MANCHESTER, England -- The dreaded comeback. Is there a more painful word in sports? How often has a champion returned for one last hoorah, only to discover Father Time in the opposite corner?
Ricky Hatton came back Saturday night. But it lasted just less than nine rounds. In front of 16,000 possessed Brits in his hometown of Manchester, England, Hatton's fantasy revival was obliterated by the more-than-capable Vyacheslav Senchenko via a one-punch knockout at the Manchester Arena.
It was to Hatton's credit that he matched himself up against the Ukrainian, who just seven months ago was an undefeated welterweight titlist. Yet, despite Hatton edging into an ugly points lead in the opening four or five rounds, the tide soon changed as Senchenko put his fears behind him, grew in stature and landed with more frequency.
With just seconds left in the ninth round of this nontitle 10-rounder, Senchenko smashed Hatton with a left hook to the body straight out of Hatton's personal scrapbook of career knockouts. As soon as the shot landed, Hatton -- who also had been out-tagged in the three previous rounds -- screamed in pain before collapsing onto all fours. He was unable to beat the count of referee Victor Loughlin.
For the first time, the capacity home crowd -- who sold out the venue long before Hatton's opponent or undercard was even considered -- fell deathly silent.
Hatton had shown glimpses of the style and tenacity that led him to world title reigns in two weight divisions -- the constant bobbing and weaving on his toes, the menacing tick of pushing his left fist into his right palm, and the smooth left body shot and lead right cross. But the menacing, mauling, stinging Hatton was nowhere to be seen.
His timing was way off, of course, the least to be expected after three and a half years in the boxing wilderness. But it was the suicidal lack of head movement and his inability to maintain any real concerted pressure -- the type that overwhelmed so many during his pomp -- that left the door open for Senchenko.
Hatton's face -- long before the referee's count of nine -- told the true story of a veteran champion who had bitten off far more than he could chew. But he has only himself to blame. Hatton quite literally had his pick of opponents for this fight. And, on paper at least, Senchenko was tailor-made for him. That long torso was a big target left wide open by his classic European stand-up style. And yet the "opponent" tore up the script and used it as confetti as he danced from the ring.
A win Saturday night would have set up Hatton for a rematch with welterweight titlist Paulie Malignaggi, who took the belt from Senchenko in April. The New Yorker was ringside, working for Showtime, and looked as devastated as anyone when Hatton crumbled. After all, Hatton's rude awakening probably cost Malignaggi close to a $5 million payday.
Also gone for Hatton is any thought of a highly lucrative bout with fellow Brit Amir Khan, which would have sold out a 40,000-seat stadium in the U.K.
But after Hatton's typically heartfelt retirement statement to the adoring British media Saturday, perhaps he's finally ready to close this chapter on his career -- undoubtedly Britain's most celebrated and successful in half a century.
Losing to Manny Pacquiao inside of two rounds never sat right with him. He never could quite come to terms with it. He wanted one last chance to go out on his own terms. But now, thankfully, Hatton appears to have made peace with the fact his time is over.
Hopefully the demons that have haunted him since the Pacquiao defeat three and a half years ago will now leave Hatton alone for good. And perhaps now "The Hitman" will find life as a promoter, boyfriend and father rewarding enough to satisfy his thirst for success.
After all, he's earned it.