From a pure boxing standpoint, the comeback of Ricky Hatton Saturday on Showtime after suffering a series of brutal knockouts is probably ill-advised. But anyone involved whose trick knee aches when it's about to precipitate money probably is happy Great Britain's most popular fighter of the past decade, the gregarious, blue collar everyman from Manchester, is stepping back into the ring for the first time in more than three years. We're all about to walk anew in the Hatton Wonderland, as the song goes, and it will be snowing cash. In that sense, there's some appeal that's written into it, in the ways in which boxing is the entertainment business. If Hatton's comeback is popular, it's because the fans are making it that way.
Two recent fighters offer two contrasting lessons about the wisdom of coming out of retirement after being on the wrong end of a highlight reel. Erik Morales stepped away from the ring after two consecutive defeats by Manny Pacquiao and a farewell bout; he then came back at a higher weight and against fighters with certain limitations and showed he had something left. Jermain Taylor tried moving up in weight and got savagely knocked out anyway, and his recent return from retirement is going poorly even against fighters with certain limitations.
Hatton, one of boxing's best junior welterweights ever, has moved up to welterweight and picked a fighter with certain limitations, Vyacheslav Senchenko, as his opponent. It's not a comeback I was looking for, because those last vivid images of Hatton on his back looking half-dead in his last fight still evoke dread. But there's a chance his battery is refreshed, and Senchenko doesn't figure as someone who could really damage Hatton. That is not the same, though, as any estimation of whether Senchenko could beat him anyway.
Hatton is a case study on how dramatically a change from one division to the next can influence a boxer's in-ring fortunes. At 140 pounds, Hatton had occasional troubles but mostly dominated. When he fought borderline top-10, light-hitting welterweight Luis Collazo, he nearly got knocked out. He gave Floyd Mayweather a little trouble at 147, but it was still a highlight reel loss. He says this time, his body is more acclimated to the weight, and there's a certain natural progression that happens to the body as it ages that makes that plausible. I never would've imagined Morales could be effective as an old junior welterweight, but he got there.
Besides the ring rust, ring wear and the shift back to welterweight, Hatton's mindset is another huge factor for him. He used to be an ultra-aggressive pressure fighter, mauling and hammering the body and working his way in with a jab and not minding return fire. He's talked in this fight about needing not to be ultra-aggressive and instead focus on a game plan, but he's also talked about how he needs to be aggressive and not flinch when he's hit as a result of the prior knockout losses. (Bob Shannon, his new trainer, has done good work with Ricky's brother Matthew, at least.) Hatton's personal life has also been topsy turvy, marked by depression, thoughts of suicide, a public falling-out with his father and drug use. His body, at least, looks like he's taken the comeback seriously from a mental standpoint, as he looked fairly ripped at the weigh-in Friday.
Senchenko is very different from Hatton, a technician who prefers to counter and therefore is looking forward to Hatton more as a style match-up than Paulie Malignaggi, who beat Senchenko in his last fight and whom Hatton had beaten years ago. Malignaggi made Senchenko's average speed look poor, but Senchenko might or might not be quicker than Hatton. His plan is to use his jab and legs, which is probably the right plan for Senchenko. He might also want to use his height and reach to prevent Hatton from getting inside; Mayweather's long arms detered Hatton, and Collazo's height helped him against Hatton, too.
Senchencko claims he was injured against Malignaggi, a broken nose. I suppose that could explain some sluggishness. Possibly, Senchenko, despite obtaining a top-10 ranking for a stretch, was just not very good. The ranking came off… well, a win over Yuriy Nuzhnenko, and not much else. He looks like he has good defense, does Senchenko, but as his next most recent past bout over Marco Antonio Avendano showed, he can be hit by anyone who's particularly aggressive. Plus, he has been badly cut in both of his last fights.
Those two propensities — his hittabilty and vulnerability to cuts — are why I don't think Senchenko will be able to pull this off. Senchenko's boxing ability and length could trouble Hatton, and as we've seen, even light-punching welters could hurt Hatton not so long ago. And if Hatton is something less than a "B" version of his old self, he could be in extra trouble. But I see Hatton, looking a touch faded but not all the way finished, getting inside, doing some damage and scoring a cut-induced technical knockout. Another option is Hatton winning controversially on the scorecards. But my call is Hatton TKO, then on to the Malignaggi rematch.