Ricky Hatton sat alone at his kitchen table, a knife in his hand, a future he didn't want. It had been more than a year since Hatton walked away from boxing, and every day since was a new nightmare. He had a falling out with his parents. He split with his best friend and longtime coach, Billy Graham, who promptly sued him. He was snorting cocaine and guzzling alcohol, the effect of which was a haunting depression that had vacuumed away his will to live.
"I had a real death wish," Hatton told SI.com in a telephone interview. "I wanted to kill myself. I couldn't leave the house. The worst thing you can do is go out drinking but I got to the stage where even if I had not gone for a drink, I was crying and having panic attacks."
Hatton had plenty of people who wanted to help him. For more than a decade, Hatton was a national treasure. He sold out soccer stadiums in the U.K. and drove television ratings through the roof. He beat Hall of Famer Kostya Tszyu for the IBF junior welterweight title in 2005 and topped Luis Collazo for the WBA welterweight belt in '07.
Problem was, no one knew
But Hatton didn't want to fight. It wasn't the loss that made him quit. It was 12 years of knock-down, drag-out brawls that had taken his spirit.
"I wasn't making easy fights," Hatton said. "Even the four- or six-rounders I fought early in my career were wars. The things that used to be so easy for me to do, the dieting, the training, I just had no desire to do them. I didn't want to make the sacrifice. I could not do it anymore."
The more people pushed him, the worse Hatton felt.
"It was heartbreaking," Hatton said. "I knew the desire was gone, I knew that the will was gone. People kept saying 'you have to come back' and I always said 'you never know.' But I knew it was over."
Hatton didn't want boxing, but without it, he was lost. For most of his life he lived on a schedule:
"I was in a depressing downward spiral," Hatton said. "I just kept thinking, 'I deserve this.'"
Hatton can't pinpoint exactly how things turned around. "It wasn't one particular thing," Hatton said. He knows it began with the birth of his 13-month year old daughter Millie. That cleaned him up. Then he threw himself into his promotional company, Hatton Promotions. That gave him a purpose. Then he got his trainers' license. That got him back in the gym. As he worked to kickstart the careers of young fighters, Hatton began to think about the way he went out.
"The manner I got beat always bothered me," Hatton said. "I've always been a proud fighter. To only go two rounds really bothered me. If you get beat close, that's livable. Two rounds, that's not how I wanted to finish my career."
Soon, the weight started to melt off and the spark returned. Soon, Hatton wanted to fight. On Saturday, Hatton (45-2) will end a three-and-a-half-year layoff when he takes on former welterweight titleholder Vyacheslav Senchenko (32-1) at Manchester's MEN Arena (5 p.m. ET/PT, Showtime). His popularity has not waned: 18,000 tickets were sold in the 48 hours after Hatton announced his comeback -- and before he had named an opponent.
At 34, Hatton says he is at peace. "I have no fear," Hatton said. He wants to win another world championship and if he beats Senchenko he will get another chance; a rematch with WBA welterweight champion Paulie Malignaggi, who Hatton stopped in 2008, is already being talked about. But more than that Hatton wants to erase the memory of his collapse.
"I was someone who had done the country so proud and I became an absolute joke," Hatton said. "I want my kids to read about Ricky Hatton, how he had his problems but he came back and won another world title. I want them to be proud."