Hatton says he is enjoying himself again in the boxing ring
Ricky Hatton thought he might be past it following his unconvincing victory over Juan Lazcano back in May. And he wasn't the only one.
Looking to locate top gear in the final stages of the fight as he went all out for a stoppage, Hatton could only find neutral. And he very nearly slipped into reverse.
Lazcano had Hatton in some trouble, and despite taking a wide points decision on all three judges' scorecards, the warning signs were there. The Hitman was still the Hitman, but for all the wrong reasons.
"After the Floyd Mayweather fight [Mayweather inflicted Hatton's first professional defeat in Las Vegas last December] I was down in the dumps and against Lazcano I was rubbish," Hatton, who meets Paulie Malignaggi in Las Vegas on Saturday, told BBC Sport.
"I was ill against Lazcano with a terrible chest infection, my sparring partners went home early and I was delighted to just get through. But you've got to be honest with yourself, and I thought I might be past it.
"Me and Billy [Graham, Hatton's former trainer] used to work on the technical stuff a few years back , but Billy had to rest his elbows and hands. It wasn't his fault, it was just Old Father Time.
"I was doing less technique and more grind with each training camp and it showed in my performances. I had to move on for my own good."
I'm still going to jump all over Malignaggi, but I'm going to set up my attacks, jab as I go in, use different angles
Hatton, 30, made the painful decision to dispense with Graham's services after 13 years together before linking up with Floyd Mayweather Sr, father of Floyd Jr and one of boxing's most respected trainers.
To some, the union seemed a strange one. Slugger Hatton with the man who, as Floyd Jr's trainer until 1998, had helped create one of the slickest fighters the sport has seen.
But Hatton, who Mayweather Sr said was little more than a "punching bag" in the fight against his son, suspected it would be the ideal fit.
"Who better to work with than Floyd?" said Hatton. "I've always had boxing ability and working with Floyd has brought it out of my locker.
"I was never going to outbox Floyd [Mayweather Jr], but there should have been a little bit more method to my madness.
"You're not going to see all of a sudden Ricky Hatton up on his toes, jabbing and moving and Ali shuffling and all that nonsense, but you'll see him moving his head and setting up Malignaggi with his jab.
"I always used to set up my body shots with little combinations or a move to the side, but you haven't seen that for the past couple of years.
"Since I bulldozed Kostya Tszyu [Hatton beat Tszyu to claim the IBF light-welterweight crown in 2005] maybe I thought, without realising it, that I had this little invisible shield around me.
"Against Luiz Collazo I bulldozed in, and against Jose Luis Castillo and Mayweather the same. But you can't do it at this level and that's what's been drilled into me again.
"I'm still going to jump all over Malignaggi, but I'm going to set up my attacks, jab as I go in, use different angles. Everyone keeps saying, you can't turn him into a boxer, but I've always had it in me."
Crucially, Hatton is enjoying himself again, with Mayweather Sr, the "poet laureate of boxing", punctuating his whip-cracks with plenty of poems and jokes.
"I had some wonderful times with Billy, but slowly but surely all the other fighters left and in the end it was just me and Matthew [Ricky's younger brother, who fights Ben Tackie on the MGM Grand undercard].
"This time I've been training with a gym full of fighters and I've been learning new things. And Floyd's a character, he's got a wonderful sense of humour, so training's been fun.
"I'm still waiting for the day when a fighter comes in front of the press and says, 'you know what, that training camp was rubbish'.
"But anyone who's seen me train in the build-up to this fight, I'll think you'll agree that the twinkle in my eye is back. And, as God is my judge, on Saturday night I'm going to prove it."
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