Hatton is loving life again as his son Campbell gears up for big night
‘No one wants to see their little boy punched in the face… but I could not be happier!’: Boxing legend Ricky Hatton is loving life again as his son Campbell, 20, gears up for his breakthrough night
- Campbell Hatton resembles his father both in personality and looks
- The 20-year-old also mimics his dad’s front-foot aggression in the ring
- Campbell has a professional debut lined up at lightweight for March 6
- He will be staking a claim to one of the greatest names in British sport
The new blood is talking to the old blood about the blood business. The family business. The wonderful, dangerous, exhilarating, grubby business of fighting. Why would any father want his son to be a boxer? Why wouldn’t he?
And so they’re chuckling their identical chuckles, the young lad who looks so much like the old lad, and the old lad born again because of the young lad. It’s a beautiful thing and it’s all delightfully bonkers.
Which takes us back five or so years. The setting to the tale is in the next room, where the two boxing rings sit on the second floor of this gym in Hyde, owned by the famous dad. One day the son fancied his chances.
Boxer Campbell Hatton and his dad Ricky, who is also his manager, in playful mood
‘I was about 14,’ says the son. ‘We had done bits before — pads, bags, little taps in sparring, that sort of stuff. This time were a bit different.’
‘S***, I forgot about this,’ says the dad. ‘Quiet now.’
‘I haven’t forgot,’ says the son. ‘I’m telling it. Yeah, we were having a spar, me and him.
‘I threw a shot, a right I think, and I don’t know what happened next — muscle memory or something, because he has pulled out the way and then come flying in, big left hook to the body. I hit the deck and I’m rolling there, trying to breathe.
‘My mum wasn’t sure about me boxing, now dad has gone and pretty much shattered my rib. So I’m there holding my side, gasping, and then I hear him over me, saying, “S***, don’t tell your mum!”.’
Campbell Hatton has a professional debut lined up at lightweight for March 6
They’re laughing hard. Laughing like two mad clones.
‘You know what — he did tell her,’ says the dad. ‘The phone call I had that night, f*** me. Thing is, and this is important, he bloody loved it. And that is how you answer one of your earlier questions.’
The question goes back to 2006 and another interview. Ricky Hatton, a world champion at two weights, had been asked if the five-year-old at his feet would become a fighter himself one day. ‘I’d rather he not,’ came the reply.
Today, it’s all changed. We’re a couple of months on from the bells-and-whistles announcement by Eddie Hearn that Campbell Hatton, aged 20, will be staking a claim to one of the greatest and most loved names in British sport, with a professional debut lined up at lightweight for March 6.
‘I couldn’t be happier about it,’ says Ricky. ‘No one wants to see their little boy get punched in the face, but there’s more to it, isn’t there? I know pretty well what boxing can do for a kid, for their life, good and bad. But the big questions are — does he have a passion for it? Can he dedicate himself to it? Has he got ability? If the answers are no, my job is to say “This isn’t for f****** you”. But if it is yes, then why not. With Campbell, I’ve seen up close that it is all yes.
‘Going back to that story, about me and Campbell sparring — he wanted to come back straight away. In boxing, you learn quickly if it’s for you. You either get hit in the face and say, “No thanks”, or you say, “Come on then, d***head, let’s go again”. He has wanted it every day.’
The 20-year-old will be staking a claim to one of the most loved names in British sport
Campbell is grinning. ‘You didn’t have to drop me to make the point, dad.’
And so it continues, the relentless back and forth of a great double act that will, with any luck, blossom into a successful team — Campbell is fighting, Ricky is managing and Matthew Hatton, Ricky’s brother and a former world-title contender, is the trainer. Their conversations are a riot — the fighting style a familiar chaos, because just as Campbell resembles his father in personality and looks — ‘He isn’t the milkman’s, is he?’ says Ricky — he also mimics his front-foot aggression in the ring. They used to sing in their tens of thousands about ‘one Ricky Hatton’. In sight and sound, there are now two of them.
‘I think people are going to love him,’ says Ricky. ‘And I really hope that he can believe he can be better than me.’
Time will tell how that all goes, but the possibilities are intriguing. Equally fascinating has been Campbell’s life to this point, which involved the somewhat unexpected tangent of becoming a father at 17.
‘I never had many fights at school,’ he says, in what is his first major newspaper interview.
‘My dad was always popular so I didn’t actually get loads of stick. You would get the odd bit, sort of like they wanted a Hatton on their record, but I didn’t get much.
‘The only person who ever dropped me is dad, in that sparring. To be honest, I’ve never been up myself or anything. If I had gone around saying “My dad is this or that” then I might have had more.’
Ricky cuts in: ‘I would have given him a slap myself if he was like that. But he was always a nice kid, never disrespectful to anyone, and I could count on one hand the times I got called saying he was in trouble. He was quite good at school, took his exams, went to college to do a sports science course. Better than me — I would turn up but do f*** all.’
‘Yeah, I was good at school,’ says Campbell.
‘Bloody hell, I gave him an inch there and said “quite” and he takes a mile,’ replies Ricky.
The pair play pool table during the build-up to the Floyd Mayweather fight in 2007
Campbell’s mother, Claire, and Ricky were only together briefly but they were consistently involved in his upbringing in Manchester. ‘Mum didn’t want me to be a boxer,’ says Campbell. ‘For a while I wasn’t. I had a go at football and rugby and dad got behind it. But he never pushed on boxing — it had to come from me.
‘Boxing for me didn’t start until I was 12 or 13 when my mum gave in after the nagging. That was hard work. But after that first session I just loved it. Loved it.’
As an amateur, Campbell never had the ideal style for points fighting, but he was sufficiently effective to win a National Novices title and a pair of North West titles.
‘I fought 30-odd times and won something like low-20s,’ he says. ‘My way of fighting didn’t do me many favours as an amateur. As a professional I think it will be very different. It will be a good adjustment for me.’
Adjustment has been something of a theme in his life. ‘Having a little girl at 17 was a bit scary,’ he says. It starts another exchange.
Ricky: ‘You’re telling me! I became a grandad at 39.’
Campbell: ‘I let mum tell him.’
Ricky: ‘I had Campbell young, at 21 or 22, but the little b****** even beat me at that.
‘In seriousness, though, that little girl, Lyla, she is the best thing that happened to him. His inspiration and his drive. He was having his fun in moderation but life got more serious.’
Campbell: ‘Yeah, dad booked me in for the snip when I was 17.’
Campbell Hatton is discussing balance. What is the right amount of input and when does it become suffocating?
The father-son dynamic is nothing new in boxing. The Eubanks and Benns are all making their way, with the Eubanks occasionally cited as a case where maybe too much limelight and influence has gone to the famous dad.
The Hitman, a light-welterweight and welterweight world champion, retired in 2012
‘I want it where he is on hand for anything,’ says Campbell. ‘Way I see it, I have a dad who boxers would queue up to speak to for one minute of his advice. I want it so it is not too close and not too distant.
‘I am going into a situation where there is pressure and he knows how to handle that and everything else. The pressure I have is that I have his name and for that reason people are paying attention to me. I’m making my debut on the undercard of Whyte-Povetkin because of it. If I make a t** of myself, there are that many more people who will see it.
‘I like that pressure, it makes me work harder. Who better can I have around me to help deal with that pressure than my dad and my uncle?’
Ricky says: ‘I’m just here to help as much or as little as I am needed. If he needs advice, I have experienced a few things in my life and my career.’
In a sport of bluster, that is one of the great understatements. His fans crossed land and sea for Hatton Snr, a fighter who was perhaps more loved than any other this country has known.
Equally, he was the man who came close to suicide and whose weight would balloon by as much as three stones between bouts, rising and falling on a routine of fry-ups and pints and other excesses. We loved him for it — at times he hated himself.
‘It is hard for Campbell to come to me with a question in boxing or life that I can’t relate to,’ says dad. ‘I am in a good position to give advice and he is in a good position to look at me and say, “I don’t want to do what that fat f***** did”.’
Campbell nods. ‘That’s why I only go to the chippie four nights a week!’
Ricky Hatton is laughing. His son has stripped off for some pictures and is taking flak in the gym for fixing his hair. ‘You can’t polish a turd but you can spray it with air-freshener,’ says Campbell.
The dad is loving this. All of it. It is his son’s story and the father is the most emphatic of everyone in making that point. But it is also his, in another sort of way.
For all he has told us in the past, you never truly know how dark someone’s outlook has been and for him there have been periods that were very difficult. Even now he shows degrees of frustration about how, for all those marvellous nights, he lost the two biggest — against Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
We know he had dreadful depression, particularly after his retirements in 2009 and 2012, and how alcohol and drugs regularly led him to a kitchen knife and that precipice. He once estimated that he considered making the cut once a week for a year. But there is light.
There has long been salvation in his work as a trainer and manager across the past nine years and this adventure with Campbell is a brighter ray again. He can’t keep the smile from his face.
‘It is like the journey continues,’ says Ricky. ‘Everyone knows my head fell off for a while. When you have had your hand raised in front of 50,000 people, when 40,000 came with you to Vegas, it is a hard thing to replace.
‘I’ve had great times as a trainer. I trained a world champion, two European champions, an English champion. Great times and I got close to all the lads. But you know what, this has put an extra spring in my step. There’s something special in my heart at the moment.
‘He is setting off on this journey and I can do a bit of it with him, my little boy. I almost wasn’t here a few years ago. Look what I would have missed out on if I had gone down that road.’
He sits back in his chair. ‘I’m so proud of him and now we’ll see how he gets on. This is his dream, but anything he needs I am there.’
For the briefest of moments in a funny hour, a silence holds over the room. Then it doesn’t.
‘Dad,’ says Campbell, ‘I have something I need to tell you.’
Ricky shakes his head. ‘Oh, quiet, you.’
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