Watch highlights of Mayweather vs Hatton
He can’t handle the pace, Ricky Hatton tells himself. He will fold under the pressure.
His music blares through the arena but is drowned out by supporters, draped in their national flag, banging a drum and screaming his name. Spilled beer seeps through the rafters, dripping onto the floor of the tunnel where Hatton paces around, his heart thumping through his chest.
I’ll wear him down, and tire him out, Hatton tells himself as he strides towards the ring amid the most delirious scenes that boxing has produced in a generation. The euphoria, the elation.
Hatton closes the curtains and won’t go outside, an empty bottle his only solace. He cancels his public appearances and no-shows a series of obligations. Months have passed since he was knocked out by Floyd Mayweather in a stunning Las Vegas spectacle but the pain only gets worse.
I let people down.
It is a decade to the day since Hatton lost to Mayweather in a fight that engrossed people beyond boxing’s usual parameters. It is an occasion remembered fondly by those who spent a fortune on following Hatton stateside, leaving a part of themselves in Sin City, and those who went nocturnal to follow the fight from afar. It was the highest of highs but, for Hatton, directly led to moments lower than he could have imagined. Ten years on he is no longer tortured by the demons borne of his defeat to Mayweather but he still lives alongside them every day.
“I’ve come out of the other end of the tunnel now,” Hatton told Sky Sports. “I wonder ‘what if’ from a positive point of view. It isn’t beating me up anymore.
“It’s easy now. It caused me a load of mire but I can’t keep dwelling on it. I look back at it as one of the proudest nights of my career.”
It has taken Hatton much of the past 10 years to feel this way but he is now controlling his battle against mental health, with boxing once again a positive influence on his life as a trainer and promoter. He has always associated the guilt of losing to Mayweather with kick-starting his downward spiral but the difference today is that he has made peace with himself.
“It was my first defeat in 43 fights. I had 75 fights as an amateur, winning 72. I won eight national amateur titles, I boxed for England at every level. I won British and world titles but, all of a sudden, I got beat. I wasn’t used to it.
“I didn’t just turn up for my biggest payday. I genuinely, genuinely thought I was going to beat him. When I didn’t, things went south for me. I was devastated. I felt I hadn’t been given a chance. Bit by bit, it sent me sideways.”
Hatton sighs – “you forget sometimes that you are getting old” – but he is still just 39, and the fire briefly returns when he thinks of his former life chasing the world’s best fighter around the globe.
The Mayweather-Hatton build-up was theatre that boxing hadn’t typically been producing in the post-Tyson years. Vegas had laid relatively dormant by its own bombastic standards until Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya staged the richest fight ever earlier in 2007, but facing Hatton seven months later cemented ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’ as the cartoonish villain that he has remained ever since.
Hatton’s favourite story to tell concerns both men in separate private jets on the same runway, travelling between promotional commitments. In mid-air Hatton hears a familiar voice on the speakers, from the jet behind his own, barking instructions at the pilot.
“Floyd was saying: ‘overtake them!’ How pathetic. That’s a true story, absolutely.”
Remember the Manchester press conference
Mayweather left a Manchester press conference, having worn a United shirt to antagonise City fan Hatton, so riled that he exercised greater control of stepping into enemy territory thereafter.
Hatton laughed: “Oscar De La Hoya told me: ‘That worked, Ricky’. I said: ‘what do you mean, Oscar?’ Oscar said: ‘I’m on the train to London and Floyd is ranting and raving. He is fuming!'”
Hatton continued: “We went to Michigan, Vegas, Los Angeles then, at the weigh-in 24 hours before the fight, I gave him my full intentions. We put our heads together, pushing and shoving, but it didn’t affect my performance. I didn’t lose the plot.
“He was getting in my face and I was being my usual witty self. It looked like I lost it at our weigh-in but, believe me, I hadn’t. I was taking it all in. I saw the crowd and I knew Floyd was a little bit daunted.”
It is a relief that Hatton relishes reliving the lighter moments of his Mayweather adventure but his frustrations with the fight itself offer an insight into why he struggled to accept the result.
A first-round jab made Mayweather dramatically stumble backwards but when Hatton next had success the referee, Joe Cortez, made the first of multiple interventions. Hatton was annoyed and bloodied after three, and Cortez deducted a point in the sixth – all the while, Mayweather’s ‘check hook’ was landing. That punch floored Hatton in the 10th and, before he recovered, he was down again with defending WBC welterweight champion Mayweather celebrating his 39th career win.
“There are things I will complain about until the day I die. The referee didn’t give me a fair crack of the whip – I’m not saying I would have won otherwise,” Hatton said.
“I was never going to beat him with ability and speed. I was going to beat him by roughing him up and setting a high pace.
“I just wonder if the ref had let me at him – traditionally I get stronger as the fight progresses. Because of the referee breaking my rhythm I tired quicker than usual. That is something that will always make me wonder ‘what if?’
“I have a sneaky grin to myself and think: ‘you got away with murder, Mayweather.'”
Three years later, at his lowest ebb having also tasted defeat to Manny Pacquiao while battling much harder issues outside the ring, Hatton was forced to absorb one more stinging shot from Mayweather.
“I spoke to Floyd briefly when he boxed Shane Mosley, but he wasn’t very courteous towards me at the weigh-in,” Hatton recalled of their most recent conversation.
“He shouted: ‘This fella is gonna get what you got!’
“I thought: ‘You p****’.
“That was right before the weigh-in so I’ll let him off because it is a heated, nervous moment before you jump on the scales. I don’t know Floyd personally, only through the stick he gave me.”
They haven’t crossed paths in seven years, and Hatton admits he was hurt by their most recent meeting. But growing to accept Mayweather’s unnecessary jibe speaks volumes for how far he has come in the past decade. He wasn’t always so forgiving in the aftermath of that dig at the Mosley weigh-in.
Hatton’s mind is cast to the supporters, those people who swigged lager and sang his name in a manner that no travelling British fighter has experienced before or since.
“I went to watch Mayweather-Pacquiao. If there was one fight where the atmosphere could have toppled my fight with Floyd, I thought it would be that one. But it wasn’t even close and Floyd would admit that.”
So, Ricky, was it all worth it?
“Deep down, when I see some of his performances against Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, Miguel Cotto and other great fighters, I pushed him the most. [US commentator] Manny Steward had it level after five rounds – and that’s even with the referee breaking me! I moved up a weight and I was one of his toughest fights.
“That’s good enough for me, these days.”