RICKY Hatton wiped tears from his swollen eyes and insisted his failed comeback attempt against Vyacheslav Senchenko on Saturday night has given him all the incentive he needed to concentrate on other matters.
There was a painful irony about the fact that it was a deep left hook to the body which left Hatton down and out on the MEN Arena canvas in front of thousands of his home-town supporters.
It was precisely the punch with which Hatton had felled so many world-class opponents in his prime, and it was just gone midnight in Manchester when Hatton admitted with brutal candour it was the last he will ever take.
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Hatton said: ‘‘A fighter knows when it’s not there any more, and it’s not there. I’m not going to put myself through that torture again, and I’m not going to put my family through it.
‘‘If I don’t draw a line in the sand now and call time on my boxing career, I’m never going to do it. I was heartbroken and I’ll probably cry tonight – but I’m happy that I went in there and found it out.’’ An odyssey that began at the Kingsway Leisure Centre in Widnes in 1997 and led him and his thousands of followers all the way to the Las Vegas Strip had finally been brought to an end by the ticking of the clock.
It was clear from the reaction of his adoring fans, who lulled themselves from shocked silence to chant Hatton’s name as he was helped from the canvas, that he leaves them with no sense of something else to prove.
As of now, all Hatton’s energy and focus will be directed towards his young family as he seeks to swat away the demons which drove him to his comeback, and make a success of other aspects of his personal and boxing lives.
In an extraordinarily moving speech to the assembled press, Hatton said: ‘‘Now I can go and be the best father to my kids, and I can go to the gym on Monday and try to be the best promoter in the world.
‘‘It was hard for me to retire the first time. I knew it was gone but I kept at it, and I eventually landed myself in so much trouble, but it’s not going to be like that this time.
‘‘I can go into retirement as a happy man. Nobody wants to be knocked out in their last two fights but I had to put the ghosts to bed and find out what I wanted to find out.
‘‘I’ll get up in the morning and be very content. I am leaving with a healthy state of mind. I’m a happy man now. I don’t feel like putting a knife to my wrists. I have got the answers I needed.’’ Hatton had chosen a difficult assignment for what turned out to be his final test, the tough and gangly Senchenko having won all but one of his professional bouts and held a version of the world title until April.
It was a bout clearly designed to set up a world title rematch against Paulie Malignaggi, who watched from ringside, and with whom plans had already been made for a second showdown in New York early next year.
Ringside boxing luminaries like Roberto Duran, Joe Calzaghe and Nigel Benn attested to Hatton’s ability to pull in the big names, but it was soon evident his old ferocity had been dimmed.
Once the emotionallycharged entrance had drawn to a close, Hatton blazed out against his retreating opponent, but his work lacked accuracy and snap and he was repeatedly tagged by welltimed hooks.
Hatton landed a number of hooks of his own in the third, but Senchenko responded with a sharp straight right, and for all the crowd’s roaring there was a distinctly uneasy feeling about what was happening in front of them.
Hatton soaked up two more rights in the sixth but his three-and-a-half-year ring absence was beginning to tell, with Senchenko starting to land more freely and clawing back his scorecard deficit.
When the end came in round nine it was dramatic, Senchenko digging a superb left to the ribs which dumped Hatton on all fours in an almost identical manner to the way Hatton dispatched Jose Luis Castillo in Las Vegas in 2007.
The crowd willed Hatton to rise for one last shot, but he remained on his knees as referee Victor Loughlin counted him out, and had to be helped back to his corner.
Hatton’s immediate reaction in an unnecessarily aggressive post-fight TV interview was to suggest he would not be forced into any rash decisions, with Malignaggi and others indicating their proposed rematch could still take place.
Thankfully, despite the suggestions of some of his team who should have known better, Hatton took the time spent patching his wounds in his dressing room to come to his inescapable conclusion.