Betting on a former champion coming out of retirement is a tricky business. No one knows if he's ready - not his fans, his trainer, even the fighter himself. Ten mile morning runs, punishing beep tests and hours of sparring can't recreate what it's like to be punched in the face and guts in a competitive fight by a bad man who wants to hurt your feelings. Ricky Hatton will have a much better idea late Saturday night whether his comeback after a three-year layoff was inspired or insane.
Everyone says you should never come back and boxing will expose flaws and delusion more brutally than any other sport. Still, not every boxing comeback ends up being a cautionary tale. True, Ali v Holmes, Louis v Marciano and Jeffries v Johnson were born of desperation but others have gone much better. Vitali Klitschko came back from four years out to crush everyone in his path again, Leonard returned after one fight in five years to decision Hagler and most impressively of all a 45-year-old George Foreman won the heavyweight title 20 years after losing it.
Of course none of those guys retired after being knocked cold in their last fight like Hatton, nor hit the booze and pies as hard in the interim. It’s all about redemption, says Hatton, who during his time out ballooned five stone over his fighting weight - far from advisable. That's not exactly new territory for Hatton, though, who always liked the good life between fights. One thing you can never take away from him is that he's a gym rat. He loves to train and will come into the ring in excellent cardiovascular shape. That already puts him ahead of most fighters coming out of retirement.
His Ukrainian opponent Vyacheslav Senchenko is a boilerplate Eastern European type fighter with an upright, come forward, one-two style and above average jab. He's an economical if uninspired fighter who picks his shots well. The most telling difference between the two is foot speed. Senchenko is quite plodding whereas Hatton fair scampers around – it's long been his biggest asset in closing off the ring and shortening the distance between him and his opponent to unleash those vicious body shots up close.
Senchenko favours a high guard which will offer plenty of body to aim at. If he brings his guard down early on you'll know Hatton is getting to him. Taller predictable fighters have never bothered the Hitman and I expect his aggression, foot speed and experience to be too much for Senchenko.
Given that Senchenko’s last outing was his first loss – a stoppage against the light punching Paulie Malignaggi – you may be tempted by Hatton by stoppage at evens but I wouldn't read too much into that fight. Malignaggi is a much improved fighter under the tutelage of Wild Card Gym's Eric Brown, having left Buddy McGirt. A grotesque swelling that closed Senchenko’s left eye caused the referee to stop the fight and it was a career-best performance for Malignaggi – a very different fighter from the one Hatton dominated in 2008. There's no real indication that Senchenko has a dicey chin so with the hometown hero back for his first fight in three years and remembering that it's over 10 rounds not the championship 12, I think it's worth a punt on a Hatton victory on points at 3.40.
Hatton has promised his fiancée that if he doesn't beat Senchenko he'll immediately retire but if he wins in anything other than a convincing fashion then he should still call it a day. If Senchenko gives you trouble then a resurgent Malignaggi could make you look silly and nobody, particularly a man on a quest for redemption, needs that.