Can the returning Ricky Hatton repair his sport? And himself?
Paul Dempsey will be ringside when Ricky Hatton returns on Saturday after three-and-half years away from the ring. Boxing is supposed to be saving him. But is it really the other way round? And can he make up for David Haye, Amir Khan and all the other failures which have left boxing itself on the ropes.
I was there when Ricky made his debut first time round in September 1997. The word was out that the kid was special and he didn’t disappoint. He had ability and he had a presence in the ring and lots of personality out of it. There were some bloody wars as he fought his way through to British title level, and those nights were the ones that built his fan club.
The support never wavered as his career seemed to stall, just below world class, when he yearned to be tested against the best. When the chance eventually came, he seized it, unforgettably, against Kostya Tszyu. Manchester was Mad-chester again, and he was the King, bigger than United, bigger than Oasis, and much bigger than his own beloved City, before they went to the next level.
Unfortunately the seeds of his destruction were also being sown. I lost count of the number of times family, friends and people in boxing warned him about his lifestyle. Too late, he realised that he had helped to ruin himself. That is why I believe the defeats by Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao damaged him so much.
The brutal end of Hatton/Pacquiao
They hurt not just because he found himself against superior opposition but because he knew that he had blown whatever chance he had by ending up less than the fighter he could have become. He says that is why he is back now, to be remembered as someone better than the fighter dismantled in such startling fashion, to be remembered as someone who went to the brink, wasted and suicidal, and who put himself together again for his family. I want to believe it, really. He is one of the most likeable people I ever met in sports.
But I worry for him. Whether this comeback lasts one night (not impossible) or five years, he could only be suppressing the demons that tormented and nearly ruined him. When it’s over, will they be there waiting for him?
The familiar routine of training, preparing, planning, fighting, prevents him, for now, truly coming to terms with all that has happened to him. I want this comeback to work, and I am not against it at all, but I want to see him happy like he was when he started as a carefree kid.
Now he is the Comeback Kid. It’s been done before, and done well. George Foreman was better second time. Ray Leonard was out almost as long – three years – before stunning the world against Marvin Hagler. How Ricky would love some of that. Or maybe, like his greatest hero Roberto Duran, now he’s back, he’ll just keep going until he’s 50. All those men found life without boxing very difficult. So if it saved them, maybe it could save him too.
Unfortunately though, we are talking about a bigger burden. The three named above were sporting superstars from a time when boxing was ‘Very Big Business’. To TV companies it was pure gold. Big fights were global news and by most measures, boxing was the ultimate money making sport.
Right now David Haye is on TV of course, being a celebrity, in the jungle, helping a soap star learn how to eat insects. No further comment necessary
Nowadays it’s a lot harder. On his own doorstep, Ricky now has to somehow pick up where he left off. The scene was set for David Haye and Amir Khan to take on his mantle of fame and fortune. They have made money for themselves but they have left their TV paymasters angry and sore in the wallet.
Right now David is on TV of course, being a celebrity, in the jungle, helping a soap star learn how to eat insects. No further comment necessary. But after the abject display against Wladimir Klitschko he owes some people big time, if he ever chooses to get serious again. And as for Amir Khan, two straight defeats and a career hopelessly mismanaged have left him in danger of disappearing completely.
Maybe if Ricky wins on Saturday there could be a way to a big fight between the two of them that will actually give boxing a proper must-see occasion, for the first time in way too long.
So there you have it, Ricky, your mission, should you choose to accept; beat Vyacheslav Senchenko, rebuild your own career, sort out the demons that nearly destroyed you, and restore the glamour and interest in boxing. All in a night’s work. Here’s hoping.