Ricky Hatton is 43 and looking 23.

The Manchester grandfather is in training for a July 2 exhibition with his Mexican friend Marco Antonio Barrera and admits the work he’s put in over the last several weeks might have prompted lifestyle changes that he will use for the rest of his days.

“I’m doing it for my own well-being,” Ricky said. “I’ve given myself a training camp to get my weight down and be healthy again and I think this is going to be a lifestyle change for me now, because I’m 43... It was alright when I was 28, I could shoot the weight up, go to the pub every night and know I could get it off again the next day, but I want to keep it off this time. I’ve always said that, but this time I mean it. It’s different when you’re 43, you can’t keep putting it on and bringing it off and when I look at the pictures of what I was to what I am now, for my health as much as anything… I don’t want to go to the pub every night anymore. I want to stay in with my grandkids. I’ve gone and had my wild times and life’s slowed down a lot. I’m not going to say I’m a Buddhist monk and never have a takeaway again, but I’m doing the family thing, training my boxers and maybe if someone says, ‘Blimey, do you remember the size of Ricky years ago, massively overweight and crying and talking about killing himself, look what you can do if you can put your mind to it’.”

It was, in part, the Mike Tyson-Roy Jones exhibition that provided the genesis behind this show at the Manchester Arena. Hatton took calls from several promoters asking if he was interested in a ring return and, initially, he was cool on the idea. 

“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.”

Then he was told the considered opponent was his friend Barrera, who he’s done ringwalks with in the past, and he was all ears. 

“Oh, well that’s perfect,” Ricky replied. 

“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.”

Ricky was told the event will have a festival feel as part of celebration of coming out of lockdown.

The Manchester Arena will be shared for the night by the Boxxer card showing Hughie Fury-Michael Hunter and it’s the site of many of Hatton’s famous wins, including the defining moment against Kostya Tszyu in 2005. That is, in part, why he wants another dance under the lights.

“What better than having one last move around at the Manchester Arena,” Hatton continued, explaining that a portion of the show profits will be going to mental health charities.

Of course, there’s an increasing awareness about CTE and trauma related to blows in the head in boxing, but Hatton maintains he’s in good shape and feels that the comeback – albeit it an exhibition – has helped him adopt a healthier lifestyle.

“The worrying thing is, when your heroes make comebacks,” he continued. “We remember Muhammad Ali’s comeback and we had to watch him get hurt and beat up, that’s not what people want to see and people were worried about me. ‘Why are you doing it, Rick?’ ‘We don’t want to see you get hurt.’ There’s no chance of me getting hurt in this, but it gives me a purpose, it’s good for my own well-being and if there’s one person who it motivates to turn things around, it’s good. I can’t see how anything negative comes out of this. The first people I had to convince was my mum and dad and my family and my loved ones. But because they’ve seen how I’ve trained and looked after myself and got myself ready, everyone’s says it’s taken 10 years off my life, the way I look, the way I talk, the way I’m acting. People say what are you doing it for? And I’d say, ‘Would you rather have seen me years ago in the pub pouring pints down my neck, taking drugs, wanting to kill myself, walking around about 15st? Or would you rather see me doing an exhibition with Marco Antonio Barrera with big gloves on?’ It’s a no brainer. It’s nice people worry about me, but they need to trust me. There’s nothing other than positivity that can come out of this.” 

And when it comes to Barrera, Hatton insists the lines of friendship will not be blurred but he believes they both will feel a duty to please the fans. 

“I spoke to him when we announced the fight,” Ricky said. “We know it’s got to be entertaining but we know how far is too far and I said ‘I never thought I’d be sharing a ring with you’, so that’s a dream. And people don’t realise, even though we’re retired, we’re not dead, we still have goals, targets and it’s eight-two-minute rounds, 16oz gloves on…”

Hatton’s positivity radiates. He lost a cousin, Steven, who hung himself during the first lockdown, and that’s another motivator for Hatton, to give those who struggled through the pandemic something to look forward to. 

Ricky is a grandad now. The man who lit up the Las Vegas strip with his wit, charm and fists of fury is now ready for one last dance under the lights of the old Hatton church in Manchester against an old Hatton friend.