Last night one of my favorite boxers of all time played out the final act of his long-awaited return to the ring. Manchester’s Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton overcame two brutal defeats by the best athletes in boxing, three years of depression and drug abuse, and all the personal and public consequences that came with those obstacles to make a fight against Vyacheslav Senchenchko. Senchenko had been undefeated and a gradually rising star until he faced Paulie Malignaggi, who has been making a comeback of his own in recent months, performing well and looking impressive against decent opponents.
Malignaggi’s technical ability and precision were too much for Senchenko, leading to a TKO defeat that left Senchenko in need of a consolation prize like the matchup Ricky Hatton promptly offered. Defeating a former superstar like Hatton would send Senchenko right back to the front lines of the division and mend a slightly bruised reputation. This was also an appropriate move for Hatton, in that he would be facing an opponent who had unusual size for the division, a nearly perfect record with the exception of a fighter Ricky had already beaten soundly. After being thrashed by Floyd Mayweather Jr. Ricky Hatton fought Malignaggi and put on one of the best performances of his career, maximizing his speed and power advantages while controlling his technique enough to completely out-class Malignaggi. This outstanding victory set the stage for the ill-fated Manny Pacquiao debacle, in which Hatton fought probably the sloppiest fight of his career and was knocked unconscious in less than six minutes by the Filipino icon.
Understandably, Hatton was dissatisfied with this conclusion to his career as a fighter, and after confronting his debilitating depression and returning to the ring in the form of a trainer and promoter, he decided to come out of retirement, at the urging of his fans. Ahead on the scorecards slightly and with only one round left to go, Hatton took a single body shot in the 9th that sent him to the canvas. He was unable or unwilling to get up, so the referee called the fight with less than six minutes remaining. Based on Ricky’s ability to take punishment and maintain a high work rate through late rounds, I think his inability to recover from Senchenko’s body shot is an indication of the toll taken on his body by the weight gain, weight loss and drug and alcohol abuse. This loss showed that Ricky’s age in the ring was too advanced to continue pursuing top competition in the welterweight division. It’s often said in boxing that a fighter’s ring age is not always the same as his actual years since birth. This is just the case with Ricky Hatton, who, at 34, could otherwise continue his career for a few years at least. He has had some great moments in the ring but without a major overhaul of his habits and technique, Hatton had no place in the welterweight division anymore. I’m grateful I can say one of my favorite fighters of all time got out of the sport before sustaining real damage. He said in an interview after once again announcing retirement that if he had squeaked and by won by points he would “be telling you all the same thing,” which may or may not be true, but either way, he was smart enough to make the right decision, and you have to respect that. I was thrilled to see the great fighter in the ring again for as long as it lasted. I’ll always remember the excitement of his fights and I look forward to seeing his promotions and fighters becoming more successful.
In another somewhat high-profile fight that night Robert Guerrero defeated Andre Berto in a brutally competitive fight that involved both fighters bending the rules. Berto’s speed and accuracy were very effective against Guerrero in the first round but Guerrero quickly figured out that he couldn’t hit Berto behind his philly shell defense without making it a street-fight style war. Berto was knocked down once in the first round and once in the second round, but was able to recover well after he returned to his feet. His eyes were both nearly swollen shut by the end of the fight but he managed to score scintillating uppercuts and crosses adjusting to Guerrero’s tactics toward the end of the fight, contributing to a truly epic fight.
What I found most exciting that night was the undercard matching up and coming Keith Thurman who moved up in weight against Carlos Quintana, a respected opponent. Thurman utterly destroyed Quintana with very powerful, very accurate shots. Thurman’s defensive ability must be tested further before he can be considered an elite welterweight, but I think he’s well on his way to a big fight.