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Ricky Hatton's Toughest Fight has Just Begun

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The signs were there for anyone who cared to look. In the build-up to his eagerly anticipated fight against the Ukraine's Vyacheslav Senchenko last Saturday, from the moment he announced his comeback in September, Ricky Hatton lost no opportunity to talk about the demons that had dogged him throughout the three and a half years of his retirement from the ring after his brutal KO to Manny Pacquiao in May 2009. To listen to him pour his heart out in the weeks and days leading up to one of the most eagerly anticipated boxing comebacks in years, was to listen to a man still grappling with the emotional turbulence that had brought chaos to his existence after stepping away from the ring back then.

Redemption was the theme, the ring was the chosen arena where it was to be gained, but what Ricky and the thousands in attendance in Manchester on fight night learned in bitter fashion, not to mention the millions watching at home, is that scripts are for Hollywood.

In life self loathing and depression are tougher opponents than any which any boxing promoter could possibly conjure up to enter the squared circle. The sense of despair and hopelessness experienced by those afflicted by it weighs down like a juggernaut crushing you into the ground. Paradoxically, for a man who on the surface seems to have everything - financial security, a loving family, the adulation of millions of fans - the consequences are even worse. For where do you go from there? What can you possibly do to fix it?

For Ricky the solution seemed simple: return to the life that had gained him those things in the first place.

And this is what he proceeded to do, finding new purpose in the old routine of early morning road work, hours in the gym training and sparring, dieting, press conferences and interviews as the spotlight returned, the buzz of expectation, the chants, the fans - all of it reminded him of who he was, is, and should be - Ricky 'The Hitman' Hatton.

But like a train hurtling along a track without any brakes, it could only end in disaster, which in Hatton's case came in the shape of a crushing body shot in the ninth round, ending the fight and his last ever appearance in front of his adoring army of fans.

Professional boxing is a cruel business. Just as glory and success are witnessed and shared by millions, so is defeat and failure. The heights of fame and adulation are cut down by the lows of humiliation and ignominy. Just as soon as a former champion bows out on the back of a performance that leaves the sport lamenting what was and no longer is, the spotlight shifts to the next who's arrived to take his place. It is a metaphor for life at its most primitive, wherein the young become old, the strong weak, today's winners tomorrow's losers.

This is why the most important victory any world champion can achieve in the sport is to retire before being retired. Most don't and end up forced from the ring on the back of a bad defeat, climbing back through the ropes with their head down and a towel over their head wishing the ground would open up to spare them the ordeal of facing the fans, the press, and a world that just half an hour before, when they were making their way to the ring, had been united in adulation. Sympathy cuts the proud like freshly sharpened sword, and you could see that in Ricky Hatton's face as he struggled to remain composed while the fans sung his name in a boxing arena for the last time.

Well meaning friends, trainers, his army of fans - all had played their part in keeping the dream alive. Yet, in the end, boxing could never have been the answer to the emotional and personal demons that Ricky Hatton's had to contend with since being retired by Manny Pacquiao in 2009. All it could ever have achieved was distraction from reality, a temporary palliative in place of a cure, one that can only come when he learns to accept who he is outside the ring in the quiet place that is normality rather than the excitement of competition.

For every top boxer or competitive athlete and sportsman, it is not enough to merely accept the comparative mundanity of life in retirement, the lack of purpose and with identity, it is important to embrace it.

This is why the hardest and most important fight of Ricky Hatton's life has just begun.