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Ricky Hatton: 10 Things We Learned in Comeback Fight vs. Vyacheslav Senchenko

Zachary AlapiCorrespondent INovember 25, 2012

Ricky Hatton: 10 Things We Learned in Comeback Fight vs. Vyacheslav Senchenko

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    Sometimes, the script doesn’t unfold as it’s supposed to.

    Such was the case for Ricky Hatton when he made his anticipated, maligned and curious return to boxing on Saturday. Fighting in front of a raucous and devoted crowd in his native Manchester, Hatton (45-3, 32 KO) succumbed to Vyacheslav Senchencko via knockout in Round 9.

    So, what did we learn from this sudden, excruciating loss?

    Of course, Hatton was fighting for the first time in three-and-a-half years. Last seen losing via devastating second-round knockout to Manny Pacquiao in 2009, one wondered what was ultimately motivating Hatton’s comeback.

    Hatton’s drug problems and battle with depression have been well-documented (per the Manchester Evening News). With his personal demons suppressed but still lingering and his devastating loss to Pacquiao very much a vivid memory, Hatton seemed like he needed to box again.

    From a technical standpoint, Hatton still displayed fighting instincts, even if his technique was sloppy. And despite some encouraging early moments, fatigue seemed to play a factor as the fight moved into the later rounds.

    And what about Senchenko (33-1, 22 KO)? What does the future hold for the former Ukrainian Olympian and world champion?

    Hatton thankfully announced his retirement in a press conference after the fight (per ESPN UK). As the finality of this settles in for fans and pundits, let’s find out in detail what Hatton-Senchenko revealed about all concerned parties.

10. Hatton Still Has Fighting Instincts

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    Even if his technique was sloppy, Hatton wasn’t afraid to initiate his offense. While there were moments where Hatton stalked forward without great purpose, he was consistently aggressive.

    Hatton was able to keep Senchenko on his back foot for most of the fight. As fans and pundits have come to expect, Hatton was willing to absorb punches in order to land his own shots. While this is not a sound strategy for sustained success, Hatton’s bravery after such a long layoff was admirable.

    The problem with instincts is that they can’t compensate for rusty technique or diminished skills. That said, Hatton deserves full credit for trying to take the fight to Senchenko. Though unable to effectively pin Senchenko against the ropes and unleash his patented body assault, Hatton knew his best chance to win was to take the fight inside and bully his opponent.

    The strategy, ultimately, didn’t work. But this had everything to do with execution as opposed to Hatton not having a feel for what he needed to do in the ring. Hatton could see the blueprint for victory, but his body simply would not cooperate.

9. Hatton Couldn’t Capitalize on Early Success

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    One could make a strong case that Hatton had built up a points lead after three or four rounds. Riding momentum garnered from raucous crowd support, Hatton started fast with his usual pressure tactics. While he was missing often, he seemed relatively comfortable in the ring.

    The problem with Hatton’s fast start was that he couldn’t sustain it and fully capitalize by landing a genuinely fight-altering barrage.

    An early trend between Rounds 1-4 was Hatton stalking forward and having moderate success landing to the body while missing wildly with his hooks upstairs. Still, Hatton kept Senchenko exclusively on his back foot, and Hatton was able to bank rounds by forcing his Ukrainian opponent to retreat to the ropes.

    Two punches Hatton landed with authority were a right uppercut on the inside in Round 2 and his straight right hand overtop of Senchenko’s jab in Rounds 3 and 4. In fact, Hatton knocked Senchenko off-balance in Round 3 and landed an eye-catching right hand-left hook combination in Round 4.

    Hatton’s problems arose during his follow-up assaults to these landed shots. Unable to pin Senchenko in the corner or against the ropes for long stretches, Hatton didn’t sustain his body punching on the inside.

    Also, Hatton too often resorted to his left hook in favor of his straight right, and his inside uppercut was non-existent after the early rounds.

8. Hatton Never Got His Timing Back

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    Hatton’s stalking and aggression—employed with varying degrees of success—have already been well-documented here. But it was his rusty timing that began the gradual eroding of his technique as the fight wore on.

    Particularly glaring was Hatton’s inability to land his lead left hook. Hatton has historically thrown this punch as a lunging shot. Springing forward, the shot has often worked as a surprisingly explosive blow in Hatton’s arsenal; furthermore, the way Hatton launches his body forward usually allows him to work his way inside after throwing his left hook.

    Against Senchenko, none of the above-mentioned advantages were apparent when Hatton threw his left hook.

    After three-and-a-half years away from the ring, an abundance of rust was expected from Hatton. That said, other than a few straight right hands and uppercuts, Hatton was rarely able to land flush against Senchenko’s jaw.

    In Round 6, Hatton fell to the canvas when throwing a wild left hook. Hatton’s tumble was a microcosmic moment that encapsulated his fight-long struggle to land punches to Senchenko’s head.

    Round 8 offered another example as Hatton began to fade; he seemingly lost his patience and was loading up with all his hooks. This made his misses wild and more energy-sapping.

    Hatton’s poor timing was partly a combination of frustration and ring rust. After Round 4, Hatton seemed to be consciously seeking a stoppage, and every heavy shot he threw served to dwindle his physical reserves until he had nothing left.

7. Hatton’s Aggression Couldn’t Mask His Weaknesses

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    The old Ricky Hatton would have bullied Senchenko into a corner or against the ropes and kept him there. For all of Hatton’s defensive and technical shortcomings, he was almost always able to out-muscle and outwork his opponents. 

    At his best, Hatton was relentlessly in his opponents’ chest, throwing vicious body punches and never taking a backward step. Sure, he got hit. But the amount of pressure and punishment Hatton dished out was even exhausting to watch.

    Against Senchenko, however, Hatton could not harness his aggression into effective offense. And because Hatton was unable to control the ring while landing cleanly or badly hurting Senchenko, his deficiencies as a fighter were exposed.

    Though Hatton pressed forward, he did so with almost no head movement. This allowed Senchenko to disrupt Hatton’s timing and progress with stiff jabs and straight right hands. Hatton has never been a counter-puncher, and this hurt him, as he fell into a predictable pattern of walking into Senchenko’s more precise punches.

    Hatton also failed to consistently work behind his jab and was unable to score while boxing from the outside. While some might argue that this would be against Hatton’s nature, he was still unable to offer enough variety when his game plan proved obsolete.

6. Fatigue Was a Factor

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    Bolstered by the crowd’s enthusiasm and nervous energy, Hatton started fast. If the fight was close on the scorecards at the time of the knockout, Hatton had done his best work in the early rounds to capture a lead.

    However, as early as Round 5, Hatton was showing obvious signs of fatigue. Conventional wisdom would suggest that Senchenko, who spent so much time on his back foot, should have tired first; however, Hatton’s relentless pursuit became more ineffective and energy-draining as the fight progressed.

    At his best, Hatton adopts a sort of “chase-and-trade” offense. In the past, he has pressed forward and then been able to halt his opponent’s backward and lateral movement. These then become the moments where Hatton has been able to dig in, work the body and win rounds through the sheer force of his will.

    Against Senchenko, Hatton was rarely able to halt the Ukrainian’s movement.

    This forced Hatton into wild head hunting. As his forceful hooks missed badly, Hatton was repeatedly left off-balance with each exertion. This sapped his energy, and as of Round 5, Hatton was dropping his fists to his chest. Combined with his lack of head movement, Hatton became an easy target to hit.

    As a result of missing wild shots, Hatton’s pursuit became purposeless. While he was able to back Senchenko up against the ropes early, the middle and later rounds were a fine example of a matador easily avoiding a fading bull. Senchenko was able to easily turn Hatton, and this resulted in Hatton spending the majority of his time chasing a controlled, moving target.

5. Senchenko Stuck to His Tactics

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    In front of approximately 20,000 enthusiastically pro-Hatton supporters, it would have been easy for Senchenko to buckle and fold. Fighting on the road is a difficult task, and of particular concern for Senchenko was maintaining his composure during Hatton’s early assault.

    Ultimately, Senchenko impressed because he stuck to his tactics and believed in his game plan.

    While Hatton appeared strong during the early rounds, Senchenko didn’t let a disadvantage on the scorecards or the crowd noise muddle his focus. Instead, Senchenko bided his time, using precise movement and straight punching to gradually break Hatton down.

    It is crucial in a 10-round fight not to fall too far behind on the scorecards. Though Hatton had his best success early, Senchenko never let the fight get away from him, even when he was knocked askew in Round 3. In weathering Hatton’s assaults, Senchenko maintained his fundamentals: he jabbed and threw straight right hands.

    CompuBox tweeted that Senchenko out-landed Hatton 62-29 in jabs. Also, while Senchenko threw fewer punches, he connected on 42 percent of his power shots. This accuracy proved decisive, as Senchenko repeatedly snapped Hatton’s head back with jabs and straight right hands.

    As Senchenko cut through Hatton’s advances with accurate shots, his punches forced Hatton into wild swings. By trusting his more precise punches thrown in retreat, Senchenko forced Hatton to gas himself early in an attempt to score a decisive blow. Then, with Hatton exhausted, Senchenko was able to combine bursts of forward movement and combination punching.

    Senchenko’s movement was also purposeful and varied. Employing basic fundamentals and not getting discouraged early allowed Senchenko to patiently build toward a late stoppage.

4. Senchenko Could Get a Title Shot on the Road

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    Given his performance on Hatton’s turf, Senchenko should soon find himself in a significant fight. A lesser fighter would have wilted under the pressure of the Manchester fans and the massive spectacle surrounding Hatton’s comeback.

    Senchenko, however, thrived in the hostile spotlight.

    Of course, one shouldn’t get carried away with Senchenko’s success against Hatton. After all, Hatton was a shell of his former self, and despite being a former world champion, Senchenko has never been considered an elite fighter.

    That said, for a fighter looking to get back into the championship mix, Senchenko did exactly what he was supposed to do against Hatton. Had he plodded to an uninspired decision victory, Senchenko would likely have been lost in the welterweight shuffle; instead, by scoring a one-punch knockout with a left hook to Hatton’s body, Senchenko has secured at least one more important fight.

    Senchenko made three defenses of his WBA welterweight title before Paulie Malignaggi stopped him in April. While it might be hard for Senchenko to immediately secure another title shot, he could be part of an interesting elimination bout with someone like Luis Carlos Abregu. Also, don’t discount Senchenko as an option for the winner of the Devon Alexander-Kell Brook IBF title fight.

    Senchenko was behind on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage. While this was to be expected, Senchenko was steadily gathering momentum. Ultimately, this deficit only served to make his knockout that much more dramatic.

3. Leverage Was Key to Senchenko’s Success

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    If Hatton was off-balance to the point of falling down after missing with a left hook in Round 6, Senchenko was the opposite. Senchenko’s ability to maintain his leverage was even more impressive considering how much he had to move.

    And it was Senchenko’s leverage that ended up being the foundation of both his offense and defense.

    Offensively, Senchenko maintained his balance while relying on backward and lateral movement to disrupt Hatton’s advances. By keeping a solid foundation, Senchenko was able to throw crisp, straight punches in retreat. These shots gradually began to sting Hatton, and Senchenko’s accurate work upstairs opened up Hatton’s body for the knockout blow.

    Defensively, Senchenko was able to back away from much of Hatton’s pressure. Also, after the early rounds, Senchenko was seldom caught against the ropes because of his ability to shuffle away from Hatton’s bullish pressure. Senchenko always appeared in complete control of his movements, and this allowed him to avoid big shots.

    Perhaps Hatton’s wild swings magnified Senchenko’s leverage. Regardless, Senchenko was able to keep his feet—and wits—about him.

2. Retirement Had to Be Next, Even If Hatton Had Won

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    Before Hatton officially announced his retirement in a press conference following the fight, his post-fight interview was somewhat disconcerting. Granted, one should hesitate to take anything a losing fighter says immediately after a bout too seriously.

    Initially, it was fair for Hatton to suggest that he shouldn’t make a hasty decision about his future. But hearing him reiterate, “I want to fight for world titles” was both disturbing and understandable. Of course, Hatton mentioned world titles in reference to the point of his comeback.

    For a fighter like Hatton, gunning for anything less than a world title wouldn’t have made sense.

    However, based on his performance against Senchenko, Hatton would get destroyed at the elite level (he already has). There is no shame in losing to Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. But considering how hittable Hatton was against Senchenko, the prospect of him fighting any sort of “puncher” would be frightening.

    Hatton gave it his best, and it must have been excruciating to realize this was no longer enough.

    In his press conference, Hatton confirmed that retirement was inevitable after this fight, regardless of whether he had stayed on his feet and won a decision (per ESPN UK):

    I needed one more fight to see if I had still got it - and I haven't,” Hatton said. I couldn't have done any better.

    A fighter knows and I know it isn't there any more. I have got to be a man and say it is the end of Ricky Hatton.

    I got in the best shape I possibly could and if I hadn't been hit with that body shot I would have just scraped over the line. But 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.

    This is refreshing perspective. It was sad at first to watch Hatton say he isn’t a “failure” and that he was genuinely “heartbroken” over losing. Here’s hoping Hatton has realized exactly how beloved he is—and will always be.

1. There’s Still 'Only One Ricky Hatton'

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    It is rare to find a boxer who can elevate a fight to true event status. Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao can. But few fighters have ever been able to muster as much loyal fan support as Ricky Hatton. Wherever he fought, his devoted following was always nearby, singing, chanting and cheering.

    For his fight against Senchenko, Hatton packed the Manchester Arena to the tune of 20,000 fans. The atmosphere was absolutely incredible. Even after Hatton had been knocked out, the Manchester faithful soon resumed their famous chant in an emotional display of genuine affection:

    There's only one Ricky Hatton,

    One Ricky Hatton,

    Walking along,

    Singing this song,

    Walking in a Hatton wonderland.

    While the ending hardly amounted to a “wonderland” for Hatton, it ultimately should not matter. Fans and pundits will surely debate the overall merit of Hatton’s career—that is to be expected. However, that should only be part of the discussion. 

    There were better and more skilled champions than Ricky Hatton. But few were braver, more candid or more beloved.

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