.
Shannon told BoxingScene that it took a lot of willpower to pick himself up after Hatton’s loss and refocus his energy on the next challenge. Hatton, though, gave Shannon a big boost when swallowing his own disappointment over his defeat and admitting that he wished he had hooked up with the trainer years ago. This endorsement, plus Shannon’s belief that Vassell is the division’s biggest threat, has spurred him on during a tough week.
“I’m tinged with a lot of sadness today because it was a honour to work with Ricky and now it is all over, but I’m glad about the things Ricky had to say,” said Shannon when speaking to BoxingScene. “Ricky should be proud of himself, he was out for over three years, six-months ago Senchenko was world champion and Ricky was 15 stone, so he went on an incredible physical journey in a short space of time. Ricky was winning the fight, but got hit with a tremendous left hook to the body — it would have put anyone down.
“It was nice of Ricky to say he wished he had hooked up with me years ago, but if he looks back on this he can be happy because he has done fantastically well to turn things around in his life. What Ricky’s achieved in dropping his weight, getting fit and taking on a former world champion is a real feat.
“A few more rounds and we could have been talking about him having yet another world championship fight coming up. Ricky’s always been very critical of himself, he was down after the fight, and I think he can be his own worst enemy because he acts on impulse. All he could think about was thinking he’d let the fans down, but he didn’t let anyone down. Ricky puts a lot of hard pressure on himself, that’s what made him into a great fighter, but he’s got the answers he was looking for. I’m really satisfied that he’s made himself healthier in the process of getting those answers and hope he carries on living in the right way.”
He added: “It was a cruel way for the fight to end. It was a pleasure to train a three-time world champion, but boxing is an unforgiving sport, it doesn’t have any sentiment at all.”
Still, Hatton’s mere presence at Shannon’s Fighting Fit gym boosted everyone who trains there, from amateurs to pros, and showed the likes of Vassell and David Barnes — who fights Larry Ekundayo in the New Year — exactly what it takes to reach the summit.
“I’ve really got to know Ricky, we all knew he’s a great lad, but I could still see why he is a great fighter and the lads loved him and his sense of humour — it was great for our gym,” said Shannon.
“As I said, there’s a tinge of sadness because I wanted to bring Ricky all the way back to his glory days. Ricky is an all-time great in British boxing. Nothing will ever change that. I’m happy that he has found a peaceful place and hope he enjoys his success, his family and adulation of his fans throughout the rest of his retirement.
“The fans themselves were magnificent. I don’t think I’ll ever experience that again. It just goes to show you how much they love Ricky. I tasted such a great experience, it was taken away so quickly, and, as Ricky said, I wish we’d linked up years ago. It would have been nice if I could have helped Billy [Graham] out when he started picking up hand injuries. Billy and I have got so much respect for each other, we’re real men and aren’t insecure with each other — it could have worked, but it didn’t happen and that’s life.
“I just hope Ricky takes his critical hat off and looks at what he did, I don’t know anyone in the world who could have come back after over three years, lost so much weight, got through his training and held the lead over a former world champion.”
A deep thinker, Shannon kept turning the Hatton fight over in his mind durng the early hours of Sunday morning, asking himself if he could have done any more for the former linear 140lb champion and WBA welterweight titlist. These questions were put to one side by the time dawn broke, Shannon picked up his running shoes, headed for the hills and hooked up with Vassell, who sensed his trainer’s disappointment and made a big statement.
“Denton saw I was hurting, he came up to me and said: ‘My actions always speak louder than words. I know you want a world title, Bob, and I’ll go out and win it for you,’ so that lifted my spirits,” revealed Shannon. “Denton’s 19-0 (9), a former ABA champion and has forgotten what it is like to lose, so he’ll fight hard on Friday night to show people why he’s the Commonwealth champion.
“I’ve been working with Denton as well as Ricky. I’d stay late at the gym to get Denton ready. We have worked relentlessly on this fight. I was on the Sunday run with Denton, and then back to my day job of decorating and in the gym on Monday evening. I had to lift myself from the floor. I was devastated for Ricky on Saturday and deeply felt his hurt, but I just had to go in with a positive attitude for Denton. Like Ricky last Saturday night, I’ve had to show grit this week, but I have done that and Denton will kick on now.
“Denton’s one of the best welterweights around. Ronnie Heffron’s on the way up himself, unbeaten [11-0 (5)] and is doing great under Anthony [Farnell], he thinks he can do a job on Denton, but this will spur Denton on because he’s learned a lot from working with Ricky and knows what you need to have to move on. I think this could be the fight of the year.”
It may also be the fight that makes British boxing fans take note of the winner. There is more than just the Commonwealth title at stake. Shannon hopes that this is a major step on a journey that began when Vassell turned pro in 2006 after picking up the ABA welterweight title and which Shannon has always believed can end in a world title win.
“Every trainer wants a world title,” said Shannon. “We all want a young Ricky Hatton to step into the gym. I had that feeling when Denton joined me, I also felt Andy Morris had it in him, but it wasn’t to be for Andy — I hope I’m right about Denton’s potential, and I think I am. I’ve won every title there is, but that world one has eluded me. Wayne Rigby won the WBF title, but I want one of the main ones.
“That’s why my gym needs the support and that little push the fans can give you. I hope Ricky’s fans liked what they saw from me and will follow the lads from Shannon’s Gym. They’re great supporters, I hope to see them again during my career — they’ve got Denton to get behind now. They’re honest fans, and I’m an honest trainer. I’ve got that mountain to climb for my family, and will do it for the city of Manchester and my fighters. I know I’m not a high-profile guy, but tell the fans that I’m still here working hard and will be as relentless as ever.”
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