x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Hatton's comeback has a nice ring to it

Here is where I part company with the doubters. To those who worry that Ricky Hatton's demons have driven him back into the ring, I say: "So what?"

Ricky Hatton is ready to step back into the ring after he was defeated in his last fight by Manny Pacquiao 2009.
Ricky Hatton is ready to step back into the ring after he was defeated in his last fight by Manny Pacquiao 2009.

Over the years we have learnt to treat professional boxers' "retirements" with as much credence as a football club board's vote of confidence in their struggling coach. It is not a matter of if they will change their tune, but when.

Larry Holmes called it a day three times (which, if the boxing world love puns as much as punching, really should have earned him the nickname "Retirement Holmes"), David Haye kept his long-standing pledge to quit aged 31 but managed to stage his comeback fight before hitting 32, and Sugar Ray Leonard hung up his gloves so many times he was more likely to be felled by repetitive strain injury than an opponent's fist.

So none of us are likely to need the smelling salts today if British boxer Ricky Hatton uses a "mystery" press conference to announce his comeback fight - the first since a humiliating second-round knockout by Manny Pacquiao in May 2009.

The Manchester fighter has already shed three stone in weight, provisionally booked a 21,000-seat stadium and promised a "major announcement".

The 33 year old is either planning to fight or he has hopelessly unrealistic ambitions for the launch of his new WeightWatchers group.

Let's assume it will be the former. And let's assume his shortlist of opponents will include Anthony Crolla, Martin Murray, Scott Quigg and Rendall Munroe - all of whom happened to be on the books of a certain Hatton Promotions - with the ultimate target being the WBA welterweight champion Paulie Malignaggi.

The worst kept secret in boxing has received a mixed reaction from fight fans.

Some are excited at the prospect of a natural-born entertainer like Hatton stepping back into the ring.

He is a hugely likeable character whose self-effacing humour was a much needed antidote to the irritating preening of other stars but never diminished his obvious respect for the sport.

So while he wore a comedy fat suit to enter his 2008 Las Vegas fight against Malignaggi - a reference to the many jibes about his tendency to balloon between fights - he then stripped it off to reveal a taut physique (the commentator Larry Merchant said Hatton's face "looks like a skull with tightly wrapped skin") which was more than a match for his opponent.

For Hatton's adoring fans, his brutal dispatch by Pacquiao was an unsatisfactory end to such a magnificent career and a patently decent fellow. They yearn for a happier ending.

Others, however, fear for their hero and question his motives for returning to the ring.

These motives may be financial, as Hatton's promotion firm lost a television deal with Sky in May.

However I am inclined to believe it may be more of a mental issue.

Hatton has already admitted battling depression since retirement, saying in September 2010 that he had considered suicide. He began to drink heavily and was caught taking cocaine. I am no expert but it hardly takes a huge leap of logic to conclude that boxing left a chasm which was impossible to fill.

But here is where I part company with the doubters. To those who worry that Hatton's demons have driven him back into the ring, I say: "So what?"

If that is the case, where would they rather he spend his time: the gym or the bar, circuits or a media circus, road work or Skid Row?

Countless elite sportsmen are drive by demons of one kind or another. High achievers often are. Others become great not in spite of their addictive personalities but because of them.

We should be grateful that David Beckham, for example, channelled his obsessive personality into perfecting free kicks rather than abusing drugs.

It seems hypocritical to have spent the last two weeks heaping praise on to the Paralympians - men and women who use sport to overcome physical or mental imperfections - then to round on Hatton for potentially doing the same thing.

So, no, I will not be surprised by his comeback announcement but nor will I treat it with the usual cynicism we reserve for such occasions. Hatton's comeback may well be a flop. He may well struggle to fulfil his early promise. It might even be a bit sad to see another ignominious exit. But, for a man who has given so much pleasure, it beats the alternative.

And what if he doesn't flop? What if his spell in the wilderness has been a fortifying experience? What if he does a George Foreman, who ended a 10-year hiatus in 1987, eventually winning the heavyweight title in 1994?

Such fairy tale comebacks do happen, once in a Blue Moon.

sports@thenational.ae