Ricky Hatton confirmed what everyone knew. In fact, it had become British sport’s worst-kept secret.
At a press conference on Friday in his home city of Manchester, England, Hatton, a former welterweight beltholder and junior welterweight champ, announced he is coming out of retirement and that his first bout will be on Nov. 24 at the nearby MEN Arena, against an opponent to be confirmed.
However, while convinced he still has enough in the locker to eventually pick up another title – in the 147-pound division – the 33-year-old Hatton, looking supremely mean and lean, readily accepts that the rest of the world might prefer to wait a little longer before making up their mind.
After all, talk is cheap, especially coming from someone who has not fought in over three years, and whose last outing was a two-round thumping by Manny Pacquiao. So severe was that beating, Hatton nosedived into depression, hit the booze and drugs, and ballooned massively overweight. Stripped of his fighter’s license by the British Boxing Board of Control amid newspaper revelations of cocaine abuse, Hatton went into rehab, cleaned up and began promoting – and then training – his own Hatton Promotions’ stable. He also officially quit fighting himself in July 2011.
That, clearly, has not been sufficient to ease his appetite for salvation – in or outside the ring. Hatton, whose one other loss came to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in Dec 2007, still reckons he has work to do before he can fully repair his damaged name and reputation. And, rightly or wrongly, the ever-popular, brutally-honest Hitman feels this can only be achieved inside a ring.
“I made my mind up 13 or 14 weeks ago. I have now got the bit between my teeth. Why have I done it? It’s about redemption, I want people to be proud of me again,” said Hatton (45-2, 32 knockouts). “In the last three years, I hit the lowest point of my life. I let boxing down, I let the community down, I let myself, my family and my friends down.
“It does make choke back tears that so many of my friends and fans say they don’t want me to get hurt. They say don’t risk the legacy. That’s very pleasing to hear people think so much of me. But if they say that then they need to sit down and see what I’ve been through for the last three years. I have had demons in my mind. I got depressed, suicidal. But bit by bit, I have got myself back in shape and slowly got that hunger and desire back.
“Nobody wants their career to end in a second-round defeat to Manny Pacquiao. That’s the last way anyone wants to be remembered – flat on your back after two rounds. I struggled to come to terms with both of my defeats. I know it’s nothing to be ashamed of losing to two such great fighters but the Pacquiao demolition on me forced me into retirement when I had no desire for it. My life turned to mush.
“It just snowballed and became like a runaway train. But then I started looking after myself again and, of course, I’ve got a new addition to the Hatton family, with a young daughter. The truth is I can’t live with the final chapter. I want everyone to say, ‘what a fighter he was – yes, he had his problems but, boy, did he turn them back round.
“This is more than just about boxing. This is not about the money. I am coming back for redemption.”
If Hatton’s passion conveying that message is anything to go by, then he should have no problem making a winning return in eight weeks from now. And, make no mistake, while he understands all the doubters and appreciates he has no standing among the welterweight elite, Hatton is hell-bent on regaining a place at the summit, staying fighting fit and demonstrating his often unnoticed boxing talents.
“I want to go to the very top,” he said. “I wouldn’t bother if I didn’t want that. I don’t expect anyone to believe me at this minute, that I look sharp in training and good in the gym. What else would they expect me to say. The proof will be in the pudding on the 24th.
“I‘m a boxing trainer now and to do that, you have to be in shape and lead by example. I’d hang my fighters if they ever got ten pounds overweight. It was criminal what I did to my body age 25. But you can’t do that age 34. I am changed man. I am a father again. The lads in the gym rely on me. Life has changed and that’s why I’m here announcing my comeback.
“As you get older, you get wiser, and you see boxing from outside the ropes and realise that you’ve got to be more sensible. Part of my problem all through my career was that I was so aggressive – I wanted to kill everybody I fought… it was like they had stolen my dinner money.
“But I always had good boxing ability but just never showed it. Hopefully, a new approach to life and the good place I’m now in will see a technical, sensible side come out.
“But to be honest, I will always go in there to fight and, if you buy a ticket for the 24th, you are not going to see some tickly contest.”
An incredible 10,000 tickets were snapped up within an hour of going on sale at midday, underlining that the extraordinary, legendary appeal of the Mancunian is as strong as ever. The fact nobody knows who will be sharing the ring with Hatton appears to matter not.
Amir Khan, Kell Brook and Paul Malignaggi have all been muted in the media over the last few days. But Hatton, who turns 34 next month, insists to put him in that sort of company right now is utterly ridiculous. After November 24…well, that’s a different matter.
“I’ve been linked with these guys but there’s no point even talking about these names because, before I show what I’ve still got left, I don’t even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as them,” said Hatton. “But if I come back in the manner I am certainly expecting to, and believe me I will, then we can start talking about these guys.
“I am a realist and know I have got to convince everyone of my words.”