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A commissar in one of post-revolutionary Russia’s regions once proudly told a visiting dignitary that, thanks to the glorious victory of communism, the area now boasted over 200 published writers, whereas previously there had been only one.   Oh really, responded the dignitary: and who was the lone pre-communist exception? The commissar gave an embarrassed shrug and said “Well, .  .  .  Tolstoy”.

There was only one Leo Tolstoy, but, thanks to the putatively similarly unique Ricky Hatton, there is now a second War and Peace.  On reading Tolstoy’s original, Flaubert famously exclaimed “What an artist, and what a psychologist!”.  Readers of the present work are unlikely to echo these sentiments.

First, the “artistry”.  Ricky Hatton’s immense popularity rested on two things.  Firstly, he was tremendously exciting to watch: an all-action, face-first, hyper-aggressive fighter with a tough chin, willing to take on the very best, who was notorious for knocking opponents out with spectacular bodyshots.  His 2005 home-town victory over Kosta Tszyu remains one of the greatest achievements, and one of the greatest nights, in UK boxing history.  It is hardly a criticism (though, as we shall see, Hatton himself does not agree) that when he came up against the absolute elite, in the shape of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, he was comprehensively pancaked.  It certainly did not impair his public appeal: when Hatton announced his ill-fated comeback fight, three and a half years after being knocked out by Pacquiao, 19,000 tickets were sold within hours, even though no opponent had been named.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, his fans could see that he was, indisputably, one of them.  War and Peace attests to this repeatedly in its content – so, here’s Ricky, holidaying in Marbella, Tenerife and on cruise ships; here’s Ricky, playing practical jokes on his mates from the gym; here’s Ricky, ignoring invitations to fancy showbiz events in favour of a night playing darts and downing endless pints in his local; here’s Ricky, enthusing wildly about the ghastly Las Vegas.  But more obviously and more often, indeed in almost every sentence, it is embodied in the book’s style.  Hatton is clearly determined to underscore his status as the People’s Champion, and ghostwriter Tris Dixon, editor of Boxing News, is equally clearly under strict instructions to stick, as far as possible, to Hatton’s uneducated Mancunian vernacular.  So, Hatton’s brother Matthew is described as having “a right mouth on him”; Hatton himself does not wish to be seen as a “head-up-my-own-arse big-time Charlie”.  This is unfortunate, for a number of reasons.

An author who is stuck with an inarticulate narrator faces a formidable challenge in remaining linguistically inventive enough to retain the reader’s interest.  Irvine Welsh managed it in Trainspotting, as did Martin Amis, triumphantly, in Money.  Dixon addresses, and comprehensively fails, this test, with a combination of Olympian swearing and endless clichés.  A big fight is “an acid test”; an upset Hatton has “lost the plot”; at the announcement of his comeback he is “bursting with pride”; and so on, and so on.  However, like most writers who lean heavily on dead metaphors, Dixon sometimes doesn’t even get these right: Hatton describes being “put through the ringer” in training.  Martin Amis this is not.

One consequence is that whenever the register does rise above the plebeian, even if only as far as the mildly polysyllabic, the effect is as jarring as – at the risk of delivering another cliché – a left hook to the floating rib.  Hatton claims, wholly implausibly, to have addressed the following post-fight encouragement to an early victim: “I don’t want to sound patronizing .  .  .  but I was quite shocked you’d only had eight fights .  .  .  Don’t be disheartened.” Patronizing? Quite shocked? Disheartened? Is this the same person who supposedly wrote the sentence “When you get cut in the first round of a twelve-round title fight you think ‘Fucking hell’”?

Worse still, this man-of-the-people style too often simply becomes a licence to write badly.  Whatever the restrictions placed on an author, there is simply no excuse for sentences as lazy as this: “Then, in the ninth round, I suppose I got that frustrated that I had not been able to nail him flush that I took a run-up as if to say ‘Fuck it’ and I flew at him with a left hook, and it was probably the hardest punch I ever threw.  It’s a wonder he’s still not there now”.  This being Ricky Hatton’s own version of his own story, rather than a guess at what someone else might have been thinking, there is no warrant for the use here of the qualifier ‘I suppose’; the self-conscious use of the colloquial ‘that’ instead of ‘so’ (i.e., ‘so frustrated that .  .  .’) is clumsy and ugly in written English; if you are pretending to be transcribing written speech, ‘had not’ (rather than ‘hadn’t’) is completely out of place; and there is no way of construing ‘it’s a wonder he’s still not there now’ to mean what it is supposed to mean (viz., presumably, ‘it’s a wonder he’s not still there now’, strangled as that formulation would have been).   The same sort of wearying analysis could be applied to many similar sentences.

The indolence is not restricted to syntax.  A young Hatton describes himself watching Manchester City’s lavishly talented Georgi Kinkladze and thinking “how great it would be to be a sportsman that excites people”.  Then, later – mirabile dictu! – “whenever I put an opponent up against the ropes, I could hear the crowd take a sharp intake of breath .  .  .  it’s .  .  .  how it was at Maine Road all those years ago when I was on the terraces and Georgi Kinkladze picked up the ball”.  So cheap is this device that the reader almost fails to register the ugliness of “take a sharp intake of breath”.  Almost.

Some may think it unfair to expect a punch-drunk recovering alcoholic and substance-abuser to maintain tolerable standards of literacy.  I disagree.  Firstly, that’s what ghostwriters (and editors) are for.  Secondly, it wasn’t beyond, say, Jake La Motta & Rubin Carter.  And finally, where the offences against grammar and style are as egregious as this, a book becomes almost unreadable.

This is a shame, because there are some good things in War and Peace.  The account of rising through the UK’s amateur and then professional worlds, facing opponents from juniors, to journeymen, to “crossroads” fighters, to the absolute elite, is entertaining and informative.  And the book really comes alive whenever Hatton is in the ring: the depictions of the fights are often exciting, and usually reasonably objective.  Hatton is good on explaining how a top-level fighter approaches a particular opponent, developing a strategy and, where necessary, improvising improvements in the ring.  Even when he fights poorly (by his own estimation) Hatton rarely fails to tell us something worth hearing about the experience and its aftermath and effects (in one memorable scene Hatton goes for treatment on facial scar tissue that repeatedly opens during fights: on investigation, it turns out that the Vaseline applied to the original wound is still there under the skin).  And of course, few fighters have been in the ring with both Mayweather and Pacquiao, the two outstanding stars of the present generation, making the insights Hatton provides into their styles truly compelling.

So much for the artistry.  What of the psychology?

It was Leon Festinger who first coined the term “cognitive dissonance” for the mental distress experienced by an individual who holds contradictory beliefs, ideas or values.  On the basis of War and Peace it is clear that Hatton’s capacity for cognitive dissonance is as impressive as his appetite for ale and pies.

Some examples are relatively harmless.  It is a common peculiarity of people who come from the North West of England that they can, like Hatton, casually mention that they grew up 200 yards from the house where the Moors Murders were committed, went to school with the son of Harold Shipman (the UK’s worst mass murderer), then immediately aver, without the barest hint of irony, that “[s]ome of the nicest people in the world come from the area but sadly it’s not known for that”.    Also not uncommon among British working class young men is Hatton’s account of his career in football.   Taken on as a junior by his beloved Manchester City, then dropped because he spent too much time at the boxing gym and not enough at the training ground, he writes “it always makes you wonder, could I have done it?”, but immediately answers his own question: “there were some players in my class who stood out a mile .  .  .  and I wasn’t one of them”.

Other examples of this phenomenon are less amusing.  Hatton was notorious for gaining a great deal of weight, sometimes as much as ninety pounds, between fights (so much so that he claims his doctor warned him about heart attack risk[1]), then enduring impossibly hard training camps in order to get it all off.  Hatton says he would never let a fighter he was training get away with this, and also that if he could change one thing about his career it would be his behaviour between fights, even blaming it for his defeat against Senchenko.  However, he bizarrely also says that he was “quite proud of being called Ricky Fatton”, even claiming it as a sort of strength: “to do what I did and get my body from where it was to what it became on fight night, I think that showed the ultimate dedication”.

Perhaps this is not that unusual.  Many fighters are prone to self-delusion of one kind or another: after all, how many convince themselves that they have a chance against a palpably superior opponent, or that they still have it when they are clearly shot? And how many would agree with Hatton when he says of his son that “if I had a choice, I would rather he didn’t box, but .  .  .  it’s the best sport in the world”?

Less commonly, indeed perhaps uniquely among fighters, Hatton seems unable straightforwardly to report his own achievements, or attempt a positive evaluation of his abilities: instead, even after all these years, and all his successes, he endlessly reports what others (“people”, “observers”, or “writers”) say or said about him.  It is as if he can’t believe anything, even about himself, unless someone else says it.  “As a schoolboy, people were saying ‘There’s this kid from Manchester who can’t half body punch’ .  .  .  more people had started talking about me: I wasn’t just steamrolling people, I was doing it in a certain manner, and with moves that were impressing observers .  .  .  one writer even said I was ‘showing the footwork of a young Roberto Durán’ .  .  .  I could get nasty if I had to.  The guys at Sky Sports would say they could see it in the changing rooms before my fights”.  He records apparently every instance where someone of note mentions him as a prospect, from George Foreman to “Scotland’s former world lightweight champion and Sky Sports commentator Jim Watt”.  And it is not enough for him to complain that Joe Cortez didn’t give him a chance to fight Mayweather on the inside: he has to add that “Oscar de la Hoya .  .  .  and Bernard Hopkins at ringside were incensed”.

Where he does not have an authoritative third party opinion on himself, he instead offers an excess of justificatory evidence.  So, on turning professional, he can’t simply say “I was good enough to go straight to the major promoters”: instead, we get “[a]s a ticket-seller who had boxed for England, won about seventy of seventy-five fights, had won the ABAs and was turning professional as the number one in my weight class in the country, I had earned an audience with the country’s biggest promoters”, even though he has just spent the whole of the book thus far telling us precisely this story.

Why does Hatton do this? Firstly, there is his acute self-consciousness, which manifests itself in a chronic fear of being seen to be big-headed or arrogant.  He just cannot bring himself to say “I was good”: rather, it has to be “look – these people think I am good”.  It is, I suspect, the same self-consciousness which is at the root of his obsession with his “critics”, who for example, “had been asking ‘Well, he’s all right, but has he got any boxing ability?’ I’d ticked those boxes against Tackie, now demonstrating I could fight and win with bad cuts .  .  .  and that I was not just a body puncher .  .  .  I not only proved I could stand there and have it out with him, punch with him, but at times that I could outbox him, jab and move and display my boxing ability”.  Does Hatton really believe that he proved all this in a single fight, but had never adequately done so in the thirty-three professional wins he had before meeting Ben Tackie, or in becoming “the number one in my weight class in the country” as an amateur?

Secondly, Hatton obviously doubts that readers will trust his judgment without independent verification (after all, he doesn’t appear to trust them to know who Jim Watt is).  But as the book goes on it becomes ever clearer that Hatton also has no faith in his own judgment.  His obsession with “critics”, and in particular with repeatedly proving them wrong, betokens a broader lack of self-confidence, which is only ever temporarily ameliorated , but apparently never eroded, by positive assessments from third parties of his achievements in the ring.  Even after handily beating Tszyu, widely regarded at the time as one of the best fighters in the world, he imagines his critics saying “‘Oh, he’s beaten Tszyu? That was a fluke.’ ‘He’s a one-hit wonder.’” Revealingly, he goes on to add that, as a result, for his next fight, “[t]here was no lack of motivation”.  Similarly, on visiting the Kronk gym in Detroit he says “I think some of the fighters there were quietly taking the piss out of me.  Then Billy and I got in the ring on the bodybelt .  .  .  afterwards all of the other fighters came up to me, asking me my name and what my record was.  It had gone from ‘Who’s this little, pale-faced white kid grunting like an idiot?’ to all of a sudden thinking ‘Fucking hell.  That’s not bad, is it?’  That was quite pleasing.”

In other words, Ricky Hatton’s psychology comprises the following elements: a lack of self-awareness so complete that he is able to answer his own questions without realizing it; a self-consciousness so crippling as to make him incapable of expressing a positive opinion about himself without adducing extensive corroborating evidence; a resultant complete lack of self-confidence; and, therefore, an obsession with the views of other people so profound that eliciting positive opinions and disproving negative ones are his principal sources of, on the one hand, self-esteem, and on the other, motivation.

Any sportsman with this outlandishly fragile psychological profile is likely to react badly to defeat.  But the issues are multiplied a thousandfold in boxing, where public outings are relatively rare, where undefeated records are so highly prized, and where the physical as well as moral consequences of a single defeat can be career-ending.

It is against this background that Hatton entered the ring to face Floyd Mayweather, where he lost every round before being dispatched head-first into a cornerpost by a perfectly-timed check hook.  The psychological consequences of that defeat become particularly murky, not to say Freudian, when Hatton subsequently decides to abandon long-time trainer and supposed “best mate” Billy Graham in favour of none other than Floyd Mayweather Sr.  Hatton explains this decision by reference to Graham’s declining physical ability, citing in particular his inability to work the pads without painkilling injections to his hands.  Given everything that has come before, it is no surprise when it becomes clear that the idea of dumping Graham was put into Hatton’s mind by “some members of the team”.  Hatton himself seems characteristically confused about his own motivations for going with Mayweather, Sr.  in particular: “There was no rhyme or reason behind my going with Floyd; I wanted to add a few new facets to my game.” So, there was no reason; but here’s the reason.

At any rate, subsequent less-than-entirely-convincing victories over Juan Lazcano and Paulie Malignaggi achieved little beyond qualifying Hatton and his psyche for an even more spectacular two-round battering at the hands of Manny Pacquiao (following which he is, in turn, abandoned by Mayweather, Sr.).

What follows is a journey (documented extensively on the pages of the UK’s tabloids) into alcoholism, substance abuse, depression, and (allegedly[2]) infidelity that is deeply unsavoury even by the low standards set by other boxers.  Worse still, despite his repeated protestations to the contrary, it is not clear that Hatton is or ever could be equipped to deal with his demons.  Finding himself in the Priory, he refuses to accept that he is an alcoholic, insisting rather that he drinks so much because he is depressed.  This is obviously nonsense, not only for the implication that other alcoholics are any more cheerful, but because, by his own account, he remained depressed after leaving even though he (and, presumably, the Priory staff) managed to bring his drinking under control.

The true basis of Hatton’s malaise surely lie in his own longstanding emotional weaknesses, which, as detailed above, are visible on every page of War and Peace.  Having based his entire self-image on remaining undefeated in the ring, in order to silence the “critics” and thus cope with his own low self-esteem, he was utterly destroyed by his comprehensive losses to Mayweather and Pacquiao.  This is clearly what is behind his complaints that no one at the Priory understood him because none of them “had been embarrassed in front of millions like I had”, and his melodramatic claim that “[m]y sense of invincibility had now gone, having been an unstoppable force for so long, and I was forced to think about how I had let a nation down”.

Hatton claims that alternative therapies (from Tony Adams’ “Sporting Chance” clinic) have helped him: if so, they have done nothing to address his utter lack of self-knowledge.   This much is clear from two topics addressed at the end of this long book.   Firstly, in his lengthy discussion of his embarrassing falling-out with his parents and other relatives (mainly due to unspecified money problems) Hatton never considers the difficulties his family may have had dealing with a drunken, suicidal, substance-abusing, grossly overweight son.   And secondly, in his ponderings on the possible impact his career in boxing may have on his future health, it never occurs to him to wonder whether his current and historic emotional problems may have been caused, or at least aggravated, by the fact that he has spent so much of his life being punched in the head.

In these latter stages of the book there is a strong echo of the ending of Mike Tyson’s Undisputed Truth, in which Tyson waxes lyrical about the new sober life he has found through therapy and the love of a good woman – then admits, in a self-pitying epilogue added at the last minute, that nothing could be further from the truth.   So far Tyson seems to have found a way to stay alive and achieve some sort of peace, mainly by distancing himself from the man he used to be.   The reader of this sometimes unreadable, sometimes compelling, multiply flawed autobiography cannot help but fear that Ricky Hatton will lack the emotional strength to achieve even this uneasy settlement with himself and his past.

 

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2012/nov/23/ricky-hatton-vyacheslav-senchenko

[2] Hatton admits to all the listed failings except this one, though he has apparently taken no legal action against his accuser, Emma Bowe.  http://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/ricky-hatton-had-11-month-affair-with-me-251286

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