It is reasonable to assume that one of the few people among the 20,000 packed into the MEN Arena next Saturday night who will wish Ricky Hatton even the most temporary harm will be the one who can spell Vyacheslav Senchenko without looking it up.
So unconditionally loved is Hatton in Manchester (and beyond), a man nearly as big in the city's heart as either of the two football teams, that most of those attending the fight will not think for a minute that Mr Senchenko can spoil the fairytale.
He can, of course. The Ukrainian, tall, a little stiff but well-schooled, is a former Olympian and world champion who has lost one of 31 fights in 10 years. Although some of his opponents are more obscure than Jude, he has sent 21 of them home early before succumbing last April to the sub-atomic power of the slick Paulie Malignaggi in front of his own supporters in Donetsk in April, when he lost his WBA welterweight title.
Hatton instantly saw a way back. It is not wild speculation to conclude that Malignaggi, whom Hatton stopped in November 2008 (his second "comeback" bout, after losing to Floyd Mayweather Jr), is his ultimate prey; the light-hitting American has a title but, more importantly, presents no obvious threat to Hatton's health.
As for Saturday, this is a perilous exercise. It is intended not just to revive a career whose full point arrived emphatically in Las Vegas three and a half years ago in five minutes and 59 seconds of suicide boxing against Manny Pacquiao, but to drive out the sadness that has steadily invaded Hatton's soul since, simultaneously validating his relationship with an entire city.
What a towering paradox it always was that the very support that helped lift Hatton to the summit of his sport on a string of unforgettable nights at home and abroad also contributed, in part, to his downfall. So determined was he to hold their love that he ignored signs of decline, fought courageously on fumes from the past, laughed off disaster, drank heartily in victory and defeat, then went home each night to a less purblind reading of his behaviour by his partner, Jennifer.
The collateral damage was immense. His chronic drinking, a dalliance with drugs and simmering personal grief drove him to the point of suicide, ballooning his weight and eroding his self-esteem, and he deserves acclamation for surviving such an ordeal. He has done that with his fists, the same ones housed by gloves over 12 years in the ring, and, for nearly as long, wrapped around a pint glass.
Hatton always admitted he lived, worked and relaxed in a fury. "I'd be denying my real personality if I did it any other way," he once said. With each passing day back in the gym, he felt better.
Fighting defined Hatton. It was retirement that was killing him, as it does with many fighters. "I spoke to Sugar Ray Leonard," he said. "He had his problems, depression, drink. You think Sugar Ray Leonard? You think, what's he got to worry about? But, just because you're world champion, it doesn't mean the sun shines out your arse. It doesn't mean you are any different to anyone. I've got this lovely gym, a nice house for me and my family to live in. Boxing has been very, very good to me. But that couldn't do nowt for me when I wanted to kill myself."
Four months ago, he "felt the itch" badly. He upped his workouts, put on the gloves, made a few calls, got his licence in order and stared ahead, not into those bits of his past that were dark and sinister. After announcing his comeback, he had an altercation with his father, Ray, in a car park. The subject is off-limits. All he wants to do is talk boxing, the hub of his existence.
He looked around him, he said, at his patched-up life, his rehabbed body, and he started to wonder again, about the respect, the applause – and the terrible ending. "I thought, can I end it on a high, and not flat on my back against Pacquiao? Can I end it on a positive note?"
To watch him buzz in his Hyde gym this week was to witness a snapshot of the past, a whirring, wise-cracking, contented phenomenon in tune with his trade, battering his middle-aged trainer, Bob Shannon, around the ring in a workout designed as much to convince onlookers as himself that he was back.He looked fine. But this was his gym, and his people. "Come on, Bobby!" Hatton shouted, sinking another left into the fat body bag strapped around Shannon's midriff. Shannon went over – a little too easily, perhaps – in one exchange, then screamed, "Find your tiger, Ricky! Find your wolf!"
Nearby stood Jamie Moore, Hatton's long-time friend, just a month younger. Moore, a fine British champion, quit boxing two years ago after his second stoppage loss on the spin. Recently, he contemplated a comeback, and just as quickly changed his mind after a series of punishing workouts. "Where's your wolf?" Shannon said to Moore. "It went for a walk, Bobby," he said. "It's not coming back." If Hatton heard the exchange, it did not register. He ploughed on, refining his sleek frame, putting fire in his belly to replace the flab burnt off in recent months. He will know not long after his familiar ring walk if this gamble is worth it, when a cacophony of sound consumes the MEN Arena.
"I'll start thinking how many sacrifices I've made to get where I've got, and Campbell [his son], and now Millie [his baby daughter]. And I'll be thinking about all the bad things that have happened to me. Life has kicked me hard, hasn't it? Some of it's my fault, some of it's not my fault ... the fall-out with the family, the fall out with [his ex-trainer] Billy Graham, the trouble I found myself in. I'm just so proud of the Ricky Hatton that's here now though.
"That's what's going to go through my mind as I walk to the ring, with the crowd roaring. It's what I've missed more than anything. If I'm going to be the champion that I believe I am, I owe it all to them. It's been a real .
"Some of the things that my girlfriend [Jennifer] has seen me go through ... But I've had enough feeling sorry for myself now. Everyone knows that story. Shit happens to us all, get over it, get on with beating him. I've got my nasty, horrible head on now."
And afterwards? "We'll celebrate, sure, but not like the old fight parties, where we went straight to the nightclubs, or go on all-dayers … No, on Sunday it will be a meal with Jennifer and my family. That will be it. You'll see me with a pint from time to time. But it would be nice to see me with a pint and smile on my face. You don't want to see my crying into my beer like a wet lettuce. Them days are gone."
If they are, he is a champion again without throwing a punch.
Hatton v Senchenko, Saturday 24 November, Primetime
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