Ricky Hatton exclusive: 'I want to redeem myself. I want my kids to be proud of me'
22:46 GMT, 19 November 2012
The house that Ricky built stands up the road from the tough council estate where he grew up and from which he came out fighting.
Electronic gates open on to the driveway where he parks his Bentley but it still matters hugely to the Hitman that the fruits of his punishing labours do not cut him off from his gnarled roots deep in the suburbs of Manchester.
If you want to find the real Ricky Hatton go to Hyde — and seek. It is worth the journey to remind yourself there is no less spoiled, more honest sportsman in the land.
Hard work: Ricky Hatton is just days away from making his comeback in Manchester
Who else would call his home Heartbreak Hotel Part tribute to Elvis Presley, part deference to the blows his hard old game inflicts.
Who else would have spent many days since he announced his comeback telling everyone interested that his girlfriend had to stop him slitting his wrists because he felt he had let down her, the kids, his fans and the country
Go also to be reassured — despite the scandal and self-destruction into which he descended during the three years since his last fight — that he is still the Pied Piper of hope for all the worse-off folk who live down the hill.
The 20,000 tickets for Saturday night’s comeback at the Manchester Arena sold out within hours even though the identity of his opponent was unknown.
‘Support like this gives me goose-pimples,’ he says. ‘Always has done. The people see me as one of their own and I am. They know I always give everything I’ve got, win or lose. That’s why they get behind me.’ Just as he gets behind Manchester City.
The sparring on this particular afternoon has been ferocious. ‘More like a proper fight, that was,’ he chuckles after beating up an eastern European duplicate of Vyacheslav Senchenko, the Ukrainian against whom he has to re-prove himself.
In conversation: Hatton talks to the Daily Mail's boxing correspondent Jeff Powell at his gym
The relentless toil was prolonged, too, with Hatton insisting on extra rounds. So we have to hurry back to the house because City v Ajax in the Champions League is coming up on the telly.
There is also work still to do. It is dark, cold and wet but he pulls on the trademark floppy hat and runs back out into the night to join a training partner in their regular 15 sharp sprints up a nearby hill.
As he goes he hugs Jennifer, his lady who stood by him through all the drink and drugs-related madness after his flattening by Manny Pacquiao, and asks: ‘Would you mind getting my tea ready The game will be kicking off.’
The pasta, greenery and tomatoes are duly waiting on the table. Then he and son Campbell are out of the hi-tech kitchen, through the kids’ playroom, past the indoor swimming pool, via the home gym and into the private cinema.
We miss kick-off but no sooner do we sit down than we’re on our feet again, in dismay. Ajax greet us by going two up. ‘What’s happened to defending in this country’ Hatton demands to know, banging the leather arm of his seat.
The Hitman’s link to his fervent public runs through football. The people’s fighter shares their love affair with the people’s game.
Hard at work: Hatton in the gym with his trainer Bob Shannon
So much so that he has named one of the family dogs after an all-time City hero. This Franny Lee bears an uncanny resemblance to the original. He is a short, stocky, lively, lovable Shih Tzu who darts quickly hither and thither like a fox in the box — and has plenty to say for himself.
On City, Hatton says: ‘We’ve raised the bar by becoming champions. We all expect City to win the league again. That’s the No 1 priority for the supporters. I’ve felt all along that we’re still two or three years away from being real contenders for the Champions League. You have to pay your dues in Europe.’
Still, Hatton and son get excited as City come back to draw level with Ajax at 2-2. Then they jump into a high five as they appear to snatch a late winner. But it’s offside. So narrowly that we wonder how the distant linesman could see it. But offside nonetheless.
‘Yeah, OK, it was off,’ says Ricky. ‘Maybe for the best.’ In truth, the Hitman would prefer City to lose to Real Madrid tomorrow night and have done with Europe this time around. He explains: ‘I’d rather we finish bottom of the group than go into that waste of time called the Europa League. Maybe then we can take advantage in the Premier of playing fewer big games than the Reds and the rest through a key stretch of the season.’
Manager Roberto Mancini is on the screen. He is angry about the disallowed goal and the denial of a late penalty but he also looks disoriented.
Support: Hatton's girlfriend Jennifer (right) was distraught when he was knocked out by Manny Pacquiao
Hatton says: ‘I like Mancini as a man but if it doesn’t come good in the League, I’m afraid it’ll be bye-bye to poor Roberto. Look, I can’t stand all the mugs in the stands who think they could do it better. I played a bit at right half (for the City academy among other teams) and I loved it.
‘I’m no football manager but I can see when a man’s struggling, the way I do in an opponent when I begin to get to him in the ring. Mancini sometimes is in danger of being hung on all these tactical switches of his.’
He takes no pleasure from that, saying: ‘It hurts when it’s one of the family. And unlike United and Chelsea and Arsenal, City are one big family — everyone from the players, coaches and directors to fans and stewards. It’s because we’re always fighting the shadow of big brother up the road at Old Trafford. If we’re going to win we all have to be in it together. So if one of the family can’t do his bit then I’m afraid he’s got to go.’
The family analogy hits home because Hatton has made a personal decision that is far more painful than paying off a multi-millionaire football manager.
The falling out between Ricky and his parents came to an ugly climax the night before he announced his comeback. The split had been festering and his father, Ray, went to Ricky’s gym to confront the issue. It is already a matter of infamous record that Dad took a swing at the lad, who rather than resort to his professional fists called the police.
All smiles: Hatton has turned his life around since deciding to return to the ring
Since Ray played for City and first indoctrinated Ricky in the club, many of their nearest are awaiting the reconciliation. They are to be disappointed.
Hatton keeps his counsel about the initial basis for the schism. But he is mortified by reaction on his own doorstep to the revelations of the drink and drug-fuelled excesses into which he sank.
As we sip tea by the hearth, he turns again to Jennifer and talks very candidly: ‘This lady went through more hell than anyone because of me. She had to stop me from killing myself when I had the knife to my wrists. She had more reason to feel angry than anyone but she was the one who stood by me when I needed it most. Never failed me.
‘I was at rock bottom and close to ending my life but Ray and my mum (Carol) never came round. Not once. I’m afraid it’s the finish for me as far as they’re concerned. It’s sad but it’s over. For good. There’s no going back now. Not for me.’
The silence is poignant but brief. He breaks it with a smile: ‘This is my family. Right here.’ A sweep of his tattooed arm takes in Campbell, Jennifer and their infant daughter Millie, as well as Franny Lee and their new puppy, a pet Chihuahua. ‘Look at my guard dogs,’ he says. ‘Such big, hostile beasts.’
The Hitman is laughing again. His comeback was launched out of fear of being remembered as ‘that fat idiot who won world titles but flushed it all down the toilet’. He adds: ‘I want to go down as a champion who redeemed himself, made up for letting everyone down and regained his self-respect. I want my kids to be proud of me.’
Standing in his way: Hatton takes on Vyacheslav Senchenko at the Manchester Arena on Saturday
Is Campbell proud of him ‘Course I’m proud of my Dad. Very,’ says this bright, polite youngster. So much so that he is itching to follow him into the ring, adding: ‘I want to be just like him.’
Campbell is a good footballer — a City fan of course — and a promising rugby union hooker. But he wants to fight, and his mother, a former girlfriend of Ricky’s, has issued the terms on which she might relent.
Campbell has come home with a school report card full of As and just the occasional B grade. Excitedly, he tells his Dad: ‘Mum says that when I get straight As I can start boxing.’
You sense Jennifer is thankful the decision is not hers. She was the last of those close to Ricky to approve his comeback.
He says: ‘She was traumatised by the knockouts by Mayweather and Pacquiao. But she’s settled her mind and she’ll be back at ringside.’
She says: ‘At first I wanted him to stay out of it but I came to understand why he has to do this. I also realise that it’s healthier for him to box than live the life he’d fallen into. This time — yes, this time — I believe him when he says he’s a changed man.’
The end Hatton was knocked out cold by Pacquiao in Las Vegas when he last fought
‘We all have to grow up some time,’ says Ricky. ‘This isn’t just a comeback for me, it’s a lifestyle change.’
There is further evidence of that in the effort he makes to restrain the industrial language once he arrives home. He lets only one syllable of vernacular slip all evening and promptly tells Campbell: ‘Don’t do as I do, do as I tell you . . . when I’m not swearing!’ Then adds: ‘Mind you, I was never any trouble at school. I just didn’t study.’
For the most part, Hatton is focused on the ring located up the back stairs at his thriving health club. He admits: ‘I was nervous as a kitten when I first started sparring again. Even though it was only against a couple of kids in the club, I was all over the place.’
With the help of his new trainer, Bob Shannon, it has slowly come back together. He says: ‘I began working out for my health’s sake five months ago so by the time I went into training camp proper I had got off the extra five stones in weight. So for the first time in years I’ve only had to work on my boxing skills and technique. Thanks to that I feel better and stronger than before any fight for a long time. I’m not nervous any longer, I’m excited.’
All change: Hatton has shed the pounds
The gym can be a liar but, from what I saw, the relentless Hatton of old is on his way back, complete with the murderous body punches. So, too, is some of the zigzag head movement which might have kept him away from the blows landed by Mayweather and Pacquiao.
The physical comparisons with football are on his mind later, as we watch City. Hatton says: ‘I wasn’t going to say anything because some of these lads are my mates but when it comes to training they don’t know they’re alive. I go out to the training ground sometimes and what they do isn’t close to what boxers go through. To be honest, none of them would last five minutes in the ring.
‘Good luck to them with their big wages but when I look around this house I’m not only grateful but I know that what we’ve got has come through a lot of very hard work.’
That is why, when you ask what is his finest hour, he does not reach for the tape of his epic victory over Kostya Tszyu, which landed his first world title. Instead he walks us to the swimming pool and says: ‘We never had things like this. So the first day it was filled and I came home and saw Campbell swimming in there with his mates . . . that’s my proudest moment. I’m also glad this place is on my home turf.’
Little Millie has long been in bed by the time we finish talking but as I head into the night I look back to see Ricky, Jennifer, Campbell, Franny Lee and the Chihuahua framed in the bright, warm light of the open door.
Whatever happens on Saturday night, Heartbreak Hotel is the happiest of homes now.
Hatton v Senchenko will be live on Primetime on Saturday from 8pm for 14.95