Once the sound of thousands of people screaming your name has faded out for the final time, how do you replace that feeling of euphoria?
That is the question that has been asked of thousands of boxers – whether they were all time greats or journeymen – and the list of people who have answered that question positively is a great deal smaller than the people who have failed to answer it.
It has become a cliché, the kind of cliché that a bad screenwriter would use for a character in a film about boxing to show the ‘bad side of the sport’.
But like all clichés, it comes from the fact that a huge number of boxers simply cannot adjust to a life outside the ring.
Some keep fighting until they become shadows of their former selves or become seriously hurt and are forced into retirement because of their injuries.
Others retire at the right time but replace the euphoria of the sport of boxing with the highs of drugs and alcohol.
In Britain, we have seen two of our biggest boxing stars fail to adjust to a world on the other side of the ropes. Both Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe – the most bankable stars in British boxing over the last decade, familiar to millions and heroes to many – have become tabloid fodder, examples of the struggles that befall a post boxing career.
Calzaghe’s case was slightly different from Hatton’s, in that it seemed born out of boredom. Hatton’s was the much sadder and familiar tale; he was driven to these excesses because he was depressed that his career was over.
The final moment of Calzaghe’s career was walking out of the ring after easily outpointing a faded legend in Roy Jones, Jr. He was 46-0 and a millionaire. Hatton was stretched out in round two of a fight with Manny Pacquaio – the greatest fighter on the planet. He was unconscious for a few minutes and there were anxious moments in the ring following the knockout. Sky commentator Ian Darke commented on the horrific sound that Hatton’s fiancée Jennifer made when he suffered the knockout blow. These types of endings will haunt a fighter for ever.
Hatton’s recent troubles have been well documented and do need to be regurgitated here. The point is: what can be done to aid a fighter in his retirement years?
Calzaghe is a good-looking man with millions in the bank; he has a family, he’s a BBC Sports Personality of the Year winner and enough of a celebrity to be invited onto a flagship show like ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. But it still wasn’t enough.
2009 saw the tragic deaths of fight fan favourite Arturo Gatti and all-time great Alexis Arguello. Both had struggled in their post-fighting lives, and in Arguello’s case, ended in suicide.
Time will tell if Hatton can buck the trend in the long run. He too has a family, a successful career as a Promoter, and is loved by millions so he could easily become a commentator in the way Barry McGuigan has.
But can any of that ever be enough? Can it replace 25,000 fans singing your name in Las Vegas?
It’s a brutal, unforgiving sport both inside the ring and out. All we can do as fight fans is respect and support these fighters and hope that they can find peace when the bright lights fade.