The Last Word: Ricky Hatton's biggest fight will be to keep the demons at bay
The Hitman has turned his comeback into a confessional but redemption is not guaranteed
Sunday 16 September 2012
Ricky Hatton reminds us who he is, what he wants to become, but cannot escape who he was, what he was in danger of becoming. That, to be as brutal as his line of business, was a suicide statistic.
Hatton may feel redefined by renewed ambition, but someone with his history of depression, returning to such a uniquely punishing sport as boxing after three largely dissolute years, needs to be protected from himself.
The Black Dog is out there, untamed. Hatton may convince himself he has it on a long leash, but its teeth are sharp. The consequences of an unsuccessful comeback in Manchester on November 24 do not bear thinking about.
The fear is articulated by self-loathing. It was noticeable that when the former world champion was asked to address his primary motivation, he spoke in forbiddingly astringent, starkly confessional, almost demeaning, terms: "I have a lot of things in my mind to sort out... I have a lot of demons to put to rest… people don't know what's going on between my ears… I want my kids to be proud of me… I don't want people saying about me, 'His life turned to rubbish'… we all know it turned to mush."
The images Hatton created, of himself as a shell of a human being, sitting weeping in a darkened room, considering the advantages of death on a regular basis, were terrifyingly authentic. It was an act of conspicuous and characteristic bravery, given that depression remains one of sport's great taboos. It is all too easy to forget that when Frank Bruno was sectioned under the Mental Health Act an infamous headline screamed: "Bonkers Bruno locked up". The tone of the coverage of mental ill-health has softened, largely because of recurrent cases in cricket, but it still takes courage to be candid.
Hatton's tragedy may lie in the machismo of his sport. Barry McGuigan, his principal cheerleader, was also a great champion, a populist whose instinctive aggression and unassuming nature transformed him into a warrior king. He, too, suffered from depression when the bright lights of a dark trade flickered, and died. McGuigan has earned the right to lecture non-combatants, but it was disturbing to hear him castigate the "critics and carpers" who doubt the wisdom of his friend's return to the ring. Had he not learned from his own experiences?
Frank Warren, a promoter who has little compunction in making money from the meat market, evidently fears the worst. He opposes the comeback, even though his professional instincts tell him the residual loyalty of an army of fans, who once colonised Las Vegas, is ripe for exploitation.
Hatton has lost three stones, and has purged himself of the drink and drugs which took the edge off a lonely, essentially dishonest existence. He knew he was not the character he promoted in his after-dinner speeches: funny, sharp and self-deprecating. He was consumed by what he lost when Manny Pacquiao rendered him senseless.
To use perhaps his most poignant phrase, "The dream is redemption". He has still to be hardened by the privations of the gym, but The Hitman has been resurrected, so we no longer refer to him in the past tense.
That is critical, because few fighters handle retirement painlessly. For any professional athlete it is a grieving process, fraught with the attendant emotions of denial, despair, anger and depression. Boxers, denied their daily fix of endorphins from stringent physical activity, tend to find solace in dangerous places.
The hardest game does not do fairytales, and Hatton's life already has too many undercurrents of chaos for anyone to be sure of a happy ending. Revelations that he brawled publicly with his father, and insisted police press charges, the day before he confirmed his comeback suggests the demons are not dormant.
People love him for who they think he is. The problem is that no one, not even Hatton himself, knows who that person is. Self-discovery will come at a prohibitive price.
'Arry is ready and waiting
Be afraid, Premier League managers. Be very afraid. Henry James Redknapp is back among friends, refreshed and ready for action.
'Arry, as we are contractually obliged to refer to him, marked the end of the international break with his first extended interviews since being sacked by Spurs. Entirely coincidentally, he may have piqued the interest of the odd club chairman.
To summarise: the England job wasn't really for him. He's a players' man who loves the rhythms and rituals of club football. He doesn't need Power-point presentations and 70-page dossiers to produce invigorating, attacking teams. He holds no grudges, even though his dismissal by Tottenham was "a bolt from the blue". They were unlucky. Life goes on, enriched by his acquittal from tax-evasion charges and successful heart surgery.
He's 65, but a very young 65. He's popular, and there are not many better coaches. He's working, unpaid, at Bournemouth so he will be free to accept a suitable challenge.
It will not be a seismic shock if an offer arrives sooner rather than later. It is a mere three weeks to the next international break, when certain clubs will panic. Enter, stage left, Henry James Redknapp.
Sport's summer of love may have come to a juddering halt, but British Swimming have chosen to spread the good news with an "Olympic heroes" tour of the UK. One trusts the Smart Car containing said heroes will not be too roomy.
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