By Thomas Gerbasi
The M.E.N. Arena in Manchester, England might as well be known as The House Ricky Hatton built. 13 times the city’s favorite son thrilled those fans who packed the venue to hear him walk in to “Blue Moon” and then put on his hard hat and go to work for 12 rounds or less on whoever dared to walk into that most unique of lions dens.
But on the night of November 13, 2010, the arena belonged to another British star, heavyweight David Haye, and as Hatton sat at ringside waiting for “The Hayemaker” to battle former Olympian Audley Harrison, everything that had been brewing in the year and a half since his retirement following a knockout loss to Manny Pacquiao came to a head.
“I went with my girlfriend (Jennifer) and I just sat there, and David Haye walks out and the crowd started roaring, and I sat at ringside crying,” recalled Hatton. “I’m thinking ‘this used to me.’ But because I was in such a bad place and so depressed, I was making a fool of myself.”
Retirement hadn’t sat well with the “Hitman.” A tabloid scandal centering on drug use two months before Haye-Harrison hit him hard, his relationships with his parents and former trainer Billy Graham hit the skids, and his losses to Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather still haunted him.
“I was feeling sorry for myself with the Manny defeat, the Floyd defeat, and I was sulking,” he said. “A lot of people are just grateful to get in there with Floyd and Manny because it’s the pound for pound title and the biggest payday; I was in there because I thought I could win.”
Yet what came along with all that was even worse, from a nervous breakdown to suicide attempts, the details of which have come to light in recent weeks. But it’s not some “insider” or unnamed source coming forward with these details of the fall of a beloved champion. They came from the man himself, as Hatton – always an honest fighter and an honest man – has revealed his troubles to the world in the lead-up to his Saturday comeback fight against Vyacheslav Senchenko with a candor rarely seen in everyday life, let alone in the public eye.
“I’ve always been honest, and I think that’s why I had the following I’ve always had,” he said. “I don’t think it’s just because I have a fighting style that’s exciting to the eye; I think I’ve always been a man of the people, down to Earth, no airs and graces, what you see is what you get, and say it the way it is. So when people saw me and what they had in the tabloids, I could imagine a lot of people saw that and were going ‘wow, that fella we used to admire, look at the state of him now.’ It doesn’t matter if anyone says, ‘well, everyone has problems, Ricky.’ I felt like a failure.”
“It was heartbreaking, to be honest with you,” Hatton continues when asked how difficult it was to go through this process. “But the main reason I have to come out and go into so much detail is because, as you can imagine, people are saying ‘Ricky, why are you coming back? You’ve got nothing to prove, you’ve won four world titles in two weight divisions, you beat Kostya Tszyu, who was number one in the division, you fought Floyd and Manny.’ But it doesn’t matter how many people pat me on the back and say ‘Rick, you’ve done us proud, you’re being hard on yourself.’ If I don’t think it, I don’t think it, and it’s as simple as that. I feel like I let my fans down, my community, my hometown, British boxing, British sport, the whole sport of boxing I feel I let down with how I landed myself in all the trouble I did in them three years. And it doesn’t matter if anybody says ‘well, everyone has problems, you shouldn’t be so harsh on yourself.’ I’m sorry, if that’s how I feel and those are the ghosts I need to put to rest, I need to do it. And it was very, very hard for me.”
As hard as it was for Hatton to lay bare those lost three years since his last fight, it was at times even harder to hear it. Simply put, Hatton has always been one of boxing’s good guys, someone you found it hard to ever root against, even if you shouldn’t have been rooting in the first place. As gracious a professional athlete as you will ever encounter, I will always have to go back to 2007 and a trip to Manchester, when I had the opportunity to spend the day in the gym with Hatton as he prepared for his fight with Jose Luis Castillo. There were no warning signs on the door, no restrictions on what visitors could see or not see, and when British boxing’s biggest star had finished his sparring and padwork, he went and got drinks from the gym’s beverage case for everyone before sitting down for an interview.
I’m guessing that I’m not the only one with a story like that to tell, so hearing his harrowing tales of life after boxing were not just shocking, but horrifying. If this could happen to someone who you figured would be perfectly adjusted to the retired life, what does it say for the rest of those who lace up the gloves? And while fans basically shrugged off a lot of the tabloid stories, Hatton knew they had to pay attention when things got darker.
“I had to explain to people that the reason why I’m coming back is because I tried to kill myself on several occasions, I had a nervous breakdown, I had panic attacks, and my girlfriend had to take a knife from me when I tried slitting my wrists,” he said. “I’d start breaking down in tears and it’s not very proud for a former world champion to tell the press and the public that I had to keep telling my girlfriend to give me a hug because I was that depressed and that low. Ricky Hatton, a former world champion, is supposed to be a bit of a tough guy. (Chuckles) And all of a sudden I’m telling my girlfriend, ‘I need a hug please, help me Jen, I’m scared.’ I didn’t want to tell anyone that. But in telling everybody that story, I think people know now why I am making a comeback. The people who didn’t want me to make a comeback and who didn’t want to see me get hurt, now they’re starting to think ‘well, when you put it like that, we know why Ricky has to do this.’”
It’s not the money, it’s not the fame, it’s not the roar of the crowd. For Hatton, the reason he needs to come back is to not leave the Pacquiao loss as the last image of him and to prove that after all the crippling lows, he can get his life back together. The latter part is done, as he has dropped all the excess weight put on while he was off, and from all reports, he has been looking sharp in the gym with new trainer Bob Shannon. So yeah, it would be a great story for him to come back on Saturday, beat former WBA welterweight champ Senchenko and then get another world title fight. But even he admits that the toughest fight has already been won.
“When I got beat by Manny Pacquiao, which was devastating for me, I ended up in court with my former trainer Billy Graham, who was claiming that I didn’t pay him as much as I should have done, I’ve not spoken to my parents for two years, and you had all the problems that claim in the papers and tabloids that I had, you add all them things up together, and that’s why I ended up having a nervous breakdown and trying to take my own life,” he said. “So I think I’ve already won the toughest fight. I think this comeback is already a success and I haven’t thrown a punch yet. If I can transfer the form I’m showing in the gym to the boxing ring on the night, I think it could be a second coming, I really do.”
And what better place is there to kick off a second coming than in the place where he had his first one? Sure, they call the M.E.N. Arena Manchester Arena now, but it’s still the House that Hatton Built, and 20,000 strong will be waiting to welcome him back on Saturday. There probably won’t be a dry eye in the house, but at least this time, they’ll be tears of joy for Ricky Hatton.