Ricky Hatton is one of the greatest British boxers in history. He was a two-division world champion and retired with a magnificent record of 45 wins and just two losses, to all-time pound-for-pound greats Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
If Hatton had had his way, however, he would have earned fortune and fame with his feet rather than his fists. His father and grandfather were both footballers, and Ricky, a skilful midfielder, was on the books of his beloved City as a teenager. Hatton was ultimately released by the club, but his love for them and football has remained as strong as ever.
As the 34-year-old readies for his return to the ring for the first time in three years later this month, when he will battle Ukrainian standout Vyacheslav Senchenko in Manchester, he took time off from training to speak to FIFA.com about coming from a footballing family, being on the City terraces as a youngster, the team’s recent success, having Wayne Rooney carry his belt out, and who he thinks should win the FIFA Ballon d’Or.
FIFA.com: Ricky, you come from quite a footballing family. Please tell us about that…
Ricky Hatton: My granddad played for the City B team and my dad was a regular in the reserves when they had the championship-winning team, with Malcolm Allison, Joe Mercer, Franny Lee, Mike Summerbee and all the old City legends. And as a 15-year-old I was at Man City’s school of excellence. We’re mainly a football family, we’re not quite sure where the boxing came from [Ricky's younger brother Matthew is also a boxer]. My dad thought I was going to follow in the family footsteps and become a footballer. I was actually in the same class in the school of excellence as the Whitley brothers [Jim and Jeff], who went on to play for the first team which was really good to see.
You’ve had Wayne Rooney in your dressing room before fights and carrying your belt out to them. What lift has that given you?
Someone like Wayne Rooney doesn’t need the publicity, just like I guess I don’t need the publicity having become a world champion. But having a fellow sportsman, who is at the top of his game, wanting to carry my belt in gives me a massive boost. I’ve had several people carrying my belt in – loved ones and little James Bowes, the poorly little lad – and a lot of people say Wayne’s only carrying it for publicity. It’s not, it’s [for] motivation. That someone at the height of his game respects me in the manner that he does, it gives you a huge boost. And me asking him to carry my belt in, I was obviously doing it because of the respect I have for Wayne as a footballer, so it’s a double-edged sword.
In 2008, you walked out to Blue Moon, Manchester City’s theme song, to fight Juan Lazcano at the City of Manchester Stadium. That must have been a dream for you…
I think some people go down the football route in order to build their fan base, but it wasn’t the case with me. From my early professional days, when I was Richard Hatton, before anyone even knew Ricky Hatton, I always came out to Blue Moon and had the City colours and the badge on my shorts. My first season ticket was as a 14-year-old on The Kippax at Maine Road. I’ve not just jumped on the footballer bandwagon to get my numbers up. What you see is what you get.
I still have my season ticket at Manchester City. It’s not just a publicity stunt. I am a massive football fan. I am a massive Manchester City fan. I wanted to box at Maine Road [City’s former home] years ago, and the fact that I was able to achieve so much in my career and ultimately box at Manchester City’s stadium, it was just a dream come true. When I go and watch City now, there’s 45,000, 48,000 there. When I boxed there, there was 58,000 – talk about the stuff dreams are made of! I see the City players from time to time. They actually know me as that little 14-year-old who had the season ticket at The Kippax! (laughs) Knowing the players, being able to have a chat with them, and the way I’m treated in and around the club when I’m there, it’s living-the-dream stuff.
Who were your heroes from your time at The Kippax?
We had a lot of good players at the time – Niall Quinn, Uwe Rosler, Peter Beagrie, Peter Walsh – but it would have to be Georgi Kinkladze. Every time he got the ball – well, you didn’t go to the edge of your seat because it was all standing at The Kippax – but you felt something was going to happen. He was a massively exciting player. Nicky Summerbee, who’s been a pal of mine for a number of years now, he was in the team at the time and he was friends with a boxer called Steve ‘The Viking’ Foster, who I used to train with as a youngster. [Summerbee] brought Kinkladze to the gym one time to watch us train. Granted, I was only a nipper, he wasn’t watching me train – he was watching Carl Thompson, who fought Chris Eubank around the time. But to see your idol walk in the gym, it was a dream come true. Colin Bell and people like that are regarded as City’s best-ever players, but the best player I ever saw live was Kinkladze, and one minute he walked into our gym!
After many years of suffering for City fans, you must be delighted to be champions of England and playing in the UEFA Champions League…
It’s brilliant. I couldn’t be happier for the club and the fans. We’ve had one of the best supports in British football for years now – always packed houses, even packed houses when we went down to the second division. And that’s while we’ve had to endure the disappointments with the enemy down the road winning everything. Having your neighbours become the most successful British club of all time wasn’t pleasant for us, so you have to say that we’ve earned our stripes as supporters.
What’s your prediction for City this season?
It can’t be any closer than it was last season, [settled by the] last kick of the game. I think Chelsea will be up there, United will be up there and City will be up there. My heart will be with City, but if you had to put a bet on now you’d just toss a coin. I think it’s going to be so, so close. Goal difference won the league last season, so even at this early stage, every point is so massive. I’d like to think City will do it, but I think it’s between those three. I think City, United and Chelsea will be the top three, but it could be in any order.
Who do you think will win the FIFA Ballon d’Or for 2012?
I think the best two players in the world are obviously [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo, as much as I don’t like to admit Ronaldo is a great player. The only reason I don’t like Ronaldo is because he played for the enemy, but ultimately he’s one hell of a footballer. Those two will be up there again. Maybe Ronaldo this year, he seems to have started the season a bit better than Messi.
Would you have Ronaldo at City?
Without a doubt. City have got the type of money that could bring players like that to the club. They’re the best players in the world and they want to be winning the best trophies, such as the Champions League. City have still got a little way to go before we can start thinking about signing players like that, but we’re in the Champions League and won the Premiership. To be mentioned in the same breath as players like that, it’s not as daft as it would have sounded a couple of years ago.