Ricky Hatton’s decision to return to the ring after three and a half years was never likely to provide the fairy tale ending he had hoped. The boxer is one of a succession of fighters who have struggled to adapt to life away from the sport.

 

The boxer suffered the third and hopefully final defeat of his career last Saturday after being knocked out by Vyacheslav Senchenko in the 9th round of their welterweight contest. Hatton had hoped to find “redemption” in the ring after his well-documented battles with depression and addiction since being brutally knocked out by Manny Pacquiao in 2009.

Instead the affable Mancunian fought back tears as he was counted out following a thunderous left hook to the kidney, a tragic conclusion to what has been a glittering career. The curtain brought down in the Manchester Arena, the site of his greatest triumph. The drawn figure crumpled on the canvas, scarcely recognisable from the man who battered Kostya Tszyu into submission to capture the light-welterweight championship of the world.

The boxer announced his intention to retire from the sport for good in the post-fight press conference, “I needed one more fight to see if I had still got it and I haven’t”. There must now be serious concerns about Hatton’s welfare given how his life disintegrated following his initial retirement after his defeat by Pacquiao. The boxer has spoken candidly about his battle with depression and attempts at suicide in the wake of the defeat.

Hatton is one of a long line of boxers who have struggled to adapt to life once the din of the crowd’s roar has faded into memory.

Even ‘The Greatest’ was not immune from the lure of the ring. Muhammad Ali is now scarcely recognisable from the handsome, athletic and charismatic 22-year-old who “shook up the world” by dethroning Sonny Liston to become the youngest heavyweight champion in history. Legendary bouts with Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Ken Norton have been replaced with bouts of shaking and difficulty speaking. Ali’s condition stands as a stark warning of the dangers of fighting on too long.

“You’re gonna get your brain shook, your money took and your name in the undertaker book” was former heavyweight champion Frazier’s cynical take on the sport. Frazier died earlier this year from cancer. At the time of his death ‘Smokin’ Joe’ was penniless and suffering from pugilistic dementia, he had been living above an old boxing gym.

In a sport where unscrupulous promoters often cheat their fighters, financial considerations also prompt many boxers to continue to fight. Former champions James Toney, Evander Holyfield and Roy Jones Jnr have all continued to fight into their forties out of financial necessity.

Jones Jnr was widely considered the best pound for pound boxer in the the world throughout the 1990’s. The American captured titles at middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight before winning a version of the heavyweight crown by defeating John Ruiz in 2003. In doing so he became the first former middleweight to win the heavyweight title in over a century.

Over a decade since his victory over Ruiz, Jones Jnr continues to fight. The glitz and glamour of the Vegas strip have been replaced by fights in boxing outposts like Poland and Russia. He has lost three of his last five fights, two by vicious knock-out at the hands of Danny Green and Denis Lebedev respectively, fighters that a prime Jones would have obliterated. Not only is the American damaging his legacy in the sport by continuing to fight he is also risking long-term damage to his health.

It is ironic that a sport which has offered generations of young men a way out of poverty often leaves some its greatest exponent’s lives in ruin.

Financially secure and the father of two young children, there is no logical reason for Hatton to ever return to the ring. It remains to be seen whether he can find the kind of peace he has previously only found amidst the sound and fury of the ring. To live a life free from the tragic laments of many former champions who fought on long beyond their prime, “Yes, time flies. And where did it leave you? Old too soon, smart too late”.