You could forgive four time world champion boxer Ricky Hatton for feeling punchdrunk.
He’s just back from a good mate’s funeral – that of boxing matchmaker Dean Powell gone far too soon in circumstances which, although yet to be determined, would appear to have some parallels with the depression which, Ricky admits, dogs his own life.
There’s a lot of it about in sporting ranks. Hatton, pragmatic as ever, says it’s out there in every walk of society, but concedes: “When you’ve had the kind of highs I’ve had, as world champion, the lows come far harder.
“Depression will never leave me now. I accept that. It will always be there. It’s about how I handle it and cope with it from now on and I am getting better. It happens when it happens. It’s like a wave coming. Dean’s funeral was very sad, he was such a nice bloke, but I can cope with that kind of thing.”
Hatton, 34, is in pensive mood. He’s just been to hospital with a young boxer he mentors and trains. The lad’s got an injury. Hatton’s helping him see it as an inconvenience, not the end of the world.
An accident has claimed the life of another man he knows, not so much a friend, more someone on the fringe, a bit of a bad lad but one he liked nonetheless.
Hatton’s a man of the people. And with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances from all walks of life he’s not judgemental –but nor does he lack in judgement. He’s got his own head and body together after a descent into drink and drugs after crashing out of the boxing competitive circuit nearly cost him those he holds most dear.
But they saw enough in Ricky to stand shoulder to shoulder and slug out those demons with him. He cherishes love above all. But with love goes loyalty. He owns up to feeling let down by his family, the fall out meaning he hasn’t talked to younger brother Matt, now retired from boxing himself, for some time. He wasn’t expecting him to take sides with Ricky but was kind of hoping ... well, you know how families are.
He closes down that line of inquiry in a manner which brooks no argument but it’s something he opens up about, along with the drink, drugs, depression and other battles, including the family rift, in his new book Ricky Hatton War and Peace: My Story (Pan Macmillan £20).
It’s out on Thursday. Tantalising snippets have been serialised in the national tabloids but it’s worth a read in its own right to learn more about what makes one of Britain’s most charismatic sportsmen tick.
On Friday night he’s back in a town he loves for a question and answer and signing session at Blackpool Football Club, hosted by Kirkham-based Silverdell, the award winning independent bookshop which snares so many of the big name authors.
The former WBA, IBF, IBO Light Welterweight and WBA Welterweight Champion will be discussing his new autobiography. Tickets are £20 – and include a signed personalised copy of his book. Tickets from SilverDell on 01772 683444 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plug over, champ – now time to talk Blackpool. The resort’s a second home to Hatton who honed his trade in the school of hard knocks here – taking on local schoolboy all comers in the youth titles in the early days. “I’ve come to Blackpool since I was a kid,” he says. Indeed, the very first picture in the book shows a cute little Ricky cradling a large python in his arms on the seafront.
“We used to stay at my grandparents’ caravan, see the Lights and enjoy all that Blackpool has to offer, snakes and all!
“I bring my own kids over now, still love the Pleasure Beach, still have lots of mates in Blackpool.” One of them, Joey Blower, North Pier compere, is about to host a search for a definitive Elvis entertainer. Ricky’s home is called the Heartbreak, in honour of The King and his Vegas love affair.
He admits he’s never moved further than a six mile radius from his birthplace Hattersley, Manchester. He’s a big Man City fan – a club for which his dad and grandad played, and was seen as a likely owner of the club in more troubled times. “No way could I do that.” A nippy midfielder Ricky was picked up by Man City and attended the FA School of Excellence.
But his great-uncle and his great-grandfather were both noted bare knuckle fighters and the lure proved too great.
A boxing historian as well as former fighter, and now trainer-promoter, Ricky’s got a real soft spot for Blackpool.
“It needs a bit of a revamp but it’s great. It’s what it is, and I like that. It’s also got real boxing history, and a lot of talent coming out of there now.
“Boxing in Blackpool is really popular. Adam Little, the (Kirkham) lad I train, who has a bit of an injury at present but is on the mend, he’s not far off a title – he’s very positive.”
Ricky trains and promotes another of Britain’s boxing prospects Matty Askin who, like Adam, is from the Fylde. “He’s a great guy too.”
Blackpool’s a breeding ground for boxing talent, says Ricky, because of the hunger to succeed here. He likens it to his own upbringing in an area which may not have been socially deprived but was certainly hard.
“There are so many wrong avenues kids can go down. Boxing’s great for getting them off the streets, getting them healthy, channelling aggression, rather than out there robbing and stealing and mugging.
“We need more gyms to help us look after society. In my day when I was 11 there were youth clubs on every street. “
He’s on good terms with Blackpool’s own Brian Rose and reveres resort legend Brian London.
“He was one of the guys who inspired the generation who inspired me,” Hatton admits.
His agency Hatton Promotions presents young boxers with impeccable pedigrees, and his finds including Olympians looking to turn professional.
He reckons the nation’s got its pick of champions in his own portfolio, if the lads continue to knuckle down and maintain focus, and that means something coming from a four times world champion.
Hitman Hatton may fight best when he’s on the ropes but it’s not a place he wants to be.
He’s coped with everything life has thrown at him to date and emerged older, wiser and still inspiring others. “If only not to make the mistakes I made,” he admits ruefully. “I tell them do as I say, not as I do.”
It’s hard to believe it’s less than a year (November 24, 2012) since Ricky dropped to his knees, felled by a sickening punch to the body in his first comeback fight in almost three years. He was floored by Vyacheslav Senchenko.
Gasping for breath, bloodied, bruised, his career in the ring was over.
Before the fight, Hatton revealed how close he came to suicide after depression took hold after losing to Floyd Mayweather in Las Vegas in 2007.
“You go out and win and win and win ... it’s hard to take defeat,” he said.
“I was in tears. I thought I’d let everyone down.”
He tried to blot it out with drink. The drugs came only after losing to Manny Pacquiao in 2009, Viva Las Vegas had suddenly soured for Britain’s favourite boxer. The people were still with him as those chants of ‘there’s only one Ricky Hatton’ proved whenever, wherever, he was spotted but elements of the national press turned on him, hoping to catch him out and did in one of those kiss and “sell” exposures beloved of a paper since KO-d by the hacking scandal.
His settled life as a coach, trainer, promoter, motivational speaker, charity campaigner – he’s a patron of the Genesis (cancer family history) charity in Manchester – seems a far cry from those dark days. He was awarded an MBE for services to sport in 2007 and is now widely regarded as one of Britain’s greatest boxers and the most popular.
Above all Ricky’s a father first. If it came to turning his back on fame and kudos or his girlfriend and kids his family would win hands down. His girlfriend Jennifer and three children Campbell, who at 12 trains at the same gym his dad did 25 years earlier, and daughters Millie and Fearn represent his touchstone to what matters most in life.
“It’s time for some happiness and peace” says the champ who won the respect of the greatest boxer of all Mohammed Ali who even visited him in his Tameside gym. “Now there’s a real legend. Me? I’m just Ricky Hatton.
But there’s only one...
n ITV will show a new documentary Night of the Fight: Hatton’s Last Stand about the story behind his final boxing match at 10pm on October 16.
by Jacqui Morley
chief feature writer