Boxing: 'I can look in the mirror and say I did my best'
There is a light and it never goes out. Or so Ricky Hatton thought before a vicious liver shot in the ninth round of his comeback fight sent him back to his family with dignity intact but his career over.
While his 19,000 supporters dispersed across Manchester in the Saturday night rain, Hatton told how he had put "a few demons and ghosts to rest".
Salvation was an odd banner for a man who had been punched so hard in the side by Vyacheslav Senchenko that he finished up flat on his back surrounded by aides.
A swarm of cynics rushed on to social media to say Hatton was a has-been who should have resisted the lure of the lights. But those who had listened to his story knew he was on a quest to regain his self-respect after noticing that people in the street were saying: "That fat guy over there used to be Ricky Hatton."
This was no choreographed Hollywood plot designed to shift tickets, though it added to the strange allure of his first bout since 2009, which pitched him against a precise, strong Ukrainian puncher who had boxed at world title level last time out. Overpitching himself after three years of depression, drink and drugs, Hatton made a busy, forceful start but succumbed to raggedness and fatigue.
With his head snapping back from Senchenko's jabs, Hatton was a spectre of the two-time world champion who electrified Manchester seven years ago with his conquest of Kostya Tszyu, the International Boxing Federation (IBF) light-welterweight champion.
Stop the timeline there for a moment because retirement entitles the fallen champ to be judged on the high points first and the heartbreaks second.
That victory, and other early triumphs, placed 'The Hitman' in a bracket in recent times with Joe Calzaghe, Chris Eubank, Naseem Hamed and Nigel Benn.
Calzaghe (undefeated when he stopped) heads that list but Hatton is undoubtedly a great gladiator, as much for the excitement he whipped up as his hyperactive, high-risk style.
Plainly Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, his first two conquerors, were in another stratosphere. And the pain of being put in his place by those masters cast him into a vortex that stopped whirring only when his daughter Millie was born. Through the ropes at ringside on Saturday night you could see Millie's mother, Jennifer Dooley, refusing to look when Hatton's face was being jabbed and chewing her hand with stress.
After midnight, her features glowed with relief as Hatton delivered the most honest retirement address in memory to a small room full of journalists.
"I'm a happy man tonight. I don't feel like putting a knife to my wrists, I don't feel like cutting myself," he said. "I've got the answers I needed. I can look at myself in the mirror and tell myself I did my best.
"I needed to have one more fight to put the ghosts and the demons to bed. If you're looking for excuses you can always find them, under the bed or in a cupboard. But the top and bottom was that I wanted to find whether I've still got it, and I haven't."
Last time he packed his gloves and his Manchester City-themed shorts away, oblivion beckoned. A victim of a 'News of the World' sting, he ballooned grotesquely and ceased caring whether he "lived or died". Never the most monkish athlete between fights, Hatton was lessening the chances of a successful comeback with each binge and crash.
Against Senchenko, his body initially co-operated but then betrayed him, exacting revenge for all those crazy nights. Hatton's timing fell apart and his hands dropped, exposing him to the piston of Senchenko's right fist. By the end he was gambling on haymakers and hoping courage would see him home. Senchenko, though, had his story to polish and crunched a hook into Hatton's liver with a force that made a kind of cracking sound. Hatton went down and could not beat the count. The crowd fell silent. At first their hero said he would take time to "think" but an hour later the decision was made.
"A fighter knows – and I knew. It wasn't there any more," he said. "Too many hard fights. I've burned the candle at both ends. I lost 4 1/2 stone for this fight. I've put my body through the mire for it. Everyone said I was winning the fight for four rounds – but I knew. And I'm not going to put myself through that torture again.
"I'm not going to put Jennifer and my loved ones through it again. I've got to be a man and say it's the end of Ricky Hatton."
The worry is that Hatton will return to his maelstrom of substance addiction. At least, now, there is the sanctuary of family life and a chance to escape the self-laceration of the Mayweather and Pacquiao defeats. "There won't be a Ricky 'Fatton' thing again," he promised. That would be his greatest win. (© Daily Telegraph, London)