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Matthew Hatton: ‘I must have one of those faces, people used to love knocking me. But I’ve never lacked self-belief’

Matthew Hatton
Matthew Hatton reflects on the successes and disappointments of his 52-bout career, fought in the shadow of his illustrious brother and in the ring against the biggest name in the sport

WE started kickboxing at the same time, myself and Ricky. The natural progression was boxing. Ricky went first, being the younger brother you tend to follow the older brother about and that was the case. But I was playing at it then, so I never really committed to the amateur boxing like Ricky did. I had a few fights when I was 10, 11. Then I left the sport for two or three years. I took it back up when I was 15 and then I was boxing ever since.

I’ve had some good hidings over the years. We were brought up in pubs, myself and Ricky. Even as a kid when we were kickboxing, people used to come in the pub and you could hear the pots rattling where we were sparring upstairs. I was always playing catch up. He’s helped me throughout my career really. A good way to learn anything.

It is a double-edged sword. Obviously big, big footsteps there, Ricky was doing so well. I turned professional early, I was 19, so I was learning on the job. People were watching me and I was written off early on. People said I wasn’t going to go on, I wouldn’t even fight for a British title. I must have one of them faces, people used to love knocking me. They really, really did.

But I’ve always been a stubborn character, I’ve never lacked self-belief and I‘ve always been a very hard worker. I believed I could get there. I knew I was a work in progress.

I had that throughout my career, being Ricky’s brother. But I’ve got to be honest, I’m quite strong, it never really bothered me. Me and Ricky were always so close. I was always proud of what he wanted to achieve. I did get frustrated sometimes because I knew I wasn’t boxing at the level I could get to.

There was pressure but I got some great opportunities. I fought on a lot of Ricky’s undercards in Las Vegas, great times looking back, probably some of the best times in my life. Being Ricky’s brother opened some doors for more. But in a sport like boxing, it’s a hard tough sport. It doesn’t matter who your brother is, who your dad is, you’ve got to get in there and you’ve got to be good enough to walk through the door yourself.

It’s a hard sport boxing a lot of the time. I was used as a sparring partner. One thing about me, I was always very tough, very durable. I always used to spar with more experienced guys, guys heavier than me. Because I could. Looking back it moulded me into the fighter I was. I boxed some really, really good fighters, some really big punchers but durability and character and determination was something I had in abundance. Those early years, even though it was tough for me, it moulded me and helped my career later on.

I do think during the time I was European champion I was flying. I eventually ended up fighting Canelo Alvarez for the light-middleweight WBC title but again that was something in my nature, I always wanted to fight the best people out there and test myself. And I wanted receive the best paydays out there. But when I was European champion and looked around at the champions at welterweight, who at the time were the likes of Vyacheslav Senchenko, who later in his career fought Ricky, Paulie Malignaggi. The form I was in when I fought Alvarez, could I have beaten one of them two fighters? The answer’s yeah. But that’s life. I had a good run, I enjoyed it, I don’t regret it.

I suffered my defeats early in my career, disappointing defeats looking back, quite embarrassing defeats. But the night I captured the European title was against Gianluca Branco, who was a quality fighter with an excellent record. He was ageing when I fought him but he’d only ever lost to two men when I fought him. He lost to Miguel Cotto, Arturo Gatti and myself. Even after I beat him, two years after that he had another reign as European champion so he was still a good fighter. My first defence I fought and beat Yuriy Nuzhnenko, who held the WBA title at one stage. Ben Tackie, Ted Bami, I’ve had some good, good wins over the years.

My nose went in the first round against Kell Brook. Again I stuck it out, I lasted the 12. Looking back on that I could have performed a lot better. On all the fights I look back on, I think that’s the most pain I’ve been in in my career. A quality fighter in Kell Brook and a broken nose in the first round. Whenever I tried to do anything, initiate attacks to come forward, he was catching me. The pain with the nose was pretty unbearable at the time. No one could ever accuse me of quitting, it’s not in my nature.

Now I’ve retired, people do want to talk about the big fights, the fight against Canelo, the Kell Brook fight. I fell short in those fights but I’m proud to have fought Canelo, probably one of the best pound-for-pound fighters out there. And I’m still the only British fighter to go 12 rounds with him!

Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

It’s not in my nature to turn away from a challenge so we accepted the fight. Before we got over there we got a phone call from Golden Boy saying Manny Pacquiao had been stripped of the WBC light-middleweight title and they could make me and Alvarez at 10st 10lbs (150lbs). So we agreed on that.

I always believed I could win the fights I got involved in. I don’t think I’d realised quite what big a star he was, even though I’d seen it over here. There were pictures of him everywhere in Los Angeles, he was absolutely massive even then. Looking back it was a great experience. I enjoyed it. Right up until the fight, actually.

At the weigh-in he came in well over the weight (151 1/2lbs). I could have walked away with about half of my purse, or something like that. But I’d gone out there, people were out there to support me. So I said I still want to fight but I certainly want compensating. We came to an agreement financially and I just remember on the night – I’d seen him at the weigh-in and I thought yeah quite fancy this – but when he got in the ring on the night and he took his robe off, I just couldn’t believe the size of him. I’ve said it before, he was like Popeye before and after his spinach. He was absolutely huge. In the fight I think I knew after the first minute, certainly after the first round, what a good, good fighter he was. So, so strong, heavy handed, picked his punches so well and it was a difficult, difficult night. But I was right there to the final bell, give it 110 per cent and gave him a good fight. He probably came on from that fight and learned from that fight. Going on to see what he’s achieved, and knowing that I done 12 rounds him, makes me proud.

I’d quite fancy a return, but it would have to be at cruiserweight if I fought him again!

I think my stock really went up that night. I find people are more complimentary about me now I’ve retired. I used to get some shocking abuse on Twitter. Now people are quite complimentary about my career, which is always nice.

My last fight was in South Africa, my 52nd fight, against Chris van Heerden. I lost that fight on points. I’ve always been honest with myself. You can kid other people but you can’t kid yourself. My will to win, my determination, my fitness etc. was always one of my strengths and I sat down after the fight and realised he wanted to win more than me. I knew it straightaway. I knew it after the fight.
The only thing that I didn’t achieve that I wanted to was to win a world title. I sat down after that fight and I thought do I still think I can win a world title, to move on from my European title, it was the only step up from that and the answer was no. It was the right time to stop.

There are some unfortunate stories in boxing, I know that as well as anyone, but from my own personal point of view boxing’s only ever been good to me. I put a hell of a lot into the sport, but I’ve taken a hell of a lot from the sport. I enjoyed every step of it. I wish I could do it all over again.

I know there are some fighters that do struggle with retirement. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t miss the sport. But even though I still love the sport I think everything runs its course. I got out at the right time. I always had one eye on becoming a trainer anyway.

I’ve done the lot. I fought Alvarez in LA in front of a large sellout crowd and I’ve fought in the MEN arena at about half 11 when the cleaners were picking the chairs up afterwards. I’ve experienced it from the bottom rung right to the very top. I’ve learned a lot about the sport and that will stand me in good stead moving forward as a trainer.

I’ve got my own gym now, a few good pros that I train, some guys I manage. I do classes, courses, I do a little bit of work for Stockport Council with kids getting involved in anti-social behaviour. So all geared around boxing, what I love to do. So I’m a lucky man.

My nephew Campbell is doing very well in the amateurs now, but it’s difficult for him. He’s 19, 20 soon, with nothing on the horizon, no championships because of the coronavirus pandemic. What do you with guys like that? Leave them on the sidelines for six months? You are going to get guys turning professional sooner than they ideally would.

That might have to be the case with Campbell. Again, a double-edged sword, being Ricky Hatton’s son there’s going to be big, big pressure when Campbell turns professional but he’s a good fighter. He’s a tough lad, he’s strong, he’s fit. I can see that determination in him. He’s got a very exciting style to watch. He’s just like his dad.

The guys he’s boxed in the amateurs have been really keen to beat him. Again that’s something I had to put up with in my own career. Some journeymen would turn up and have a right go at me, give it 110 per cent. But if you’re good enough and you can back it up, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Campbell has got that pressure but he can back it up.

So there’s another Hatton coming, and it might be sooner than you think.

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