The Hitman: Healthier and happier.
Ricky Hatton may look like he did at his peak, but old boxers are somewhat similar to car salesmen. You can point to the shiny body and says it’s good as new—but it’s what’s under the hood that counts.
The Hitman’s seek-and-destroy style made him a force of nature in his twenties. The mega-popular Manchester welterweight had a record of 43–0 before he was given a masterclass by Floyd Mayweather in Las Vegas in 2007.
Though he picked himself up to win twice in between—including a convincing stoppage of Paulie Malignaggi—Hatton’s two-round pummeling by Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand in May ’09 confirmed he was out of his depth against the very best.
There was no disgrace in either of those two title defeats. As former WBA world featherweight champion Barry McGuigan wrote in the Daily Mirror, he’d lost to “two of the greatest fighters to have laced gloves.”
“Too many miles on the clock,” the loser seemed to accept. But had Hatton’s yo-yo lifestyle simply caught up with him? Since turning 30, he has abused his body to beyond breaking point.
Even in his heyday, Hatton’s consumption was conspicuous. After lay-offs he’d turn up for training 40lbs overweight.
Like Jack LaMotta, he allowed himself to balloon between bouts and made light of it when Mayweather mocked him with the moniker “Ricky Fatton,” quipping on British TV: “I have a lot on my plate at the moment.”
Now, approaching his 34th birthday, and scaling four stones less than he tipped two years ago, Hatton appears fighting fit.
Despite the foreboding, it’s understandable he can’t resist another crack. Since retiring, Hatton has made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
In 2010, having admitted he hadn’t “any fire in the belly” to box again, we saw why. The erstwhile News of the World exposed his epic drinking and cocaine binges.
Hatton entered rehab and received counseling for depression. He was also stripped of his boxing license.
Working as a promoter was never going to satiate his innate working-class hunger. A proud family man, notwithstanding his recent violent bust-up with his father, Hatton is desperate to leave a more positive legacy.
Presuming “Pac-Man” comes through against Juan Manuel Marquez in early December, and can’t persuade Mayweather to finally get it on, he hasn’t ruled out giving Hatton another shot.
That depends, though, on the outcome of his November 24 comeback against Aussie Michael Katsidis, and maybe a repeat face-off with WBA champ Malignaggi.
The prospect of Pacquiao vs. Hatton Part II would appear hazardous to the latter’s health. Yet McGuigan, for one, reckons the Mancunian’s renewed appetite is “not ridiculous” and believes he can win a world title again.
Yet McGuigan thought the notion of a Hatton return was ill-advised three years ago.
“I’ve been through what he has at the very highest level and seen tragedies in the ring and guys damaged there, and sometimes fighters have to be protected from themselves,” warned the best pound-for-pound pundit around.
What’s changed? Well, maybe McGuigan—who single-handedly started the Professional Boxing Association to assist fighters—realizes some individuals are as much, if not more, of a danger to themselves outside the ring, than in it.
McGuigan hung up his own gloves after a points defeat in the sweltering Vegas desert to unheralded Texan Steve Cruz in 1986—a grueling 15-round dust-up that was Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year.
Mired thereafter in a bitter legal action with his former manager Barney Eastwood, McGuigan came out of retirement to record three wins in 1988–’89 before losing on cuts to Londoner Jim McDonnell.
‘The Clones Cyclone’ was only 28 when he blew out for good. McGuigan—who had to be hospitalized due to dehydration following his loss to Cruz—will acknowledge that the risks are real, no matter what age you are.
Back in June 1982 his opponent Young Ali fell into a coma after a sixth-round knockout—the Nigerian’s death five months later almost caused McGuigan to call a halt to his career.
When he won the world title against Panamanian Eusebio Pedroza in ’85, McGuigan dedicated the win to Young Ali. He still struggles to deal with what happened—not to mention subsequent tragedies within his own family.
From Frank Bruno to Leon Spinks, LaMotta to Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson to Arturo Gatti, the list of boxers who have gone off the rails when the final bell rang out is legion.
Unable to cope with the comedown, many have turned to drugs and alcohol—frequently with life-shattering consequences.
Hatton’s indulgent personality suggests he needs the discipline of boxing to keep himself on an even keel. As he recently confessed: “People say nice things about me, but they don’t know what’s been going on in between my ears … my life turned to mush.”
Few expect Hatton to rediscover the halcyon days when he battered the light-welterweight division into submission.
But as long as he’s not punching the self-destruct button, who’s to argue Ricky is not doing the right thing?