RICKY Hatton’s fairytale return to the ring ended in defeat as the Manchester folk hero was knocked out by a ninth-round body shot from fellow former champion Vyacheslav Senchenko.
Hatton, aged 34, was back in the ring for the first time since a devastating second-round knockout by Manny Pacquiao in 2009, with many wondering if the Mancunian former two-weight world champion had anything left in the tank.
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Hatton’s 10-round welterweight fight against Ukrainian former WBA champion Senchenko failed to really answer that question as Hatton laboured at times before succumbing to a painful body shot which left a packed Manchester Arena crowd devastated.
British hero Hatton was hoping to prove something to himself, his critics and his demons after seeing his life fall to pieces since the Pacquiao loss.
He had insisted that, win or lose, just being back in the ring was an achievement following three years of depression, personal problems and battles with drink and drugs.
He decided not to warm up against a soft touch and instead opted to take on credible opposition in the form of former WBA champion Senchenko, whose only loss was in his last bout against former Hatton victim Paulie Malignaggi.
The 35-year-old eastern European’s record of 32-1 (21KOs) heading into the bout was evidence of his solid stock while Hatton sought to add another win to his proud 45-2 (32KOs) tally.
Given an emotional welcome as he was roared into the ring by a 21,000-strong capacity crowd to the familiar rousing sounds of ‘Blue Moon’, Hatton proved he is still comfortably the biggest draw in British boxing.
Hatton started aggressively without landing anything of note, until a left hook and short right connected. Senchenko landed a right of his own, though, as the home fighter looked to shake off the ring rust and did enough to win the round.
Senchenko, boasting a significant height and reach advantage, landed a nice body shot early in the second but Hatton looked classy as he evaded a hook to the jaw and landed one to the ribs.
Hatton’s chin stood up to a solid right and he came at Senchenko, before an uppercut on the bell ended a very tight round.
Hatton had success in the third with a succession of left hooks thrown with his entire body weight behind them. He took a stiff left not long after but remained the aggressor, bobbing his way in and landing trademark hooks and body shots.
A straight right by Senchenko landed smack on Hatton’s nose, however, and was the best shot of the round. A straight right followed by a body shot in the fourth were decent from Hatton and another right stung Senchenko on the way in.
Hatton’s left hooks were wild but occasionally successful but Senchenko sporadically landed hard rights to give him food for thought.
Two rights from Senchenko early in the sixth again gave evidence that Hatton is not a shot fighter as the Briton swallowed them easily. He did, however, seem to lose the round as the first signs of tiredness crept in.
Senchenko, who had picked up a cut under the left eye, landed a lovely left hook of his own in the seventh as he had another good round.
The Ukrainian landed several power shots which did seem to take their toll in the eighth as his momentum built and another right on the bell irked the flagging Hatton.
The Englishman, whose only other previous loss had come against pound for pound king Floyd Mayweather, would have been glad at this stage the bout was only slated for 10 rounds rather than 12.
Hatton was floored in the ninth by a left to the body which sent him crashing to the floor in agony. The crowd, in a frenzied panic, urged their hero to rise but the brave Hitman was simply in too much agony as referee Victor Loughlin waved the bout off with eight seconds left in the round.
Hatton was visibly pained for minutes afterwards but could perhaps take some comfort from the continuous renditions of ‘There’s only one Ricky Hatton’ which rang around the arena.
Hatton’s trainer Bob Shannon admitted his charge seemed to be distracted by the explosive atmosphere that the Manchester Arena provided.
“He wouldn’t give me any eye contact when we were in the ring and the noise was that bad when I was trying to get him to work his jab,” he said.
“He had a few really good rounds and I thought ‘right, he’s settling now’ and then he neglected to use his jab and his hands started coming down - everything we’d worked on in the gym.
“But you can’t prepare someone for the big occasion and this is a big occasion.
“We’re really, really disappointed. We knew the opponent was an excellent opponent. He was getting caught coming in. He lost his concentration probably after the fourth round and was getting caught.
“It’s Ricky’s mentality to catch one, give one. I think he basically exhausted after that round.
“That body punch took everything out of him.”
The trainer also thought Hatton’s ring rust was evident although he refused to speculate on the self-styled Hitman’s future.
“Ricky has redeemed himself, he’s put his life back, he’s going to be massively disappointed without saying and so will all the team who are going to stand by him and see what we do from here,” Shannon added on BBC Radio 5 Live
“He’s not 24 anymore, he’s 34. He’s had three and a half years out and to me you could see that, he looked old in those (later) rounds.
“You can’t beat youth at the end of the day. I’m going to sit down with him and have a good talk with him.”