Baby steps that helped Hatton on his way back into the ring for comeback fight against Senchenko
17:46 GMT, 23 November 2012
The moment Ricky Hatton knew he had to turn his life around by stopping the boozing and bingeing came as he held his new-born daughter in his arms.
That was 14 months ago.
The moment he decided the Hitman would be back came when baby Millie’s mother Jennifer accepted that he needs to exorcise his demons by re-entering sport’s most punishing work place.
That was three months ago.
All that remains is to convince the rest of the world that more than three years after his last, disastrous fight it is healthier for him to exchange violent blows to the head than drink himself into suicidal oblivion.
That comes on Saturday night.
On the brink: Ricky Hatton squares up to Vyacheslav Senchenko at the weigh-in at Manchester Town Hall
On the eve of this moment of truth against Vyacheslav Senchenko in the bear-pit atmosphere of the MEN Arena, Hatton had this to say: ‘I don’t expect anyone else to believe until they see it with their own eyes but I will be better, meaner and more ferocious than the old Hitman. After this we will be talking world title challenges.’
We already are, with old foe Paulie Malignaggi here in Manchester to offer a two-fight shot at his WBA welterweight crown if Hatton looks the part again.
But that is not what is driving Hatton to revive his Blue Moon tunes of glory.
With the dark revelations about his descent into drugs and depression still haunting him, he says: ‘I am doing this because I never want my kids (little Millie and 11-year-old Campbell) to hear another bad word against me. I am fighting here to obliterate those terrible memories.
‘As I watched Millie being born and picked her up I knew I had to change. The Hitman may be a hard bastard in the ring but underneath all that I’m soft as s***. I’m an emotional bloke with a big heart and I have to control all those feelings going into a fight.
Mad for it: Hatton's army of fans cheer for their returning hero on the eve of the fight
Head to head: Hatton and Senchenko are both in trim condition for their Manchester showdown
‘I will go through a whole range of emotions walking into the ring in front of 20,000 fans. The nervous anticipation is the same for every boxer but there is more at stake for me than usual here. I have to regain not only my own pride but the pride of the people of this country. Above all, I will be thinking about the kids and about Jennifer.
‘I was nervous when I first started sparring again and I’ll be nervous coming into the ring. But when the first bell rings, watch me go. Senchenko will be on the receiving end of all my pent-up tension and emotion.’
Not that Hatton denies the siren lure, the thrill and the drama of big nights like this, which has tempted so many boxers into come-backs, well-advised or not: ‘Yeah, okay, I have missed the roar of the crowd. I’m humbled by the devotion of my fans and I’m also inspired by them. I didn’t want their last memory of me in the ring to be that of being stretched cold on the canvass by Manny Pacquiao.’
The images of that knock-out and an earlier one by Floyd Mayweather trouble even his most devout supporters and he says: ‘A lot have come up to me in the street and said they fear that I’ll get hurt.
But I’ve told them not to worry. People doubt my punch resistance now but I remind them the only men to beat me are the top two pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
‘The first time I got clocked on the chin in sparring my instinct was still to hit back, not to flinch.’
Hattton accepts that a truer test comes wearing lighter gloves in a real fight but says: ‘I know in my bones that it’s going to be okay.’
Family man: Hatton shares time with girlfriend Jennifer and daughter Millie
Kissy Hatton: The Hitman shares a moment with his daughter Millie
Pacquaio and Marvin Hagler are among iconic boxing figures questioning the Hitman’s return after so long an absence and he has prepared himself mentally for the worst should Senchenko surprise him.
Repeatedly, down these past ten weeks in training camp, he has said: ‘If I lose I will be able to look myself in the mirror on Sunday morning, know that I gave it my best and be able to walk away again, this time for good.’
Personally, as one of the few permitted to watch him spar and thus witness the renaissance of his speed, power and relentless aggression, I don’t expect that to happen.
Senchenko, whose only defeat in a lengthy career came when he lost his world welterweight title to Malignaggi, is an accomplished technical boxer and Hatton is right to counsel himself to master all those emotions and channel them into a clinical performance.
Thumbs-up: Sportsmail's Jeff Powell (right) is backing Hatton with victory on Saturday
But the Ukrainian’s hesitation about facing the pre-fight stare-down with Hatton does not suggest confidence and he was given a foretaste of the scenes awaiting him in the MEN at yesterday’s packed and noise weigh-in.
Intriguingly, Malignaggi says: ‘This guy is talented but he does not have great belief in himself. If you get on top of him the doubts grow round by round and if Ricky is anything like as relentless as he used to be then Senchenko will eventually fold like a deck-hair on the beach.’
If there is one concern for a come-back fighter, it is stamina. Hatton looks fully capable of bringing the house down, along with Senchenko, by a mid-fight stoppage.
If not, as this is only his ten-round starter for part two of his career, the Hitman’s volume of punches should give him a commanding enough lead by the eighth for him to ease through to decisive victory.
Hatton v Senchenko is live on Primetime at 14.95 pay-per-view.