On Monday evening I was privileged to be invited by South Wales MP Chris Evans, to The Houses of Parliament for the annual summer dinner for the All Party Parliamentary Boxing Group.
Guest of honour for the evening was Ricky Hatton MBE, and The Hitman certainly didn’t disappoint with his after dinner speech for the 40 or so guests gathered in one of the Westminster dining rooms. A mixture of his legendary humour but equally as important, frank and at times brutal honesty regarding his reported struggles with mental health and drugs.
As humans we are all flawed, and tackling our various issues, and talking about them is a huge part of the recovery process.
Hatton’s career is the stuff of a Hollywood movie, by his own admission from an extremely rough council estate in Manchester, he’d never passed an exam in his life, and aside from laying a bit of dodgy carpet fitting as a teenager, boxing is only job he’s ever known. His rollercoaster career saw him box on the Prince Naseem undercard at Madison Square Garden at 20, become a two-weight world champion, and fight some of the greatest boxers of all time in the squared circle. His fan base was quite simply legendary, culminating in 40,000 British fans applying for tickets for his December 2007 world title showdown in Las Vegas with Floyd Mayweather, a level of support never seen before, or possibly again, by a British boxer fighting abroad.
One of Hatton’s overriding qualities was, and still is, the fact that he never forgot that council estate and his roots.
He still speaks with fond memories of the glory nights in Vegas, but equally is honest about his well documented struggles after his ring career finished.
Flaws aside, he is a national sporting icon, in fact the flaws probably expedite this status. I would put him up there with likes of Cooper, Stewart, Botham, Charlton, Murray and Moore. He’s now training and promoting, putting something back into the sport that made him the man he is, he’s working extensively in the troubled areas of Manchester, tackling rising crime levels and the gang culture. As I said he makes no secret of his mistakes, he rightly states far more should be done by society to combat mental health issues in this country, and he feels, as many people do, that a return to boxing in schools would see a downturn in the serious problems we have with some of our youngsters in this country.
In the past knighthoods have been handed out like confetti by various governments, his journey and reported problems and issues, along with his recovery make a serious case in a few years for Hatton to emulate Sir Henry Cooper and become another pugilistic knight of the realm.
Forget the tip-top catering and plush surroundings, I came away on Monday truly buoyed by the fact, that having spoken to MPs on both sides of the political divide, that there are people in the corridors of power that really care about the well-being of the youth of this nation, and with the support of people like Ricky Hatton they can hopefully make positive changes in our society in the future.
Chris Evans, aside from representing his constituents, is a published author and tonight in London, (Thursday) his biography of the legendary Freddie Mills, is shortlisted for sports book of the year at the annual literary awards in the capital, its published by Worthing-based Pitch Publishing. £17.99