Dear Ricky,

It’s hard to imagine how you must feel this morning.

I guess it was a bit of a shock looking in the mirror to see your bruised face staring back and there must be that feeling of disappointment at your comeback ending in a knockout.

I’m not sure if anyone can understand the dark feeling of total loss that only boxing can provide- the knife edge of win or lose, the depth of defeat or the total high of victory. A team sport is so different from this, the pain of defeat is masked by having people stand beside you but in boxing it’s just you, the ring, the bright lights and the baying crowd. When you lose you really do lose. I imagine that the moment when you shakily get up from a knockout blow you must be one of the loneliest places in the world.

Boxing is the ultimate sport, where there can only be a winner and a loser in the most profound of ways. It’s the western martial art where brain and brawn is equally matched. One mistake and you lose and you found that out last night Ricky. You had trained hard and the chip eating, ballooned up Ricky was nowhere to be seen in the ring, in fact you looked fitter and fiercer than at any other time in your career but age catches up with all of us and the reactions get slower and what was once you creating your own luck or your own ability to win easily has slowed down with the cruel passage of time. For most of us that means peering through a pair of specs trying to read the paper but for you it means maybe not being able to avoid those body shuddering punches that seem to come from nowhere.

I remember a few years ago going to the boxing gym in east Manchester to interview you and watching you train and I was amazed by the punishing routines you were putting in at the time. You were doing these 15 rounds in the ring with your trainer Billy ‘The Preacher’ Graham who was wearing body armour whilst you pounded away at him. I remember Billy gasping for a cig and sweating crazily afterwards explaining to me what made you a great boxer and I remember how humble and polite you were when I spoke to you- the true mark of a real champion.

Ricky, you may feel bad about losing last night, and retirement at such a young age is a strange and tough concept and to turn your back on the adrenalin rush of entering the ring to the love of 20 000 people is a difficult and brave call but it’s the wisest decision. You may have lost the fight last night but you have won the war and it feels like you are the true champ with the respect of the whole of Manchester heaped upon your shoulders.

I know the last few years have been difficult for you since you last quit the ring with the depression, drink and drugs which are all signs of how difficult it is to fill the void left by such a full on life but, like a real champion, you have confronted these issues and spoken about them and maybe this will be the real knockout punch in your career- dealing with the great unspokens.

Last night Ricky, I watched a defeat that felt like a victory and a springboard to a new career where what you say is the real knockout for a true people’s champion.

 

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