A few years ago, you would have seen Marco Antonio Barrera on a ringwalk with Ricky Hatton for one of the Englishman’s big fights.
The Mexican and the Mancunian who fought like a Mexican became friends and fans of one another.
Hatton has always been a student of the game and was a young pro when Barrera hit the heights, against the likes of Erik Morales, Naseem Hamed, Johnny Tapia and countless others. As Ricky emerged as a world class fighter in his own right, Barrera became a fan of ‘The Hitman.’
It was an endearing friendship, despite the language barrier, forged on a mutual admiration and a shared passion.
Some 15 years on and the two are ready to face one another in the ring in what is being called an exhibition at the Manchester Arena.
The ‘contest’ had originally been slated for July 2 but when Hughie Fury’s fight on the same night fell through, the rug was pulled from under Hatton-Barrera and Ricky took to social media to say they would try for November. So here we are.
Initially Hatton was devastated with the announcement because he’d been looking forward to the clash. The whole idea had been inspired by two greats from yesteryear.
“I’d had my comeback [fight against Senchenko] years ago and I’d got over my demons and all my problems and I said my best years were behind me – and I stand by that today – but when we went in to lockdown and Mike Tyson and Roy Jones did an exhibition a few promoters asked me if I’d consider doing one. I said I’d look at it, if it was the right opponent and the right people putting it together,” Ricky told me a few months ago in a column for this website.
Full disclosure, I wrote Ricky’s autobiography War and Peace with him and hold him in high regard. He’s been through an awful lot in his life, and boxing still gives him a release a sense of purpose and an identity. His brother is now a trainer, his son is a pro and his nephew is an amateur.
I felt Ricky had the answers to what was left in the tank when he lost to Vyacheslav Senchenko but he has his own motivations for doing what he’s doing now. Seeing him spar with his son Campbell would have strengthened an already incredibly tight relationship. The Ricky of a few years ago, comfortably over his fighting weight, wouldn’t have been able to do that. And Ricky’s weight loss, attitude and charisma is inspirational – and not just in a soundbite sense but what he is doing helps others with their self-discipline and sends out a positive message that if he can bounce back from being overweight, perhaps not in the best health, and get back into fighting condition and trade blows with a legend and idol of his, then others can climb out of their armchairs and go on a run, or they can fend off depression for an hour to get to the gym.
Ricky’s message is wholesome, relatable, understandable and positive.
There are comments doing the rounds that if YouTubers are allowed to fight in boxing matches, then surely wily veterans like Barrera and Hatton should be allowed to scratch that itch one more time and fiddle their way through eight rounds with one another.
In terms of what kind of physicality we can expect, Ricky said this: “Me and Marco were mates. We know that there’d be no liberties taken but we’d make it interesting. If it wasn’t entertaining and fans were going away yawning, I think we would be devastated. So, it will be entertaining but because we know each other and we know what’s entertaining and what’s that little bit too far – I think at times we will go borderline – but I’m confident it will be a major success.”
And I hope it is.
But unfortunately I’m going to be that guy again.
Ricky is now 44 and he has boxed as a pro 48 times. He started boxing as a kid and had dozens of amateur fights and he’s sparred thousands of rounds. Barrera is two months from his 49th birthday, was punching for pay at the age of 15, and boxed 75 fights as a pro, going 12 rounds almost 20 times.
The brain shrinks as you get older. We have our eyes open about CTE and the issues Hatton and Barrera might face down the line. The brain is under greater risk with age and both fighters have taken more than their fair share of punches over the years. There’s little to gain by doing this exhibition other than a short-term feelgood story, but it won’t do anything to enhance their quality of life down the line.
Boxing is often a way out, it shouldn’t always be seen as a way back.
The intentions might be pure and honest, and maybe it should be down to the fighters to determine whether they want to do it or not, but at what point does it become unacceptable? What is the point of no return? And should it be that we all wait for the point of no return and it’s too late before our voices should be heard?
I’ll be called a killjoy or worse, by I’ve always wanted boxing to been seen in its best light, the way Hatton and Barrera showed us it should have been done two decades ago.
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