With one ferocious blow by Manny Pacquiao, Ricky Hatton’s amazing career is laid to rest
Manny Pacquiao’s powerful left hook has ended any sensible prospect of Ricky Hatton fighting again
Ricky Hatton will not fight again. Not the one the fans remember. Even if a shredded remnant of the fighter who thrilled them for a decade contemplates doing so when he recovers from the shocking knockout Manny Pacquiao inflicted on him at the MGM Grand, the real Ricky Hatton started preparing for retirement soon after enduring a similar experience in the same ring 17 months ago.
The left hook with which Floyd Mayweather Jr repelled Hatton’s crude challenge in the 10th round of their welterweight title fight in December 2007 was the punch that instigated the Mancunian’s slow exit from boxing. Until then, he was unbeaten, unfazed, the shiny young champion of his people. He was to grow old quickly. “He can’t take a quality shot any more,” a close friend said later on Saturday night, “and I think he knows it.”
Mayweather’s punch did not have the concussive finality of Pacquiao’s wicked left, but the two blows will forever be linked. Pacquiao’s arrived in the final second of round two, the third knockdown blow the Filipino had to throw to claim Hatton’s IBO and Ring Magazine light-welterweight titles, and if Hatton heeds the wishes of family and friends the last one he will ever take.
Pacquiao put Hatton down in the first round with a right hook he admitted to his corner he never saw, and again with a short left before the bell. From that point on, it was clear we were in for a short night. Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, told later how they had worked on that right hook for weeks. “Ricky cocks his punches before he throws ’em. Every time he left an opening, Pacquiao’s so quick, I knew the inside hook would work every time.”
This was an echo of the strategic naivety Hatton showed against Mayweather, when he was out-thought and knocked down by a punch devised by the American’s uncle and trainer, Roger.
Hatton seemed to have collected his thoughts when they resumed but was again afflicted by the “red mist” he blames for his wild, swinging ways and walked into more pinpoint shots from the smaller man. When the end came, it was as if we were all sharing the same, slow nightmare, so lightly did Hatton float to the floor. When he landed, he could barely open his eyes, but you could see the pain in them as he lay motionless, the referee, Ken Bayless, not needing to count him out.
Hatton did not just lose a fight and his titles at that moment. He lost all connection with the rest of us in the arena, the power drained from a body he had taken three months to whip into shape.
But the appearance of those rippling muscles could not disguise the damage he has done over the years with a hard-drinking lifestyle taken from some northern manual on male behaviour. It has been this, above all other follies, that has undermined his career, although he will not admit to it because he is a prisoner of his own making, a super-lad among lads.
By the time Hatton had recovered in the Valley hospital off Las Vegas Boulevard in the early hours of yesterday morning, he had Pacquiao’s fists, not pints of Guinness, to thank for his headache, and he was greeted immediately by a mixed chorus of advice. Roach, the mastermind of his downfall, cautioned against carrying on. “He’s had some mega-fights,” he said. “He’s had a great career. So, why? He doesn’t need it. He has a family, he has a son. With commitments like that, he’s got to think about retiring.”
It will not be easy, but he will almost certainly walk away, having earned more than £30m in 12 years of largely exhilarating success, spoiled only towards the end by losing to two of the modern greats in Mayweather and Pacquiao. That fact will be the cornerstone of his justification for retiring now, the centrepiece of his nightclub act when he regains his self-esteem and goes back before his public.
That is the only consolation Hatton can take from the defeat. He lost to a fighter who Roach says is on his way to a special kind of greatness, a fighter who is now the hottest property in boxing. Mayweather, officially unretired, will want a piece of him, although Pacquiao now holds all the aces. “We’re in no hurry,” Roach says.
No amount of considered reflection will change the facts for Hatton, meanwhile: even if he wants to fight again, there is nobody for him to fight. What Pacquiao exposed was the last piece of evidence in a case that has been building steadily for a couple of years. Hatton’s punch resistance has fallen to a dangerously low level. “The likes of Timothy Bradley and Kendall Holt would knock him out,” a friend of Hatton’s said. “Amir Khan would knock him out.”
Juan Lazcano nearly stopped him in his comeback fight last year and even the light-hitting Paulie Malignaggi inconvenienced him a couple of times before Pacquiao got to him. The weeks, days and moments before this fight were fraught.
There were rows between his trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr, and his assistant, Lee Beard. There was speculation – since confirmed – that Roach had been asked to take over his training in the future. And there was a grim mood in the dressing room immediately before the fight.
“He was very nervous in the dressing room before the fight,” a friend said. “I don’t think he thought he was going to win, even then. I think he suspected he didn’t have it anymore, but you can’t admit that, not even to yourself.”
For weeks, Hatton had railed against those who said that he was going to lose to the best fighter in the world. He sounded then as if he were trying to convince himself but, when it came to proving it, Hatton was in no position to argue the case. He was unconscious and lying flat on his back in the middle of the ring, as former a fighter as it is possible to be.