The most famous – and certainly the most hyped – comeback in British sporting history ended in tears for Ricky Hatton here last night. Just as he was in his last fight against Manny Pacquiao three years ago, he ended up on the floor, knocked out in the ninth of a 10-round contest by the former world champion Vyacheslav Senchenko.
The ending was the one we feared, Hatton's attempt at redemption culminating in a crushing defeat eight seconds from the end of the ninth when he was left writhing on the floor in agony from a wicked left hook to the ribs.
It left Hatton gasping for air and although his 20,000 passionate fans urged him to rise and beat the count, he struggled to his knees but couldn't make it. He needed medical attention and the crowd was hushed but they applauded him – as did Senchenko – as he left the ring for the last time.
He looked positively skeletal, drawn and gaunt from his massive weight reduction – five stones lost since his boozing and binging days. Although he came out fighting like the old Hatton, it transpired that this time he was to be more the Miss Man than the Hitman.
He did amass an early points lead and there was certainly no faulting his aggression. He swung often, but more often than not wildly, and as the rounds ebbed away, so did his stamina. It was simply a fight too far. By the eighth, the right side of his face under his eye was swollen from Senchenko's slick jab.
Earlier on, with every punch cheered, Hatton did clip the 35-year-old Ukrainian a few times but Senchenko simply opened his arms as if to say: "You're not hurting me." Hatton had moved forward in familiar fashion, but this was not the Hit Man of old, certainly in the four rounds before the end.
So, the second coming of the Manchester messiah ended in disappointment but at least he had given it a go, unwise as that turned out to be. He had promised to unleash his pent-up emotion on Senchenko, beaten only once in 33 fights, and courageously he attempted to inflict a victory that would have led to an even more disastrous second venture for a world championship.
A heavier puncher than Senchenko would have taken him out much earlier, so open was Hatton to his accurately delivered jab and occasional body shot. It was the latter which did for him.
Before the fight, Hatton had said that one of the reasons for his return after a three-year absence was that he did not want his kids to remember him KO'd and on the canvas the way he was in Las Vegas by Pacquiao. They will now have to live with that memory. Hatton talked – and how he talked – a good fight, baring his soul, hoping to shed his demons.
Indeed, the night had been built up phenomenally as a Hatton Happening. No expense had been spared to make this a gala occasion. They even brought in the world famous MC Michael Buffer, though Hatton's ardent followers needed no urging to get ready to rumble.
The place rocked to the strains of 'Blue Moon' and the inevitable "There's only one Ricky Hatton". They were still singing the same tune as he left the arena but surely this had to be a valedictory serenade. I had made Senchenko ahead by three rounds, giving three to Hatton mainly for his go-forward gumption. It was sad to see him go, looking much older than his 34 years.
"I'm really heart-broken, gutted," he said. "I worked so hard. It was a very good shot. I'm a champion and a fighter." His trainer Bob Shannon added: "He looked old at times but whatever he decides to do, the team will stand by him." Then Hatton made the decision for himself, recognising that he had thrown the last dice. "I'm a happy man because I've found the answer," he said afterwards. "At least I know I don't have it any more. It was the answer I needed. I gave it my best shot but it wasn't the old me in there. I'm not going to kid myself. It just wasn't there any more. But I still feel I'm a winner. I'm not going to put myself and my family through that again. But I did all I could. I looked at myself in the mirror and knew it was over. So thank you everyone, that's the end of Ricky Hatton."
Scott Quigg, recently voted Britain's best young boxer of the year, added to his burgeoning reputation when he stopped Leicester's former bin man Rendall Munroe in six rounds to win the WBA international super-bantamweight title. The 24-year-old from Bury, now undefeated in 25 fights, was always technically superior with his quick punching.
The Welshman Gary Buckland retained his British super-featherweight title when Salford's Steve Foster Jnr retired at the end of the eighth, also suffering a series of heavy body shots and a head cut.
There was also a blistering performance from the unbeaten middleweight Martin Murray of St Helens, who confirmed his status as a genuine world title contender as well as claiming the WBA interim belt by stopping Venzuelan opponent Jorge Navarro, also previously unbeaten, in the sixth round.