You might have noticed a few high-profile sporting autobiographies hit the book-shelves in recent weeks; former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is causing a stir after thrusting the knife into Posh and Becks, Roy Keane, Wayne Rooney and every other perceived enemy who stands in his way.
Harry Redknapp’s book has been described as a light-hearted, semi-fictional yarn, but well worth a read when you’re lounging by the pool.
However, the deepest, darkest book of all is War And Peace: Ricky Hatton, My Story. It charts the rise, fall and rise of arguably Great Britain’s most well-loved boxer; from a Manchester council estate to the bright lights of Las Vegas, to the depths of drug and drink-induced depression and suicide attempts, to the salvation he found from a brief comeback. It’s one hell of a read, but not for the faint-hearted.
As a huge fan of the Hit-Man, I’ve taken a keen interest in his journey.
Back in 2005, just a few short months after his grueling, career-high victory over world light-welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu at his spiritual home, Manchester’s M.E.N Arena, I enjoyed a pint or ten with Hatton at a bar in Eastbourne on the south coast of England where Ricky had just performed a near the knuckle stand-up comedy routine (think Peter Kay infused with Bernard Manning) for 500 or so captivated punters. From there, a group of us were given a police escort to Kings nightclub and smuggled into a roped off VIP area, where we seamlessly switched from Guinness to rose wine. Well, it was the summer…
It was without doubt one of the funniest nights of my life. Ricky was at the height of his powers and his bloke-next-door, pint with the lads’ attitude was an integral part of his appeal.
Six years later, immediately after Manchester City’s FA Cup Final triumph over Stoke at Wembley, I interviewed ardent Blues’ fan Ricky for ESPN’s post-match show, Talk of the Terrace. By now, Ricky was a couple of years into his retirement, and, predictably, had piled on some serious timber. There was more chance of the Hit-Man becoming Manchester United’s global ambassador than there was of him making the 140-pound light-welterweight limit. Unless of course you chopped off one of his legs. Actually, maybe both of them.
Much like our previous encounter, Ricky was ‘relaxed’ and ready with his repertoire of one-liners. Just before we went live to the nation I told Ricky that my first un-Paxman-like question would be along the lines of: “How excited are you now that City have finally won a trophy?” “Excited? I nearly f****** ejaculated!” was his response, five seconds before we went on air… Thankfully, when the cameras rolled, he delivered an answer far more suitable for a family audience.
Despite the banter, joviality and outward perception of a successful, retired sportsman, this wasn’t the same Ricky who I’d previously met. A few months earlier he’d been the subject of a seedy newspaper expose regarding his heavy boozing and occasional trips to the powder room, but there was more to his almost haunted appearance than that. This was a man who’d lost his sense of purpose. Yes, he was now training and promoting fighters, but the denouement of his career as one of Britain’s most successful boxers had seen him stretchered out of a Las Vegas ring after being laid out cold by Filipino warrior Manny Pacquiao. A points decision or late stoppage defeat in a give and take war he could have accepted, but to be knocked unconscious in the second round after being totally outboxed and outmaneuvered was tough to take. In the back of his mind he also knew that his training camp, headed by the garrulous Floyd Mayweather Snr, had degenerated into an utter shambles (I spoke off the record with Ricky’s agent Paul Speak about the camp, and there were incidents leading up to the fight that beggared belief).
Three years later, in November 2012, the itch became too much – it needed scratching. Hatton couldn’t rest without knowing once and for all if there was anything left in the tank. He needed closure.
Everybody loves a comeback – seeing the Stone Roses in Singapore in July 2012 was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my life. Alas, this particular Mancunian comeback ended with Ricky suffering a stoppage defeat against former world title challenger Vyacheslav Senchenko. In his prime, there’s little doubt that Hatton would have dealt comfortably with the limited Ukrainian.
While some mourned, Hatton at least knew that he’d come to the end of the road. He could retire in peace and get on with training and promoting the next generation of fighters.
His autobiography, which documents his meteoric rise, catastrophic fall and recent redemption, should be on every boxing fan’s Christmas list.