Ricky Hatton finally walked away from boxing yesterday with a tear in his eye, half of lager in his hand and a giant smile on his face when he officially announced that he would never fight again.
Hatton's last fight was in May 2009 and since that night in Las Vegas there have been several attempts to get him back in the ring, including a serious few weeks in the gym early last year, but with each passing day he has grown increasingly happy with his life – a life that did hit a dreadful low late last year when he was splashed on the front page of a tabloid.
"I genuinely believed that I would be back in the ring but when the alarm went off in the morning I couldn't get up and I couldn't pass a chippy," an emotional Hatton said. "Nobody liked training as much as me, I loved the buzz and I will miss every day; I also liked a beer; I'm a fighter of extremes."
"I have spent the last 12 months sulking and you know how low I have been. I have let myself down, that's over and now I'm happy and ready to get on with my life on my terms," added Hatton, who just last month was voted the top promoter by the European Boxing Union. He has also started to train fighters.
Hatton departs having won 45 of his 47 fights and after being part of 25 world-title bouts, including five quite amazing contests in Las Vegas when as many as 100,000 British fans are calculated to have travelled to see him. In 2007 his fans officially drank the MGM casino dry and thousands sang and formed a human corridor when replacement booze was delivered from other hotels. I was there, having just come off air from a short hit into BBC Five Live at 4am.
"I'm not saying that I'm the best British boxer ever," continued Hatton. "But nobody had my support and following; my greatest achievement in boxing was my devoted fans. They liked me and I liked them." It was much more than that and I have never met a Hatton fan at any of his fights that had not met him. Trust me, it was personal.
Covering any Hatton fight in Las Vegas was a unique experience due to his fans, from the arrival at the airport in Britain or Ireland, through the long nights of endless singing and boozing in the perpetual casino twilight and all the way back home after a fight. His weigh-ins attracted over 10,000 supporters and they remained loyal even when he was knocked out. He was "Our Ricky".
In 2007 Wayne Rooney carried Hatton's world title belt to the ring at the Thomas and Mack Centre in Las Vegas for the Jose Luis Castillo fight. Hatton recalled a moment before his group left the tunnel at the back of the vast arena when he noticed that Rooney, who was holding the belt up above his head, was shaking. "I'm doing the fighting and he's the one shitting himself!" remembered Hatton.
The following year, back in Las Vegas, the Oasis front man Liam Gallagher carried the belt into the ring for Hatton's fight against New York's Paulie Malignaggi. "He got right in Paulie's face and one or two of Paulie's people wanted to hit him!" After the fight, which was one of Hatton's finest performances, Hatton went with the Gallagher brothers to Mexico City and made an appearance on stage.
It was his type of celebrity night out, as was his nights in Las Vegas as a guest of Tom Jones. "It doesn't get much better for a kid from a Manchester council estate," Hatton was fond of saying whenever something exceptional happened in his life and there were many exceptional nights in the ring.
In 1996 he won a bronze medal at the world junior championships in Cuba, the following year he turned professional with Frank Warren after winning the domestic amateur title. He won the British title in 2000, a lightly regarded World Boxing Union title in 2001 and then he had sell-out after sell-out at the MEN Arena in Manchester.
Admittedly not all of his victims were top-five contenders but Hatton never failed to engage with the crowd and it soon became an essential night for all boxing fans because of the stunning atmosphere, even if the opponents often had no chance of going beyond two rounds. "When I hear 'Blue Moon' [the Manchester City anthem] the goose bumps come up, great nights," Hatton added. It was not unusual for there to be in excess of 30 Premier league players at his fights.
In 2005 Hatton fought the best light-welterweight in the world when he came out against Russia's Australian-based Kostya Tszyu at the MEN in the small hours of the morning in front of 20,000 people. It was his greatest fight and he won when Tszyu quit after 11 rounds. In 30 years at ringside it is arguably my best memory.
It was after Tszyu that Hatton split with Warren, which was nasty and is still nasty, and started to take more control of his career. A change of promotional partners, more disputes and a break in the flow of his fights delayed his Las Vegas debut until 2007. However, the fans stayed loyal and when at the end of 2007 Hatton met and lost to Floyd Mayweather they left a lasting and positive impression on the city and Hatton's TV paymasters at HBO. It was after the Mayweather defeat that his brilliant working relationship with his trainer Billy Graham started to fall apart. The pair split after 57,000 watched Hatton beat Juan Lazcano at his beloved Manchester City ground in 2008. The Malignaggi and Manny Pacquiao fights followed with Mayweather's father, Floyd, in his corner.
"It's been a mad journey and I've loved every second of it," continued Hatton. "I've got my health, I've got a few quid and I've got great friends and family. I've also met a lot of influential people. I've just come back from Steven Gerrard's golf event, I was at John Hartson's charity event – I'm happy and Jennifer [his partner] is expecting a lickle girl. Not bad, eh?" No, not bad.
Hitman's highs and lows
6 October 1978 Born in Stockport
1997 Makes professional debut, knocking out Colin McAuley in Widnes.
2000 Wins British light-welterweight title after beating Jon Thaxton on points.
2005 Beats Kostya Tszyu in Manchester to secure the IBF world title.
2007 Wins IBF and IBO titles after beating Juan Urango before knockout by Floyd Mayweather Jnr in WBC bout.
2008 Retains IBO title with wins over Juan Lazcano and Paulie Malignaggi.
2009 Defeat to Manny Pacquiao ends Hatton's reign as world champion.
2011 Announces retirement, ending with record of 45 wins from 47 fights.