Weigh-In from London: Slaying the Devil
Happiness, health and family are where life really is, not in front of the intense glare of the 24-hour media and casino theme park of Las Vegas…
The Twins of Evil and Depression
The Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski once concluded an essay with this memorable sentence about the concept of evil. “I will end with a remark by a French Catholic theologian whose name escapes me; he said that he can understand people who do not believe in God, but the fact that there are people who do not believe in the devil is beyond his comprehension.”
The struggle to explain evil and the role it plays in the human world is a central preoccupation of Kolakowski’s. It is a question that stimulated his precocious intellect and is something he experienced twice in his life.
Firstly, he spent his teenage years in Nazi-occupied Poland and then saw his nation choked by the forced bondage and enslavement which Stalin perfected. Fascism and communism were not abstractions Kolakowski wrote about for money. Evil and the Christian explanation for evil in its theology, which is the devil, is something Kolakowski devoted his considerable energies to define.
In mental illness, the equivalent of evil, at least to my mind, is depression. The “black dog” as Winston Churchill called it is complex, insidious, terrifying and, I believe, an ineradicable form of illness. It can ambush anyone when they least expect it and can lead to suicide.
The most irrational and warped part of depression is the self-harm and self-hatred which can develop in tandem. People who have never had depression cannot understand its ‘logic’ and masochistic energy.
Unfortunately, the truth for some depressed people is that they probably cannot decipher the reason for their self-hatred. It seems to me that we can know the consequence of depression: the symptoms but never quite know the precise causes.
The slight bewilderment with which Ricky Hatton recounted how he slipped into his depression in the build-up to his comeback fight with Vyacheslav Senchenko in November is an example of this.
Hatton talked about the snowball effect of depression and the sheer irrationality it induced in him. How could it be that Hatton, who was such an accomplished professional boxer, popular public figure and decent human being develop an impression of himself which was so at odds with reality?
The question everyone asks but cannot answer is, “How did ‘Mr. X’ or ‘Miss Y’ become so ill and not himself or herself?” Although the answer is “depression,” the retort is a banality and insufficient. It is like the conclusion that one has got wet from being outside in the rain but does not offer a reason as to what caused the rain to fall at that particular time.
Hatton’s Honest Self-Evaluation
For me, the post-fight interview Hatton gave after his courageous yet ultimately doomed campaign to return to the fistic summits he had reached between 2005-2007 is simply one of the finest I have ever seen given by a sportsman. It was poignant, an honest and hard-nosed account of where Hatton had been and where he wanted to go not in his career but more significantly in his life.
Since Ricky Hatton’s first defeat in 2007, where he was completely outclassed by Floyd Mayweather Jr., Hatton’s life and career entered a tumultuous phase. He achieved an unconvincing win against Juan Lazcano in 2008, fell out with his trainer and friend Billy Graham; entered a new relationship and training regime with the idiosyncratic Floyd Mayweather Sr., came back with a superb win against Paulie Malignaggi in Las Vegas, was then brutally knocked out by Manny Pacquiao in two rounds and then went full tilt into depression.
During the press conference Hatton said (I have shortened Hatton’s statement here), “I have no complaints. I needed to put a few demeans to rest and a few ghosts to sleep…we found out tonight—it isn’t there no more (Hatton’s boxing abilities). I have just looked in the mirror and just did give it my best…That’s what I did three years ago and found excuses.
“There is always an excuse to find isn’t there? ...You are always able to pick these things out of the air. I needed to find out whether I still have it and I don’t. The fighter knows when they are in there and I knew. I have had hard fights and burned the candle at both hands…I have lived by the sword and died by the sword…what should I do? Should I dwell on it like I did last time?
“I know that I am not going to put myself through that torture again…If I don’t draw a line in the sand now, then when will I? I am happy honestly. I wanted to see if I could mix it again at world level. I got the answer, I can’t. I would like to think I picked a hard opponent. I am happy I got the answers I needed. As upsetting as it is, I can be a man now and say it is the end of Ricky Hatton. There is one thing I am proud to say, you might think this is arrogant but I don’t really care at the minute. It will be a long time to see someone who brings crowds like I brought them and I am very proud to take that title into retirement with me.”
In 2005, I wrote an article called Closing Time: Retirement from Boxing which touched on these themes in Hatton’s remarks. The theme of the piece is self-explanatory.
At the end of the article I wrote, “Finally we come to Lennox Lewis, winner of 41 out of 44 fights and the dominant heavyweight of his generation and an undisputed all-time great. He finished his career in February 2004 and plans to stay that way. We can only hope Lewis will not, like the other three boxers discussed here, feel the urge to comeback. At his last press conference he proclaimed, ‘Let the new era begin.’ Hopefully, more fighters will take Lewis’s advice to heart in the future and lead healthier retirements away from what made them. They have to learn to move onto a different era of their lives.”
Hatton has defeated depression and has managed to move on in his life. His profoundest words at what should be his last ever conference as a professional boxer were his best: “I am happy guys, honestly, I gave it my best and I cannot give it anymore…I am going to be the best father, the best trainer, the best coach I can be.”
As Hatton has showed us, there is more to life than being a fighter, a success story and finding excuses to engineer endless comebacks which lead to brain damage and wheelchairs. It takes real courage to survive depression and retire from such an addictive sport.
It will be a long time before a British fighter emerges with as much support, popularity and box office appeal as Ricky Hatton. He’s given enough of himself to boxing through all of the punches he has taken and world titles he has won.
Happiness, health and family are where life really is, not in front of the intense glare of the 24-hour media and casino theme park of Las Vegas. If more boxers realized this, boxing history would not then be littered with the shells of so many fighters who have been tragically maimed.
NOTE: The quotation is from an essay called ‘Leibniz and Job: The Metaphysics of Evil and the Experience of Evil’ from Is God Happy? Selected Essays by Leszek Kolakowski.
Michael Klimes is a journalist and writer based in the United Kingdom. He works for Japan’s leading news agency, JIJI Press, at the London bureau. He writes about a variety of topics. You can visit his website at: www.michaelklimes.com to see his interests. His twitter page is here: http://twitter.com/#!/misaklimes.