Boxing comebacks, more often than not, are destined to fail, usually due to one of two things; the boxer is either no longer good enough or he is simply doing it for the money. However, when former two-time Champion Ricky Hatton announced his comeback on 14 September, a whole range of factors could have been cited. Three and a half years of battling against alcohol and drug addiction, family and relationship torment plus a fear of being a ‘failure’ have eaten away at him, culminating into a deep, life-threatening depression.
On the eve of his comeback fight against former Welterweight World Champion Vyacheslav Senchenko, Hatton explained: “I’ve been an emotional wreck the last three years. Some of it has been my fault, some of it hasn’t. I’m wrapping all the anger and sadness and frustration in a big ball I’m going to throw at Senchenko.” he continued “So it’ll feel like the roof is going to blow off when I walk out there. I’ll be thinking of Jennifer and how I hit rock bottom. It’ll take a massive effort not to give into the waterworks but we’ll save the bucket and mop for afterwards. I just hope they’re happy tears.” He didn’t stand a chance. Whilst these words are easily explained and even justified, that is no (mental) state to approach any sporting event, let alone a boxing match where control, a clear head and a focus purely on the task in hand are essential.
It wasn’t just Hatton whose mind wasn’t where it needed to be. His trainer Bob Shannon was carrying his own mental woes into the ring, after the premature death of his father and tragically losing his son aged 21 in a car accident. Earlier this year he was also fired as Matthew Hatton’s (Ricky’s brother) trainer after two defeats. Matthew was being trained by Ricky. Then there was Ray, Ricky’s father, who was arrested in September after assaulting Ricky outside his gym. They haven’t spoken since. This was a million miles from an ideal preparation.
I didn’t see the fight, but reports suggest the intensity was there, the passion and whole-heartedness which has won Hatton a passionate and loyal army of fans throughout the country was never in doubt, but his timing was off, he lacked coherence and long before his ninth round knockout defeat, his legs were all but gone. Whilst I always loved watching Hatton box he was never the most talented in the art, conquered only by two true masters, Mayweather and Pacquiao. But since his retirement three years ago it was purely his mental health which concerned anyone who had been his supporter in the ring. Hatton was one of those sportsmen (like footballers Best, Gascgoine, Merson and Adams) who needed a buzz, a stimulant, outside of his sporting arena. The ‘down’ they experienced following the euphoria felt whilst playing or competing was unbearable. Unable to cope they turned to a different type of high. A destructive high. Hatton had many vices, many of them physically damaging. But whilst some athletes can continue to play at the highest level despite substance abuse, it was Ricky’s mental issues that were, and still are his biggest threat. Thankfully, once retired, footballers cannot simply decide to start playing again at the highest level. If they’re not good enough or not mentally fit they won’t get a sniff. Boxers however can almost decide for themselves.
In a strange way this could have actually be the best outcome for Hatton who has thankfully announced his retirement for a second time immediately after the fight. If he’d scraped a victory the physical and mental punishment would have continued; physically in the ring, but more importantly his focus would have been on his body, not his mind, which for his own good should be his sole focus. “It’s too many hard fights, I’ve burned the candle at both ends, I’ve put my body through the mire in and out of the ring.” he said. But, worryingly, as if to suggest this had been a cathartic experience he added “I’m a happy man. I don’t feel like killing myself, I don’t feel like slitting my wrists… I’ve put my demons to bed.”
Ricky Hatton is a hugely likeable man, but he clearly has a long way to go before he starts liking himself. He won over the nation’s hearts during his brilliant career with his courage, bravery and determination. Right now he needs privacy, support and help from those close to him and a reconciliation with his parents would be a massive start. “I did all I could.” said Hatton, “I looked at myself in the mirror and knew it was over. So thank you everyone, that’s the end of Ricky Hatton.” Let’s hope it’s just the start.
Photo: Dave Thompson/PA Wire/Press Association Images