This week's inductee to The Cult is a local lad who happened to possess world-class ability inside the boxing ring. You can read past entries here.
Cult Grade: The Local Lad
There is a photograph of Ricky Hatton that sums him up better than words ever could. It's just Ricky – AKA 'The Hitman' – sitting in a pub, purple welted panda eyes staring blankly at you, clutching a pint of Guinness. Not only is it kind of terrifying, like when you spill someone's pint in a dodgy part of town and the whole pub hushes, it's also a kind of refreshing, like when you spill a pint in a dodgy part of town and the whole pub hushes only for the owner of that spilled pint not to glass you.
It sums Hatton up perfectly. Throughout his career he was always both of these things: terrifying and refreshing. Terrifying in the sense that in his peak physical condition he looked, talked and fought like he'd been bare knuckle boxing since he was three; but refreshing in that he never took himself too seriously, was always up for a laugh, poked fun at himself mercilessly, and in general seemed like the kind of guy you'd love to sink a pint of Guinness with.
If there is a phrase that sums up Hatton best, despite him travelling the world during his boxing career, it's a "local lad". Born and raised in Hyde, Ricky has never lived outside the Greater Manchester area. His manager was always his father, Ray – who he has since fallen out with – who also oversaw his younger brother and fellow pro Matthew Hatton. His coach for 90% of his time in the ring was local man Billy Graham, whose Moss Side gym he trained out of for almost his whole career. His current abode is a mansion called the 'Heartbreak Hotel', around the corner from where he grew up, that he lives in with his locally born fiancé. He supports Manchester City, his entrance music was the club theme Blue Moon, and he always entered the ring wearing their sky blue colours.
Ricky is such a local lad that his most famous celebrity mate is Wayne Rooney, who he probably met while they were both picking up a late-night doner kebab in Salford. He is such a local lad that even during his career, his usual pre-match breakfast was a fry-up from his local greasy spoon, The Butty Box. Ricky is such a local lad that his favourite pastime is to play darts over a few pints in his local, The New Inn. If you compare Hatton to one-time foe Floyd Mayweather, the difference in their approach is enough to make your nose bleed. Whereas Mayweather's best celeb mate is Justin Beiber and his hobby is buying literally the most expensive things on planet earth, Hatton is hanging out with Joey Barton and getting pissed on one too many like your dad every Thursday night. Whereas Mayweather seemed to live for boxing, never taking a day off, Hatton ballooned by 40 pounds between fights, drank like a fish, and seriously, I'm not joking, his usual pre-match meal was an actual fry up. You'd be ill advised to do that before a Sunday league footy game, let alone 12 rounds of getting punched in the face.
Point of Entry: Medium
This in some ways ended up being the only problem with Ricky's career and legacy. It sometimes feels that due to his status as perennial joker – just a lad from Hyde who loved a good scrap – he's never taken seriously in discussions about Britain's all-time greats. Though his achievements in the ring surely put him up there, people inevitably end up talking about the time he entered the ring wearing a fat suit to take the piss out of his 'Ricky Fatton' nickname, or his banter in the lead up to fights, or his lifestyle choices.
If you're looking for a direct comparison in another sport, then Ricky Hatton is the boxing equivalent of Gazza. People often forget that Gazza in his prime was a world-beater, a naturally gifted footballer that any team on the planet would covet. He wasn't a Messi, Maradona or Cruyff, but he was still world class. So was Ricky Hatton.
Yet Gazza is not best remembered for the skills, but instead his down-to-earth personality, his sense of humour, and the substance-abuse demons that came to the fore when they were no longer tempered by his life-long passion.
There are shades of Ricky Hatton there, too. Though he was one of the most naturally gifted scrappers of a generation, with a horribly hard punch and incredible fighting heart, people perhaps unfairly think of him not for his achievements in the ring, but for his antics out of it – including his own personal drink and drug problems.
But this is a two-weight world champion who was named Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year in 2005, who held the WBA, IBF and IBO light-welterweight belts as well as the WBA welterweight belt. Yes, his come-forward, high-pressure fighting may not have been as slick as some of the boxers in his division, and maybe his lifestyle choices meant he never reached the elite level of guys like Pacquiao and Mayweather.
Nevertheless, his lethal and tactically astute body punching was enough to earn him huge victories against the likes of Castillo, Collazo and Kostya Tszyu, and should be enough to warrant a case for him being called the best British welterweight of all time. Not bad for a local lad from Hyde.
The Moment: Hatton vs Tszyu, IBF Light-Welterweight Title Fight, 4 June 2005
Despite the crushing defeats he suffered against Pacquiao, Mayweather and later Senchenko, the Hatton bout that will truly be remembered is his shock victory over one of the top pound-for-pound fighters at the time: Kostya Tszyu. Hatton entered the fight as the typical plucky underdog. He'd won a few matches with impressive knockouts leading up to the bout, but the Russian-Australian Tszyu had only lost once in his career and been champion for over a decade.
With the odds firmly stacked against him, Hatton produced the fight of his life in front of 22,000 typically rowdy fans, who squeezed into the Manchester Evening News Arena and sung their boy's name. After a fast start from The Hitman, Tszyu slowly regained control using his experience and ring nous in the middle rounds. As the gruelling battle progressed, both fighters played dirty with low blows and aggressive tactics, but Hatton's pressure, heart and sickening body blows were beginning to take their toll on the ageing champion.
After a couple of epic Rocky-style back-and-forths as the fight wore on, Tszyu failed to emerge from his corner in the 12th and final round, leaving Ricky to celebrate. We can only assume he did so with a customary pint of Guinness and a few darts down the local.
"I've got a problem with my legs – they just can't walk past a chippy."
Ricky Hatton sums up the beauty and the beast of his career in one sentence.