Ricky Hatton's war within: Overcoming drugs, suicide attempts, and one brutal loss

Manny Pacquiao had just connected with the best punch of his career, a left hook that landed on the butt of Ricky Hatton's chin with six seconds remaining in the second round of their super lightweight fight.

Hatton went down as if he were shot, completely out, as Pacquiao leaped upon the ropes in celebration. Medical personnel rushed to Hatton's side as he lay unmoving, flat on his back atop the logo in the center of the ring at the MGM Grand Garden.

Only a few seconds after the fight ended in a brutally devastating manner, HBO's Jim Lampley looked at the fallen Hatton and said, "I'm not a medical guy, but he's in very bad straits there."

Lampley, nor anybody else, had a clue how bad it would get for Hatton.

It's now more than three-and-a-half years since Hatton lost to Pacquiao. He's 34 and preparing to return to the ring for the first time since that ignominious night in Las Vegas on May 2, 2009.

He'll fight Vyacheslav Senchenko on Saturday in his hometown of Manchester, England, in a welterweight fight that will be broadcast on Showtime. More than 24,000 tickets were sold in 48 hours, long before an opponent had even been named.

"I can't even express to you how grateful I am for the outpouring of love and support I've received," Hatton said.

That Hatton is alive is somewhat of a miracle. Several times, he found himself with a knife, about to slash his wrists and end it all, looking to run away from the pain.

He abused cocaine. He was in a constant drunken stupor. His weight ballooned to 210 pounds. He had panic attacks at all hours of the day or night.

He wished he were dead.

"There was a time when it seemed like that might be the only option, when it would be best for me to just [commit suicide] and end it all," Hatton said.

A year-and-a-half before he was knocked out by Pacquiao, Hatton met Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a battle of unbeaten fighters in Las Vegas.

The MGM Grand Garden had, quite literally, been taken over by Hatton's passionate British fans. More than 30,000 of them had flown to Las Vegas for the bout, though the arena only held a bit more than 16,000.

They were omnipresent, singing Hatton's unofficial theme song, "There's Only One Ricky Hatton," over and over and over again.

There's only one Ricky Hatton!/One Ricky Hatton!/Walking along, singing a song, walking in a Hatton Wonderland!

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The weigh-in on Dec. 7, 2007, was one of the most remarkable spectacles in modern boxing history. There was more passion inside the MGM Grand Garden that afternoon than there'd been for any fight in years, maybe decades.

"That," Hatton says now, "is something I can never forget. I've always tried to be a down-to-earth guy and remain close to my roots. Over here in England, the way they phrase it is they say, 'You're just one of the lads. You're one of us.' I wouldn't have the fan base that I have if I were any other way. Let's be honest. They supported me so strongly because I was no different than they were."

If he wasn't fighting, he was in the pub in Manchester drinking a pint with one of them, watching sports on television and generally being a bon vivant. To the citizens of Manchester, Hatton wasn't a celebrity; he was a Mancunian, albeit one who happened to have a special talent.

Hatton obviously ended up losing the fight to Mayweather, but it didn't hurt his popularity one iota. Mayweather, after all, was widely viewed as the finest fighter in the world. Hatton had been knocked out in the 10th round, but he'd never stopped attacking and trying to win.

His fans were unhappy with the way that Mayweather used his elbow and more angry with referee Joe Cortez for not doing something about it.

Hatton's reputation remained pristine among the passionate British boxing fans. In his first fight after losing to Mayweather, he drew an astounding 55,000-plus fans to the City of Manchester Stadium for a bout against Juan Lazcano.

He then returned to Las Vegas to defeat Paul Malignaggi, setting up the showdown with Pacquiao. A Pacman-Hatton fight was about as big as it could get in boxing at the time.

Hatton had hired Floyd Mayweather Sr., his old nemesis' father, to train him. And though Pacquiao was the betting favorite, Hatton was utterly confident.

He wanted to win so badly, to give those wildly loyal fans the victory they so desperately sought. He'd always tended to blow up a little bit in weight between fights, so much so that he'd been nicknamed "Ricky Fatton" by the British media.

Hatton knew, though, how good Pacquiao was and knew he would need to be in superior condition to win. And so, he started camp early and attacked it with a vengeance.

"Training camp was going absolutely sensationally," he says now. "I was so confident of winning. I had started earlier and I got my weight down earlier. I think I hit my peak two or three weeks before the fight. Really, my brother [Matthew], my father [Ray], and my team, everybody was saying, 'Rick, look, you've got to slow down. You're going to leave it all in the gym.' "

He didn't pay attention to them. He kept pushing and pushing. He received a warning sign when he was knocked down in sparring by a super featherweight.

He didn't take the hint.

"That should have been a sign to me," he said. "I look back on it now and it's obvious. I'm not saying I would have won the fight no matter what, because Manny Pacquiao is Manny Pacquiao and he's a tremendous fighter. But I didn't give myself my best chance. I needed to be smarter with how I trained and I was at my peak weeks before the fight."

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He was knocked down twice in the first round and Pacquiao was hitting him with just about everything he threw.

Pacquiao was cracking him again and again and again with powerful shots before landing the most famous punch of his career at 2:54 of the second.

That punch turned around Hatton's life and, truth be told, almost cost him his life.

"I let a lot of people down," Hatton said. "I felt like an utter failure. I let my country down. I let British sport down, British boxing, my kids, my friends, my community."

He retired after the fight, still in prime fighting age. His life was spiraling out of control as he binged on cocaine and alcohol.

He would cry hysterically, for no reason. He found himself in court in a lawsuit with his former coach and one-time best friend, Billy Graham. He had a nasty split with his parents.

He says he often thought of drinking himself to death. Several times, he said, his girlfriend, Jennifer, caught him with a knife attempting to slash his wrists.

"I think I was having a nervous breakdown," he said.

He's coming back believing that he's still got the ability to be a world champion. He's fighting a guy who held the WBA welterweight title earlier this year.

But no matter what happens in the fight, Hatton says, he's certain of one thing.

"People ask me, 'Rick, what are you coming back for? What have you left to prove?' " Hatton said. "I'm not coming back to prove anything, though. I've already won. I turned my life around. I was horrible, pretty much as low as one could go, and I've overcome that.

"I'm in great shape. I'm ready to fight. But that's not the point. The point is that I've gotten to this stage. This fight is about redemption. I don't want to be remembered as that guy who got laid out by Manny Pacquiao. I had demons and they got the best of me for a while. But I think I have won already because I'm able to get back in there and do this again."

Getting a world title at some point, he said, would tell the proper story to his children. He was down, but he got up. He turned his life around.

He's still at odds with his parents and says that may never change. He won't reveal details, but says it's "one of the saddest things ever, to be on the outs with my Mum and my Dad."

What they did, he said, was unforgivable.

"My parents aren't there any more and that's a sad situation, but I'm a father and I have a great girlfriend, a wonderful little boy and a beautiful little girl," he says. "And I love being with them and being there for them. They're the most important people in my life now."

He chuckles when he's asked what he will do if it doesn't work out, if he no longer has it, if he's not able to flip a switch and become the Ricky Hatton of old.

He knows it's possible, if unlikely. He's sharp in the gym and expects that to translate to the ring. But if it doesn't, he's prepared.

"Without a doubt, I've had the greatest win of my life, overcoming the personal demons that I have," he said. "I've won this already. No matter what might happen in a fight, I am already the winner."

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