CANASTOTA – Ricky Hatton visited the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2006, not knowing one day his plaque would be on the wall next to the legends he followed as a kid.

Today he will collect his Hall of Fame ring and be immortalized as one of the greats.

“It goes up there alongside my belts,” he said of the accolade. “I think all the inductees would say it’s wonderful becoming a world champion, and I was able to do that at a couple of weights and few times over, but to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, it doesn’t matter what your profession is, tennis, football, boxing… Hall of Fame means you’re a champion, but you’re elite. I didn’t think of that when I first laced gloves on at 10-years-old.”

At that age, Hatton looked up to Nigel Benn and Roberto Duran. Benn remains on the ballot, yet to be inducted. 

“That’s a big thing,” Hatton added. “Nigel Benn is my hero and always will be. Frank Bruno will always be my hero, that’s when I say my fanbase was my greatest thing I took into retirement. They will always be my heroes but when you think of the fans I took to Vegas in comparison, how’s that possible? But it was. They [Benn and Bruno] are still my heroes, but you’ve got to pinch yourself. It’s up there with anything I’ve done in the sport.”

Hatton has posed for countless photos and signed hundreds of autographs here this week. He’s repaying a debt of gratitude he feels he owes the fans who cheered when he was winning and consoled him through adversity.

“They were still always there for me. I still had notes, messages, and when I was going through a real bad time and people could see me struggling, even just on the street I’ve always had the support because of the way I am, it’s like they were supporting a mate rather than and English boxer,” Hatton continued.

Through the years, Hatton has continued to go to Manchester City soccer matches and sit with the fans, and he’ll go to the pub and drink with anyone.

In the ring, Hatton said this weekend that the battle in Boston with Luis Collazo was particularly draining, and again thanked the fans for the assist in his toughest contests. 

“The fans dragged me through fights, like the Kostya Tszyu fight,” said Hatton. “He quit on his stool, but I wasn’t far behind him. I was telling [trainer] Billy [Graham] I was done. He said, ‘Don’t give me that, Ricky, don’t give me that’. And when I looked through the ropes and I could see the fans looking and the love they had for me. ‘Come on, Ricky. You’ve got him. You’ve got him’. It was stuff like that. 

“In the Collazo fight, in the last round he did everything but knock me down, I was staggering and he was dragging me around and I could see them when I looked over his shoulder, the love that they had for me. I’ll always be grateful. I accept this award on behalf of the fans and anyone who’s helped me along the way.”

Ricky pointed to the contributions of Graham, assistant Paul Speak, nutritionist and s and c guru Kerry Kayes, cutman Mick Williamson, Frank Warren, Oscar De La Hoya and Banner Promotions.  

“I wouldn’t have been able to achieve this if I didn’t have a little help here and there along the way. It’s never been forgotten,” he said.

After a couple of years lost in the wilderness of retirement, Hatton returned to fight Vyachelsav Senchenko, and although he was beaten – in Manchester – it gave him the closure he needed to start accepting the Life After Boxing chapter of his life.

“The reason why I picked him was they said, ‘Rick, that’s too tough a fight’. At the end of the day, I’d have beat him a few years ago no problem, but I said if I can’t beat him, retired is where I should stay. That’s typical Ricky Hatton. Instead of saying I’ll just have a warm up first, but I’ve never been like that.

“When I did get beat, I think people thought, ‘What’s going to happen here? His head’s going to fall off’. But it didn’t, it had the opposite effect. I thought I still had it, I hadn’t and I could go into retirement a lot better. It was still a work in progress.”

There have been well-documented post-boxing struggles and a fight that lingers with his mental health. “Speed bumps,” Hatton admitted. But he is in good place and now, today, comes a crowning glory.

“It’s been a gradual thing. I was in a good place but I still had some climbing to do to get where I am today.”

A televised exhibition with his dear friend Marco Antonio Barrera – who is on hand in Canastota to support Ricky this weekend – carried on with more positivity, including a critically-acclaimed documentary and an appearance on the TV show Dancing on Ice. Step by step, life is good again for the “Hitman”.

“Anything positive, from where I was to where I am, a few people are saying, ‘Fair play to you, Rick’.”