I HAVE red hair, a big gob and I’d like to tell you a story about how boxing helped to save my life. Back in 2017, I was particularly busy and stressed with work. Also, my dad was suffering from Parkinson’s and dementia, which eventually claimed his life in January the following year. My own ongoing health issues resulted in me being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, though thankfully not an aggressive version. This diagnosis shattered the peace and the noise still reverberates today. Within a matter of weeks my mental health deteriorated to such an extent I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital where I spent a total of seven weeks. I sank to a place far deeper than the ocean and much darker than the dead of night.
I became totally convinced that my loved ones would be better off in a world that existed without me in it. My constant anxiety was uncontrollable as my fears became genuine terror.
Finally getting home to my family triggered the reconstruction phase. My incredible family provide me with more love and support than any man could ever ask for; Victoria, my wife and my four sons, Daniel, Sam, Charlie and Alfie.
But I had lost my career, income, confidence, and my identity. Just as we were finding our feet, I was then diagnosed with Stage 2 prostate cancer. Another wretched blow. And then boxing came to the rescue.
I absorbed myself in my beloved sport. After reading Jamie Moore’s autobiography I decided to make contact, simply to express how much I respected and admired his journey. I found myself not only in awe of his exciting boxing career, but also his positivity that leapt from the pages. I sent him a letter. Astonishingly, Jamie rang me, inviting us to his gym. Me, Victoria and Alfie – who is 13 – had a day that we will never forget.
We watched Carl Frampton, Jack Catterall, Chantelle Cameron, Aqib Fiaz, Marc Leach, Steve Ward, all sparring and training with Jamie and Nigel Travis. It was surreal. We spent time putting the world to rights with Jamie and his family and I sat with Carl discussing boxing in general. He was so generous with his time following a punishing session only hours before.
While we were at the gym Sean O’Hagan arrived with Maxi Hughes. We were soon invited to his gym for a similar experience. The three of us arrived in Leeds where we met Josh Warrington and his team. We were privileged to watch first class sparring, which culminated in Josh calling Alfie into the ring for some ‘sparring’.
Josh offered lots of advice and encouragement. Sean is in regular contact, he is a larger than life character who, like Jamie, I now consider a friend. The honest, down to earth, eye level access that I have to a small section of the boxing fraternity serves to remind me that our sport has real integrity. It really cares.
I am of course well aware of the politics and the complex business dealings within the sport that are too easy to get bogged down with. But my life continues to receive a much-needed injection of encouragement and positivity thanks to boxing.
Victoria and I have been together for almost 30 years. We got married on November 9, 1996, and I spent the evening meal watching the clock, anxious not to miss Steve Collins-Nigel Benn II live on TV! Throughout she has been a monumental tower of strength, support, inspiration, with unconditional love. Though I feel guilt and fear of becoming completely dependent upon her, she reminds me that my mental and physical situation will not define us and that we will face the next chapter together.
Boxing is a huge part of that chapter. I would welcome any opportunity to meet and talk to any fighter, or anyone, who may be experiencing a downturn in their mental health. To share some of my own experiences and actively demonstrate that you really can regain your perspective and learn to live a positive way of life once more. It is far better to have lived the message before you attempt to deliver it.
I am now strong enough to do just that. After all, I’ve still (just about) got red hair, a big gob and a love for boxing that is stronger than ever.