“I’ve done a lot of good things in boxing, my win over Kostya Tszyu, my fights in Las Vegas, but this is up there with one of the best,” admitted Ricky Hatton on Saturday night.
The 44-year-old had just completed eight exhibition rounds against Marco Antonio Barrera, closing the show inside the Manchester Arena following Natasha Jonas outclassing Marie-Eve Dicaire to add the IBF title to her WBC and WBO junior middleweight belts.
And who are we to judge the “Hitman”? In front of his friends, family and adoring Mancunian fans, Hatton was able to say goodbye to the sport that he loves on his own terms.
Things were different 10 years ago. Hatton’s previous outing — and last as a professional — ended in a heartbreaking defeat to Vyacheslav Senchenko in front of a similarly sold out Manchester Arena. More was expected of Hatton that evening as his career ended via a ninth round KO defeat, returning after a three-year hiatus following a crippling KO against Manny Pacquiao.
But this time around there was no jeopardy; no false pretence of a genuine return to the sport. Just a final bow on home turf to the people that made his career so special and a chance to underline the resilience he has had to show in recent years against a tide of mental health issues.
With any nostalgic event, there were moments that felt a little uncomfortable as Hatton and the former three-weight world champion danced for 16 minutes. Looking down on the ring was a reminder of how fast life can pass you by – it only feels like yesterday I was standing inside London’s ExCel Centre witnessing Ricky Hatton stop Ray Oliveira inside 10 rounds to retain his WBU light-welterweight title in 2004.
They say never meet your heroes, but perhaps a better phrase should be never watch your heroes fade into the sunset. Not as catchy, is it? But nostalgia is such a hard drug to pass on. And an even harder drug to wean yourself off of.
There were flurries and impressive reactions shown throughout, but both men were stuck in second gear, unable and unwilling to throw what their instincts as fighters were telling them to. But this was an exhibition, and both men had read the script.
“I wondered how it was going to go. Me and Marco are friends, but with such a big crowd getting behind me I wondered if it would get a bit heated. But it was good, entertaining, I think everything we wanted,” Hatton said afterwards.
Close your eyes and you could have been back in the heart of Hatton’s reign in the mid-2000s. Renditions of “Blue Moon” and “There’s Only One Ricky Hatton” were as vibrant and committed as ever in the crowd, and every time Hatton went down to the body, eyes were widened in the small hope of seeing the “Hitman” land one final punch to the liver.
But last night wasn’t about us. Hatton has always claimed his biggest achievement throughout his career was the dedicated fan base he accrued, and I believe him. And as much as his return was enjoyed, this was something that he needed to do for himself more than anyone else.
“I fell right off the world’s edge, I didn’t think I’d be here to fight again,” Hatton told the assembled media during fight week, and hopefully now he can sleep a little easier at night knowing he has drawn a line under his career on his own terms.
If he can, then his last hurrah with Marco Antonio Barrera will have been worthwhile.