Ricky Hatton put his exhibition bout with Marco Antonio Barrera up there with some of the greatest moments in his stellar boxing career.
The 44-year-old former super-lightweight and welterweight world champion returned to the ring after a 10-year absence in his home city of Manchester to face Mexican icon Barrera in an eight, two-minute round contest with no winner or loser on Saturday night.
Hatton received a rapturous reception from his home-city support and was cheered on all the way by them as he and 48-year-old former three-weight world champion Barrera put on a memorable display for those watching in the arena and on television.
Sharing a ring with all-time greats Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao, and beating Kostya Tszyu to claim the IBF world title at the same venue in 2005 are among the highs of Hatton’s career, but he believes Saturday’s clash with Barrera is on the same level.
“I’ve done so many things in boxing; Vegas, the Kostya Tszyu fight here all of those years ago, Mayweather, Pacquiao – great times,” Hatton told Sky Sports.
“But, bearing in mind what I’ve been through and the fact I’m 44 years of age, to do that with my friend and hero Marco Antonio Barrera is up there with the rest of it. I’ve got a real sense of achievement with what I’ve done here.
“He’s a gentleman, he’s a legend and I feel privileged. I bumped into him in the hotel lobby in Las Vegas all those years ago and said, ‘will you walk me into the ring?’. I walked him into the ring, he gave me the shorts he boxed in, and we stayed in touch and stayed friends.
“Although we don’t speak to each other every week, I consider him a real friend and a friend for life. He’s a lovely guy with a lovely family, and what a fighter.”
Hatton underwent an extensive training programme to get back in shape to face Barrera, weighing in at 11st 6lb during the ceremonial weigh-in the day prior to the exhibition.
He has battled mental health problems since retiring as well, but training for this bout gave him new motivation and he could not have been happier with how it went.
“It’s great – the build-up, to get in the ring, to hear the roar of the crowd again, see my mum and dad and all my friends and family, and everyone who has been there from day one,” Hatton said.
“Even people from Sky – I made my professional debut when I was 18 and I’ve had my last dance when I was 44, and the same people have been videoing me and photographing me.
“To share the ring with Marco is brilliant. I didn’t know if I should be working him in close because every time I went in close, he backed off and I thought, because it’s my first exhibition, ‘should I dig him here or not?’, but I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did.”
A possible exhibition rematch with Mayweather, who stopped Hatton in the 10th round when they met in 2007 and was involved in his own exhibition against YouTube personality Deji over the weekend, has been mooted.
Hatton did not rule out returning to the ring for an exhibition at some point in the future, but for now, just wants to bask in the afterglow of a memorable night.
“I would be an idiot to say no with how good it has been for me, but let’s just let me enjoy this one first,” Hatton said.