If a knockout defeat was the nightmare conclusion to his 15-year career that Ricky Hatton secretly feared, his losing performance was as good as he was capable of at 34 after 42 months out of the ring, and no amount of repositioning to accommodate a hero should embellish that judgment.
In the immediate aftermath, the former world light-welter and welterweight champion, listening to friends, perhaps, had himself "four rounds up" in a non-title 10-rounder against Vyacheslav Senchenko, who had lost only once.
But his later utterances spoke more directly to a narrative that worsened after an encouraging start: Hatton, slain by a body shot – once his own favoured form of execution – knew he had no more to give and what he did bring was not enough. He lost his shape in the fifth, and a booming left hook in the sixth appeared to drain his legs of bounce and his blows of crispness. That was a significant turning point.
As the pressure mounted, his head movement slowed, except when snapped back by jabs, right crosses and left hooks. Senchenko, sensing the steady degradation of Hatton's work more readily than the fans, boxed patiently on the retreat to take rounds seven and eight going away. When he pounced in the ninth, it was without mercy – a knife-like left hook to the body on the blindside (with eight-ounce gloves) cutting a tiring Hatton in half for a full count.
Later, Hatton mixed regret with candour: "Even if he hadn't caught me with that body shot, if I'd got over the finish line, just scraped home, I still think I'd be telling you the same thing. I haven't got it [any] more. It doesn't matter how much you train, or how sharp ... I couldn't have done anything better: my sparring was great, my movement was great. Whether I was four rounds up or not, I don't need anyone to tell me."
The promised recalibration of his "red mist" boxing never materialised. He was, as his friend Ryan Rhodes said later, "as anxious as I've ever seen him, more even than against Manny Pacquiao".
What now? His business partner Richard Poxon put it succinctly: "This was about what Ricky has been, is now and will be in the future: big events, big venues and sellout crowds." And that's for the good; Hatton is safer outside the ropes, and outside the pub too. Whether he will be more content, he will discover in the months and years to come. He has some baggage to dump.
Senchenko, coming to the ring in a Manchester United shirt, was booed by Hatton's Blue Moon army, but he was here as a dancing partner; they meant him no ill. When it was done, they ignored him, which is about as good a reception as he could have expected. Nevertheless, he moves on — at 35, a year older than Hatton — to a rematch with Paulie Malignaggi, who ripped his WBA 10st 7lb title from him last April.
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