The secret to a long life is knowing when it's time to go

It is a truism that every political career must necessarily end in failure. But is the same true of sport, or are its practitioners better-equipped to bow out gracefully, to know when the end has come and when refusal to accept that means nothing but humiliation and defeat?

We’re about to see whether one of the best boxers that the UK has ever produced, a 5ft 6in Mancunian by the name of Ricky Hatton, is going to be able to call it quits before things get really ugly for him.

Hatton has had a brief enough reign, about four years at the top of the sport, compared to 12 or 13 for the recently-retired Joe Calzaghe, one of his few serious rivals for the title of best British boxer ever. And, as is usual, Hatton’s form has dropped off shockingly fast.

Before his fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr in Las Vegas in December 2007, Hatton was unbeaten and rated by The Ring magazine as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. That was his first defeat in more than 40 professional fights – an unlovely knock-down in round 10 led to the fight being stopped soon after.

Since then there have been a couple of not-very-taxing bouts, one in his native Manchester as a thank-you to his army of fanatical fans for following him around the world and literally shouting down the opposition.

And then, on Saturday, he was taken down twice in two rounds by Filipino light-welterweight Manny Pacquiao, left unconscious on the canvas then carted off to a Las Vegas hospital for a brain scan. The main damage was done with a first-round right hook that Hatton never even saw, and the fight-ending blow was a quick left in the second round.

According to Ray, his father and manager, he is still considering his future. But anyone who knows anything at all about boxing knows that he is gone and that it’s just a question of how he will come to terms with that fact.

A prospective fight with Olympic silver medallist and up-and-coming British wunderkind Amir Khan was said to be on the cards. It is now clear that you’d find no-one happy to even offer you odds on Hatton in that fight.

It is a very, very sad moment for British boxing fans, coming as it does on the back of Calzaghe’s retirement. He had the wisdom to go out on a high note, after a fine defeat of Roy Jones Jr and an unbeaten record in 46 fights.

Let’s hope Hatton can come to a similar decision.