From Hatton's own mouth
After throwing it all away, the ring lures Ricky Hatton back to seek redemption
by: OWEN SLOT
From: The Australian
November 10, 2012 12:00AM
THE retired boxer making a comeback - we have here one of the saddest and oldest cliches in sport. And so I am sitting in his private gym near Manchester, trawling through a well-trodden debate, explaining to Ricky Hatton why a former world champion does not need to pull the gloves back on.
He has heard it all before but the logic does not work here because Hatton has descended way beyond the stereotype of a man in search of former glory; he is the boxer who left the glory days so far behind that he contemplated suicide.
He will sit and discuss it openly. And it is riveting, uncomfortable and deeply painful to hear an athlete whose career you have enjoyed so much reel off his acquaintances with the most desperate darkness. "I'd try and drink until I'd killed myself," he says. He tells how he became the bloke in the pub who was so drunk and so dark that he just started crying. And he tells you about the kitchen knife that he held against his wrists on countless occasions while his girlfriend, Jennifer, counselled him to put it down.
He is strangely at ease with the subject. His despair does not need to be prised from him; neither does he share it self-consciously under his breath, as if it were an awkward truth. It is a kind of strength, maybe, that he can so confidently tell you again and again how he became "a complete f . . k-up".
Yet he has reached the point in his psychological journey where reason does not really work, and he acknowledges this himself. He talks of "the joke that I have become" and "how I've flushed everything away". You reply instantly that you can never flush away his record as one of the best, certainly one of the most popular, boxers Britain ever produced, that you cannot erase the glory nights and the world titles.
The thing is, he knows all that. "People say, 'You're being a bit harsh on yourself, you only got beaten by Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the world'," he says. "It's nice to hear, but it doesn't matter how many people say, 'Rick, you're a legend'. It doesn't mean anything to me because I have the fella that sits on my shoulder every day saying, 'You f . . ked up, you let everyone down."'
The fella that sits on his shoulder - so this is in part a story about depression. But it is also about pride and the extent to which a retired boxer's self-esteem is governed by public image. The two are intricately connected - which is why it is complicated.
But it is also just plain sad. In his glory days, Hatton was a champion with comic-book trimmings. He was brave, spirited, indefatigably so, and he was funny, and a man of the people who would have a Guinness at the bar with anyone, so many Guinnesses, in fact, that he became known as Ricky Fatton. He thought that was funny too. And he had great family values; he still lived down the road from his parents in Greater Manchester and once even let his grannies be interviewed.
Maybe that was all too good to be true, but it was a rip-roaring ride until bravery and spirit proved insufficient to deal with Mayweather and Pacquiao. After the defeat by Mayweather, Hatton "felt very embarrassed". The Pacquiao bout 18 months later still haunts him.
His take on the Pacquiao defeat is hugely significant. Hatton says his trainer got the timing of his preparation wrong, that he peaked a month too early and, in the build-up to the bout, "the penny dropped when a super-featherweight knocked me down in sparring. After that, I sat on the steps by the ring and put the towel over my head; my Dad walked over: 'You all right, son?' And I just had to tell him, 'Dad, leave me alone for a minute.' I was sobbing. I knew I'd blown it. There was no way to get the sharpness back.
"If a super-featherweight sparring partner is knocking me on my arse, what am I going to do against the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world? That became printed on my mind. I walked into the fight thinking, 'F . . king hell.' Never before had I felt that."
The point of this story? That Hatton is so keen to tell it, that still, more than three years later, he is wrapped up in what-ifs. What if he had listened to his family and told his trainer - Floyd Mayweather Sr - that he needed rest, or if he had followed their advice and just pulled out of the bout.
"I don't think he'd have beaten me at my best," Hatton says. "We'll never know now. That thought haunts me every day."
And so we have the downward spiral and the 67kg boxer who once thought it funny to get fat and put on 30kg. In retirement, this is his description of the drinking: "I'd go out for a drink, nothing special, with my girlfriend, the lads; it's good to go out for a drink. But then when I was down I'd want to drink myself to death. I'd go out, I'd be the life and soul of the party for the first few, and then the more I'd drink - and I'd drink no more than I used to - I'd be in the corner of the pub crying."
This, then, is his description of what it was like back home, where Jennifer, his partner, a schoolteacher, would try to persuade him not to drink: "She tried every day. I was, like, 'I'm OK, love, I'm OK.' And it was not like she had to chain me to the radiator to stop me going out, but I'd do a run, watch TV or something, ponder about something, ponder some more and she'd come in later from work and I'd be crying with a knife.
"That was drunk or sober. I was, 'I want to kill myself, Jen, I want to kill myself!' No one should ever have to see what she's seen. I genuinely wanted to do it. I never had the bottle, thankfully."
There was more to the spiral: a News of the World expose for snorting cocaine, rehab in The Priory and then, maybe saddest of all, an irresolvable falling-out with his parents. This is one subject he refuses to discuss, although it was widely reported that he and his father came to blows. "It's a shame," he says. "But it is most definitely beyond repair."
And so to the conclusion. Like so many from the ring, he sees his solutions in going back there. On November 24, he has a sold-out Manchester Arena waiting for him to box Ukraine's Vyacheslav Senchenko.
"It's more than a boxing match," Hatton says. "It's redemption day."
He says that he never wanted to end his career "flat on my back". But after 3 1/2 years of inactivity and bodily abuse, the chances are high that this will happen again. And would that not trigger another dreadful spiral?
His answer is no. "After this fight, win, lose or draw, I can look in the mirror then and go, 'You know what, you wanted to win another world title, yes. But what you've done you should be proud of.' So I think I've already won."
And, boy, is he motivated.
"I feel like what's happened - with my parents, the suicide, what Manny Pacquiao did to me, everything - I feel like putting it all in a ball and throwing it at Senchenko," he says. "That's how much fire and determination I have to come back, not as the f . . k-up I had become but with people going: 'Fair play to him, after everything he's been through, what a guy.' That's the drive, a bigger drive than before.
"I have so much fury now, I feel the world has kicked my arse and I want to knock the f . . k out of the lot of it."