By Frank Warren
Former two weight world champion Ricky Hatton returns to the ring this evening but it’s no secret that I’d rather he didn’t. ‘The Hitman’ went unbeaten in his first 39 fights with me, culminating in the best night of his career that unforgettable world title winning stoppage of Kostya Tsyzu at Manchester’s MEN Arena in June 2005.
I wish Ricky well and commend him for getting his life back on track. In his prime, he was an exhilarating talent and unquestionably the most popular, most marketable, British fighter since the Second World War.
The last time we saw him between the ropes, he was worryingly flat on his back for several minutes, from a big Manny Pacquiao hook. That was more than three and a half years ago and, sadly for Hatton, the only thing that improves with age is good wine. In the interim, Ricky has hardly been cocooned in a monastery.
His boozing had been a long standing problem even during his peak fighting years. Ricky himself concedes that just three fans in a van attended his debut in Widnes 15 years ago but he did a fantastic job of bonding with his fans and eventually created the largest, most loyal fan base that British boxing has ever known. But that ‘hands on’ approach involved an awful lot of ‘socialising’ which eventually takes its toll on the body of an athlete competing at elite level. That ain’t rocket science.
Clearly the heavy drinking and lifestyle spiralled out of control in retirement and he ballooned 15 stone. Struggling to exorcise the psychological scars left over from his horrific knockout loss to the Pacman, he sought solace in cocaine which led to depression, suicidal thoughts and a stint in The Priory. It wasn’t entirely unexpected. Top fighters sacrifice so many of the pleasures of adolescence to realise their ring dreams. Once that focus is removed when they retire, they can spiral into difficulties. Frank Bruno and Joe Calzaghe serve as other high profile examples.
Simultaneously, the tight knit team that helped navigate Hatton’s rise started to fall apart at the seams. Billy Graham, the maverick trainer who’d been with ‘The Hitman’ since the amateurs, sued for unpaid earnings and, at that court case, financial discrepancies emerged that led to a traumatic fall-out between Hatton and his father.
Earlier this year, Ricky’s 61 year old father Ray was arrested for assaulting him in the car park at the family gym in Hyde. He was subsequently cautioned. Returning to the gym has clearly restored much needed purpose and direction to Ricky's life. Clearly there’s huge interest in his return. We’re led to believe that the 19,000 capacity MEN Arena sold out inside a couple of days and, while I oppose the comeback, BoxNation did bid to televise the fight because they knew the intrigue would be high.
But can his ring comeback succeed? I’m doubtful. For a start, the 10 round non-title fight is made at welterweight, a division Hatton has always struggled in; reference his fortuitous decision over Luis Collazo and comprehensive knockout loss to Floyd Mayweather. And while his Ukrainian opponent Vyacheslav Senchenko isn’t the greatest, he’s not one I’d have chosen for a comeback fight. A natural 147lber, he’ll enjoy a three inch edge in height and has lost just once in 33 gigs, conceding the WBA world title in his fourth defence to light puncher Paulie Malignaggi last April.
Eye witness accounts report that Hatton is bristling with confidence and good health and it’s conceivable that he’ll bolt from the trap and blitz his way to an early stoppage. If so it would be similar to what Mike Tyson did in his second coming – very dangerous and vintage in the early rounds but if opponents could stand the early onslaught the lifestyle caught up, as Danny Williams demonstrated when he knocked a drained Tyson out. An early stoppage will tell us very little but should boost Ricky’s confidence.
Hatton has always been an explosive starter whose game is fashioned on excellent conditioning, a high workrate and brutal body attack. However, if he fails to execute a finish inside the opening four rounds – and he’s never been a concussive one punch finisher – this could become very interesting. Only then will we know if he still has the reserves and desire needed to pose a serious threat to the reigning world champions he is hoping to challenge in the New Year.
Ricky deserves to be successful on the night and I hope he is but I believe it will be very difficult for him to go on and recapture his old glory days.
For me and more importantly for him is that through boxing he has got his life back on track – that really makes him a champion.
As I’d suggested in my previous column, Carl Froch breezed to victory in three rounds against the inept and shop soiled Yusef Mack last weekend.
Unsurprisingly, I’ve had ‘The Cobra’s’ promoter Eddie Hearn grizzling about me not getting behind my fellow Brit but I’m nobody’s cheerleader. I’m here to tell it how it is and I called it right.
Far more impressive was Cincinnati’s Adrien ‘The Problem’ Broner who masterfully dismantled Mexico’s Antonio DeMarco in eight rounds over in Atlantic City. Featuring live in the UK on BoxNation, the trigger tongued, laser quick 24 year old collected the WBC lightweight belt and certainly whet appetites for his pending 2013 unification showdown with my WBO champion Ricky Burns, provided the Scot emerges unscathed from his pending defence at London’s ExCel Arena on 15th December.
Tonight on BoxNation, catch a fascinating contrast of styles when slick California southpaw Robert Guerrero defends his ‘interim’ WBC welter crown against Florida’s feisty Andre Berto. Should be a belter.
Seth Mitchell had been touted as the saviour of heavyweight boxing in the US. However, as I’d predicted, he was exposed as another charlatan last weekend in Atlantic City, hammered in two rounds by the very average and significantly lighter Johnathon Banks.
I don’t doubt that Mitchell, a former gridiron footballer, trains hard but he wasn’t even an average talent and was outrageously overhyped. The Yanks still refuse to concede that they are no longer the sport’s superpower – not just in the heavyweight division but right across boxing.
Other than very few Yanks, that honour has passed to Eastern Europe. Fact. Fighters there might lack the flamboyance of the black Americans but they more than compensate for that in hunger and fundamental basic technique.
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