Ricky Hatton sobbed into the mic after being stopped in the ninth round by Vyacheslav Senchenko:
“I’m not a failure me. I’m not a failure.”
I was in tears myself. Ricky Hatton is as far from being a failure as it is possible to be. Forget the stats and spurious form lines we measure careers by. Forget the fact he is a multi-millionaire who won world titles at two different weights; Hatton is a fighter who captured the public’s imagination like no other. In an era when we are told that boxing is dying, Ricky could sell out football stadiums. Tens of thousands crossed the Atlantic for his clashes with the titans and millions more of us would stay up to the early hours willing him to overcome the odds.
The incredible connection that he has developed with his army of fans makes him unique among sporting heroes. We admire Lennox Lewis, we salute the achievements of Carl Froch but we love Ricky. Sure he annoys us sometimes with his weak comedy routines and by ducking Witter way back when, but we’ll always come back because he’s our Ricky. If anything, his brave decision to talk openly about his struggle with depression and to recount the moments when he sat up at nights clenching a knife and considering ending it all have intensified the already strongly protective feelings his supporters hold.
Despite the relentlessly optimistic build up to the fight, the writing was on the wall. After so many recent replays, Ricky’s vacant, glassy eyes after he’d been steam rollered by Manny Pacquiao seemed like it was only yesterday. It was the nightmare we were all dreading. In the end, I was glad that it was a body shot that lead to the ten count. It felt more like you do when it’s a mate of yours fighting. You want them to win but, first and foremost, you want them to get out in one piece. Much of the pre-fight hype had seemed hollow. Reports from the gym damned the returning star with faint praise.
Talking heads in documentaries were keen to explain why this would be the best Ricky Hatton ever. Real boxing people were trotting out lines that made little sense to anyone on nodding terms with the noble art. Successful comebacks are thin on the ground. Coming back at 34 after a three and a half year lay-off is a big ask. Attempting that feat against a former world champion with only one defeat on his record is beyond ambitious.
Although Senchenko is no Mayweather or Pacman, he’s a guy with a solid jab, a ramrod right cross and an Olympic pedigree. The idea that he would crumble outside the safety of his Ukrainian homeland disappeared when he disrobed to reveal a Manchester United shirt; a stunt designed to further stoke the Sky Blue hordes that packed the M.E.N. Arena.
After a promising start, the inevitable cracks began to show. With a minute of the third round remaining, Ricky walked straight onto a simple one-two combination. I tried to be optimistic; kidding myself that it was part of the master plan. The stiff backed European was being tempted in. Once he got reckless with the right cross, Hatton would bomb him with the left hook over the top and happy days would be here again.
When Senchenko landed a succession of clean punches at the close of the frame, the truth was obvious to all except the most blindly faithful. The lack of head movement and general sharpness meant the star attraction was a sitting duck. The glory days were over. Even if he scraped through the evening, a future contest against an elite Welterweight would be as competitive as a match between a grape and a bowling ball.
The wild air punches and his inability to put on any sustained pressure became painful to watch. The loudest fans in the business lost their voices and, at ringside, Ricky’s partner Jennifer had her palms welded to her face as she felt each of the increasing number of blows landed by the Ukrainian.
A left hook just under the ribs is the most devastating punch in the book. It takes away your soul. As every bit of garbage in your liver is expelled into your body you sink like a burst paddling pool. A classic of the genre is Hatton v Jose Luis Castillo. In Vegas, the Hitman forced the fearless Mexican to drop to his knees and face the facts. He was a shadow of the fighter who came as close to beating Pretty Boy Floyd as anyone and then thrilled the world in his war with ‘Chico’ Corrales. His time was up.
Unfortunately, Castillo ignored the evidence and fought on- eventually earning a shot at a minor title three years later. After failing to answer the bell against reality star Alfonso Gomez he stated: “I just found out tonight I don't have it anymore, I want to apologize to the public and I am definitely announcing my retirement.” Less than five months later, he was back in the ring and the 38 year old was in action as recently as July this year.
The most frightening moment of the night was post fight when Ricky seemed to suggest that he intended to fight on. Thankfully he told the subsequent press conference: "I don't want to put myself or Jennifer through this anymore. I don't have it anymore. That's the end." There are no happy endings in boxing. The stakes are high and the consequences of defeat can be devastating. Great champions are felled by the next generation.
The few who walk away are haunted by the idea that they had one more hurrah left in them. However, I doubt that many fighters have been cheered and had their name sung to the rafters after a such a crushing defeat. The outpouring of unadulterated love from all around the world that swept across Twitter was a joy to behold.
No doubt there will be many deep and earnest pieces written about the need for Hatton to battle his demons in his toughest battle yet blah blah blah. I prefer to be optimistic. Professionally, I look forward to Hatton Boxing going from strength to strength. On the undercard, Quigg and Murray confirmed their potential. Surely these talents will attract a TV deal. If not, Hatton have shown through their innovative use of streaming and their strong branding that they are set up to be a force in this internet age.
On a personal level, I hope that the support he has received in around his comeback has reminded him what a special place he holds in the hearts of so many people. That there are thousands of people like me around the world who cried on Saturday night because we love Ricky Hatton. That we all admire him for his tenacity and his honesty. He never let us down and he will never be a failure.