By Robert Hough
If Ricky Hatton lands punches as often and as intensely as he speaks of being a proud man, he’ll shred everyone at welterweight or close. Hatton (45-2, 32 KOs), who spoke recently with searing candor about horrific times after a second-round knockout loss to Manny Pacquiao in May 2009, returns to the ring Saturday against Vyacheslav Senchenko at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, England. The 10-round welterweight fight will be broadcast on Showtime.
“I’m a very proud fighter,” said Hatton. I’m a very, very proud man. Getting beaten that way by Manny Pacquiao, it was very, very hard to take.”
Hatton’s life turned to “mush,” he said, and ugliness was clear by November 2010, when he went to Manchester Arena to watch David Haye fight Audley Harrison.
“David Haye walks out and the crowd started roaring. I sat at ringside crying,” said Hatton, who had thrilled crowds in his hometown arena on many a night. “I’m thinking, ‘This used to be me. This should be me,’ but because I was in such a bad state and so depressed, I was making a fool of myself.”
There were problems alcohol and cocaine, disputes with his parents and Billy Graham, his former trainer. It led to a nervous breakdown and suicide attempts – including a time when his girlfriend had to take a knife from him when he wanted to slit his wrists, Hatton admitted.
“I was having to tell my girlfriend, ‘I need a hug. Help me, please. I’m scared.'”
Hatton said he got some help and the birth of his daughter late last year helped him get his head sorted.
“When I was holding her, I didn’t want her to grow up and know that my boxing career ended the way it did against Pacquiao and it was just a lot of bad stuff after that,” he said.
Hatton’s been wide open in the days before the fight with Senchenko, a former WBA welterweight champion, but he said he’s always been that way and that it resonates with people.
“I’ve always been honest, and I think that’s why I had the following I’ve always had,” he said. “I don’t think it’s just because I have a fighting style that’s exciting. I think I’ve always been a man of the people, down to Earth, no airs and graces, what you see is what you get and say it the way it is. So when people saw me and what they had seen in the tabloids, I could imagine a lot of people saw that and were going, ‘Wow! That guy we used to admire, look at the state of him.’ It doesn’t matter if everybody pats you on the shoulder and people say, ‘Well, everyone has problems.’ I felt like a failure.”
Though Hatton sounded like it was cathartic for him to tell his story, he described it as “heartbreaking.”
“The main reason I have to come out and go into so much detail is because, as you can imagine, people are saying, ‘Ricky, why are you coming back? You’ve got nothing to prove.'”
Oh yes I do, he said.
“I feel like I let my fans down, my community, my hometown, British boxing, British sport, the whole sport of boxing,” said Hatton, who remains estranged from his parents and Graham. “In telling everybody that story, I think people know why I am making a comeback. The people who didn’t want me to make a comeback and who didn’t want to see me get hurt, now they’re starting to think, ‘Well, when you put it like that, we know why you have to do this.'”
Hatton, who said he started planning his comeback about six months ago, believes the fight against Senchenko – who lost his last fight, against Paulie Malignaggi in April – represents a serious challenge.
“I want to come back and have world title fights,” said Hatton, who beat Malignaggi in November 2008. “If I beat easy guys, it’s not going to teach me anything and I won’t prove anything to myself. We’ll see. Nobody knows which Ricky Hatton will show up on November 24. On November 25, we’ll know if there’s a world title in me. I think there is.”
Whatever comes next, he said the days of packing on pounds are over.
“”I was known for ballooning up, putting on 30 or 40 pounds between fights,” said the man who openly enjoyed long nights and piles of pub grub well before his life fell apart. “It was absolutely criminal for me to do that at 24 years of age. I can’t be doing that at 34 years of age. I’m becoming older, becoming wiser.”
As part of that maturity, don’t expect the old, max-attack style, Hatton said.
“When I’m in the gym training fighters, I’m telling ’em to not keep their heads still, to not just stand in front of someone and things like that so I’d look like an arse if I go in the ring and do all the things I tell these guys not to do,” he said.
It’s a matter of refinement, not transformation, according to Hatton, who’s now being trained by Bob Shannon, a fellow native and resident of Manchester.
“Ultimately my aggressiveness and over-aggressiveness landed me in trouble against Floyd Mayweather and Manny,” he said. “I live by the sword and die by the sword, but I’ve got to be smarter and show a little more maturity.”
That should give Senchenko an easier time than he had against Malignaggi, Hatton thinks. “Malignaggi’s quick and elusive,” he said. “Senchenko’s more mechanical, has more of an Eastern European style. I think my style’s a lot better for him.”
Senchenko believes that a basic approach will serve him well against Hatton’s aggression.
“We need a good jab, a good jab when the opponent comes in, and good legs and sharp punching,” the 35-year-old has said. I’m an old-school, classical boxer so I need to be able to control the fight. I like boxers that come in rather than run away. If I can dictate the pace and not allow Ricky to get into a rhythm, I should be able to execute my strategy and do what I prepared for in camp.”
Whatever happens in the ring, just getting there on Saturday night will be no small challenge, Hatton realizes.
“Deep down in my heart, I’m a very emotional person, a very proud person,” he said. “I feel like life has really kicked my ass and I know that’s going to go through my mind as I walk to the ring. I’ve got to show my championship qualities. It’s going to be a very, very emotional ring walk.”
No question, though, getting to the point where he’s able to do so is the real accomplishment, Hatton said.
“I’ve already won my toughest fight, to get my life back in order after I made such a mess of myself and hurt so many people,” he said. “I am proud of that.”