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How to cope with devastating defeat

Charlie Edwards
Action Images/Reuters/Peter Cziborra
Charlie Edwards, Amir Khan and Rocky Fielding have all been the victims of a crushing defeat. John Dennen hears how they dealt with it

HIS phone had gone silent. He knew that after his bout with Canelo Alvarez, the media attention, the calls, the interest would all fade. But Rocky Fielding had not expected it to die off so abruptly and so completely. The weeks after the contest blended into months and, as far as the wider boxing world was concerned, it was finished with him.

“My phone didn’t stop going off before the fight, once you’re on that losing side that’s it then,” Fielding told Boxing News.

Before boxing Canelo, he’d had DAZN, ESPN, Mexican TV following him, charting his progress. “Because it was that high profile a fight and everything, it was all new to me,” he said. “It’s all new things like that.

“I enjoyed it all but it was non-stop.”

In New York his name and face were plastered across Madison Square Garden, on top of taxis, it was hard to avoid. He went to Disneyland with his family after the fight and some of that recognition still lingered. “I was walking around Disneyland and you’re getting Mexicans that recognised me. The day before I was in Madison Square Garden fighting Canelo. The next day I’m pushing the baby around in a pram, drinking Bud Lite and I’m getting stopped for pictures. It’s crazy,” he said.

‘It’s a very dark place when you get beat and it doesn’t get any easier’

Amir Khan

That though was forgotten swiftly. Fielding was left to nurse the bruises after being battered by Canelo inside three rounds and the shame that stays with a fighter after such a loss. “Take all that away, I lost. I’m a fighter, I don’t like losing and that’s what happened. That’s why I’ve just got to get back in the gym and get back focused on the next one and keep going,” he said. “It’ll be hard to top fighting at Madison Square Garden against Canelo, but it’ll be hard now to be on an undercard somewhere. But that’s just boxing and that’s what I’ve got to accept because I could have been in a worse position.”

He was a real life Rocky story – in this reality, Rocky didn’t overcome the odds to perform better than expected against the big star. Events in fact unfolded true to form. In the ring the impact of being hit so hard by Alvarez had sent Fielding reeling to his knees, dazed, with a faint grin on his face. He has been mocked for that goofy expression but in reality he was just stunned. “I went down. Just my shock,” he explained. “No one’s daft enough to smile because they got hit.

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Canelo puts Rocky Fielding down to his knees Tom Hogan/Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions

“I made mistakes and I paid. That’s what happens when you’re at that level. I got stick from people thinking I was smiling and happy about it. It was me just going that was a good shot, do you know what I mean?”

“One shot got me. F****** hell I wasn’t happy that I lost. I went back to the changing room and it was a totally different thing. I was devastated.”

As hard a puncher as Canelo Alvarez is, as good a boxer as he is, losing at Madison Square Garden in front of so many people is a humbling experience, even if Rocky was well compensated for that bout. “The hard part now is investing it and using it. That’s the pressure. For the kids, to invest well,” he says. “Take the purse away and whatever else. I just need to get back in, get back to winning ways and not being known for going a couple of rounds with Canelo.”

“It was an experience. I give him the opportunities and you can’t do that with that level of fighter,” he added. “I was down most of it but I can still learn from it, I can still pick up on things and take it to the next fight with me and keep going and see what opportunities come now.

“It happened. I’m not going to dwell on it.”

Fielding is not the only Briton to be laid low at the Garden. Anthony Joshua was stopped there after seven brutal rounds with the unheralded Andy Ruiz. Amir Khan knows exactly what it’s like to be a star Olympian, a UK favourite and then suffers a shocking defeat to an underdog. It happened to him when Breidis Prescott knocked him out. “It’s a very dark place when you get beat and it doesn’t get any easier when only a handful of people stay with you,” Khan said. “People stop answering you. The big contracts leave you. I had contracts with like Reebok that were paying me a lot, a lot of money. They washed their hands and say see you later. It happens too quick. That’s why boxing is the hardest sport.”

Amir Khan was also a Canelo Alvarez victim Joshua Dahl/USA Today Sports

“With me I lost friends. Friends who were big supporters of mine turned round saying I was finished,” he continued. “You lose in boxing, they throw you under the bus. Even though you’re more upset than them. They’ll even try and get on top of you by taking things away from you. At the same time talk s*** about you. I’ve seen it happen to me.”

That takes a toll. Defeat hurts acutely and that is a bad state for a boxer to be in. Smarting from losing his unified super-lightweight titles to Lamont Peterson, Khan went straight into another unification with Danny Garcia trying to make a statement. “What happens is that you make mistakes and, look, I’ve seen it myself. When you when you go into a fight with your emotions high you make mistakes automatically. You want to prove a point for example when I fought Garcia when I fought the guys who I fought where emotionally I’ve gone in there and I’ve tried to do a number and fight with my heart, that’s where you get hurt,” Khan explained.

Thinking of Anthony Joshua, Amir says, “He must be in bits. He must be definitely in bits.”

Khan said, “I mean mentally you are upset. It kills you. You might not show that. You might be so straight-faced and strong emotionally that you might not show it but … when you’ve lost all them titles it’s like you’ve lost your babies.”

Charlie Edwards can empathise with Joshua. They’ve known each other for years, won the ABAs together as amateurs, roomed together when on the GB squad. Edwards became a world champion as a professional too but his first attempt at a world title, back in 2016, ended in an ignominious defeat.

After only eight pro fights Edwards challenged John Riel Casimero for the IBF flyweight title at the O2 Arena in London. Casimero hammered the Croydon man, consigning him to a painful 10 round stoppage loss. “I took some real punishment in there. I watch the fight back and I can’t even remember being in it, it was all a blur. Just fighting on instinct, fighting for my life. I was concussed,” Charlie tells Boxing News. “For a week after I didn’t feel the same. I felt weird. I felt like I had smoke round my head.

“This game is no joke. It’s your life on the line every time you step into that ring.”

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Charlie Edwards had to face his demons after a crushing loss Mark Robinson/Matchroom

Naturally Edwards had believed in himself, talked up his chances and, as the chief support to Gennady Golovkin vs Kell Brook, the world was watching this fight. Therefore the result for him was a humiliation. “I felt I embarrassed myself, although I never. I put in a very good account for myself from everyone else’s point of view at the time, no one expected me to win. But I just felt I embarrassed myself, embarrassed everyone. I didn’t want to show my face around in public,” he said. “I really struggled with it.”

Despite his amateur experience he points out, “I’d never been stopped before… That was a big heartache for me.”

He went abroad, though it hardly felt like a holiday. Edwards was drinking, trying to lose himself. Getting out of shape very quickly. “I went into a depressive sort of state,” he recalled. “It was just a running away from the world sort of thing, trying to hide.”

Feeling miserable, he took stock. “I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked a state, I was really heavy,” he said.

Edwards thought, “I need to get out [with a bout] as soon as possible because I’m really struggling. It was killing me mentally.

“It was an absolute killer. It was a hard, hard process to go through. And it really built my character and tested me a hell of a lot.”

He told his management team and promoter, “Get me a six rounder. I need to get out, I need to put my mind to something.”

“I got beat by Casimero in September. I had three weeks, lost my head and then, I got out and put my head to it, got back in there in November. So got straight back on the horse,” he explained. “I fought the come back fight, which I only got paid three grand for, going from a world title shot. But I didn’t care. I wanted to get in there so bad. I would have fought for nothing because I had to get back in there, I had to get my head straight.”

From facing an intimidating champion the bout before, for his comeback fight he went up against a humble 3-4-1 journeyman, Georgi Georgiev, in an unremarkable bout buried on an undercard. Yet Charlie experienced something boxers rarely go through and hardly ever admit to. Not nerves. Real fear. “So weird. My hands were all sweaty,” Edwards said. “The changing room, warming up, it was so daunting. My head completely fell off. I was s******* myself. I was afraid. I was afraid of a six rounder against an absolute journeyman… It must have been sitting there in the back of my mind.”

‘You learn and you bounce back. Without failing you will never grow’

Charlie Edwards

He turned to his brother, fellow professional fighter Sunny Edwards. In no uncertain terms Sunny told him how this Georgiev wouldn’t last a round with Casimero. “He gave me a firm talking to, which I needed but that’s what brothers are for,” Charlie said. “You’ve got to be straight talking in this game and no one better than your brother.

“When the bell went I was sweet. But it was a very weird, weird feeling.”

He won that fight in three rounds but, despite only being 10 bouts into his pro career, for many observers he had gone as far he could. He was consigned to domestic level. Edwards won the British title but did not make a defence. He chalked up three more wins with little fanfare.

“When you lose as a pro people think your career’s done, over. And everyone was saying that about me and the reality is it’s not. It’s how you bounce back, it’s how you come back from your defeats and you come back from your defeats that makes you a fighter,” he said.

Edwards also sought guidance from a sports psychiatrist. “My character’s only built because I had professional help. And I’m not afraid to admit, I went through very tough times,” he said.

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Edwards triumphed in the end

The Londoner had improved, both his mindset and his skills as a boxer. He got another opportunity too. Last December he was the underdog once again when he returned to the O2 to take on WBC world flyweight champion Cristofer Rosales. Edwards boxed with confidence. Without hesitation he handled the strong Nicaraguan to win a clear unanimous decision after 12 rounds.

If anything he had benefited from his defeat. “The loss made me. It really has,” he said. “I don’t get why people are scared to fail. With failure comes growth. You learn and you bounce back. Without failing you will never grow.”

Defeat can be ugly and painful. It can hurt and be humiliating. But it is also part of what makes a fighter complete.

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