“You can take on the world in the ring but this problem called depression, you can't take it on.”
For a generation of boxing fans, the British boxer Ricky Hatton served as a beacon of humility and decency in a sport not known for either. He was a sensation all over the globe, particularly in England, but throughout his ascent, he remained honest and grounded, attracting legions of fans who opted for that persona over the egos projected by Floyd Mayweather (who defeated Hatton) and the like.
Nowadays, Hatton is retired, but he still speaks openly not just about his career, but the struggles he’s faced in his life after boxing. Namely, his battle with substance abuse and depression as he seeks out a purpose in life following boxing.
Here he is in 2014 speaking candidly about his struggles with mental illness:
His career began to unravel in 2007 after his first professional loss to Floyd Mayweather, then a subsequent loss to Manny Pacquiao in 2009. Having lost his status as an elite boxer, he entered rehab for cocaine addiction in 2010. Since then, he’s battled with depression, most recently speaking about it to the BBC, stating:
“I tried to kill myself several times. I used to go to the pub, come back, take the knife out and sit there in the dark crying hysterically.
There were times when I hadn’t had a drink for days and I’d still come home and if something went through my mind I’d start pondering something. It was the same outcome whether I was having a drink or wasn’t having a drink. But in the end I thought I’ll end up drinking myself to death because I was so miserable.”
His words are painfully familiar to many retired athletes, especially those in contact sports. Not only must they cope with their inability to continue their life’s work as an athlete, but head trauma leading to CTE can bring about the very instances of suicide, depression, and substance abuse that he mentions above.
He continued to speak of how taboo and difficult it can be for someone like a boxer to discuss depression or even admit that they’re struggling it, instead putting on a cocky, arrogant swagger for the fans:
“As boxers we don’t do that. We think, ‘I’m Ricky Hatton or I’m Tyson Fury, I can take on the world’. You can take on the world in the ring but this problem called depression, you can’t take it on. We’re out of our comfort zones with depression. I certainly was and whenever I have bad days now I speak to someone to get it off my chest. I have no shame telling that and that’s why I’m here today.”
Hatton continues to plea that boxers, especially retired ones, realize that such feelings are, sadly, common, and that help is available. The full interview can be heard here:
Hopefully, by opening up about his struggle, he’ll show future fighters that there’s no stigma to seeking help at any stage in your career.