By John Evans
Referee Victor Loughlin had reached the count of five before the 20,000 fanatics crammed into the Manchester Arena realised that their worst nightmares were being played out in front of their eyes. As Ricky Hatton winched in pain they began to will him up. He tried to make it. He wanted to get up. He just couldn’t do it. The ultimate irony is that the punch which finally ended his career was the punch which helped launch it. A hard left hook to the body.
For three rounds, Vayacheslav Senchenko looked to be the ideal comeback opponent. Durable enough to give Hatton rounds, talented enough to pose problems but not powerful enough to hurt “The Hitman”. Then things changed. The ring rust didn’t fall off; Hatton stopped jabbing his way into range and became a sitting target. The more Senchenko landed his jab and right hand, the more frustrated and wild Hatton became. The wilder he became, the more Senchenko landed.
A bigger puncher may have ended matters long before the ninth round, as it was Hatton got a prolonged confirmation that the skills which had carried him to the undisputed light welterweight title and world championship belts at welterweight had been forever eroded by a three year absence from the ring, his well documented out of the ring problems and years of hard living.
“We found out tonight. It isn’t there no more,” said an honest, emotional Hatton after the fight. “The team were saying to me: ‘Don’t make any rash decisions. You were three or four rounds up against a former world champion. It was one body shot’. They’re right but that’s what I did three years ago when I retired the first time. I was making excuses.
“It was Mayweather and Pacquaio and they are the two best pound for pound fighters. It was a bad training camp. If you wanna find an excuse, you’ll find them. The top and bottom of it is that I needed to find out whether I still have it and I haven’t.
“I think I was four rounds up but even if he hadn’t caught me with that body shot and if just I’d scraped through with a points decision, I’d still be telling you the same thing. A fighter knows when they’re in there and I just knew. It isn’t there no more.”
“No matter how much you train, I was sharp and couldn’t done anything better,” he continued. “My sparring was great. Whether I was four rounds up or not, I know. Nobody has to tell me. What should I do? Should I dwell on it like last time? I know and I’m not going to put myself through it like last time. I’m not going to put Jennifer [his girlfriend] through it and I’m not going to put my loved ones through it. I’m not the man I think I am if I can’t draw a line in the sand now and draw a line under my boxing career.”
He added: “As much as it hurts, I have to say that I gave it me all. It wasn’t there and that’s the end of Ricky Hatton.”
As a Manchester based fight fan, Hatton has provided me with some incredible memories and moments. As a young fan I would sneak my way into city centre hotels to see the weigh ins for his early fights and eagerly snap up tickets in the cheap seats to witness unbelievable atmospheres like the night he fought Eamonn Magee.
I watched him bloom into a world-class fighter and avidly watched his battles with the likes of Jose Luis Castillo, Mayweather and Pacquiao. As I’ve grown older and found my way into the world of boxing writing I have been lucky enough to speak to him on numerous occasions and always found him to be friendly, helpful and amusing.
It is a positive sign that Hatton readily accepted the facts that had been laid bare in front of him.
This time, there can be no more wondering and ‘what ifs?’. The 34-year-old is a wealthy man, has a young family to look after and a potentially successful promotional company with a talented stable of fighters. He is also fit and healthy and can look back on one of British boxing’s most successful careers. The incredible atmosphere generated inside the Manchester Arena should also remind him that he will also take the title of ‘Britain’s Most Popular Fighter’ to his grave. Hopefully, all these factors will combine to prevent Hatton descending back into the depression which consumed him following his defeat to Manny Pacquiao all those years ago.
“It’s well documented the story of where I was and how bad things had got,” said Hatton. “I needed to put a few demons to rest and a few ghosts to sleep and I said before the fight that win, lose or draw I felt like I’d already won and I still feel like that,” he continued. “I’m content. I’m happy with my life and there won’t be any ‘Ricky Fatton’ any more. I’m in a good healthy state of mind and that’s where I want to keep it.”
If, as everybody hopes, this really is the long-term outcome of last nights defeat the comeback might not have been a failure at all.
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