Hatton faces serious test in career relaunch fight


BOXING:The Hitman bids for another shot at the big time but it’ll be tougher than he thinks, writes KEVIN MITCHELL

Ricky Hatton knows he will need more than the roar of the crowd to relaunch his career on what will be an unbearably emotional occasion at the Manchester Arena tonight against Vyacheslav Senchenko.

The excellent Ukrainian will provide a serious examination of his body and spirit – and the stakes are higher even than when Hatton beat Kostya Tszyu in the same arena seven years ago, the last of his 13 appearances here. Then it was about glory, titles, money, adoration, excitement; tonight it is about survival and redemption.

“I’m like you,” Hatton says quietly. “I still won’t know if I’ve got it until that bell goes – but the Ricky Hatton of old will be too much for him.”

He’s doing this for himself, he says, to restore the pride he shredded in tearful excess in bars from Hyde to Las Vegas to Dublin, and, more recently, rowing with his father in a local car park, their most meaningful exchange in two years.

His parents won’t be there, but Jennifer, the partner who saved him from suicide, will be – just as she was when she emitted that arena-filling scream in Las Vegas three and a half years ago as her Ricky floated to the canvas in slo-mo like a spent fiver on the end of Manny Pacquiao’s sickening hook to his drained chin.

Jennifer has told him repeatedly since then that he will eventually have to kick the drug that sustains him, fighting, and she believes he was listening when she reminded him that reality is not 30,000 travelling lunatics screaming his name into the Nevada night; it is the “quiet moments” at home, doing “ordinary things”.

Whatever the clarity of his convictions on the final leg of his fighting journey, Hatton has been in boxing long enough to know that the ring is a dangerous place to chase away demons.

Senchenko is two years younger than him at 32, a former Olympian who did not lose until his 33rd paid bout, when Paulie Malignaggi capitalised on his bunged up eye to rip away his world welterweight title in April. Senchenko is tall and tough with quick hands. He is well-schooled and ambitious. This is no foregone conclusion.

“Let’s get this one out the way and we’ll have a clear indication just how far this comeback can go,” Hatton says. “It could be one fight, it could be one world title, it could be two fights, three fights. The manner of the performance will make it a lot easier for you to write the next day’s story.”

Hatton is proud of winning world titles at two weights and becoming the biggest draw in the history of British boxing, but says: “All those world titles mean nothing to me. I’m here to right the wrongs I’ve done.

“I know you won’t believe me, after burning the candle at both ends, after the second-round defeat against Manny Pacquiao – no way can he come back the same. Well, I won’t come back the same, I’m going to come back better.”

By such words do fighters triumph or perish. Tonight in the arena in which he has thrilled the Mancunian thousands who reckoned they owned him, Hatton faced a challenge tougher than Pacquiao, smarter than Floyd Mayweather Jnr, trickier than Senchenko. The opponent coming out of the other corner tonight is Ricky Hatton.

If he loses, he will have to despatch the hero he still talks about in the third person to the place all old fighters go: the past. If he can beat Senchenko – and I think he might – he has another shot at the big time, although it will be tougher than he can imagine.

Malignaggi will be there to watch.

Whatever the result, if he can one day live a life more ordinary, as Jennifer wants, if he can leave The Hitman in the past, he will be a champion again.

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