I’m sticking with the boxing theme as we were treated to a second great fight in a matter of weeks between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder. For someone who is very capable of getting back up no matter how many times he is knocked down it wasn’t really a surprise to me that Fury rallied form being dropped twice to win by a sensational knock out in the eleventh round.
I suspect that Fury’s ability to come back after being knocked down comes down more form the training he has had fighting against his own demons rather than anything that has taken place in the ring. After all, boxing is more of a mental game than a physical game, despite the external appearances. Fury has again recently discussed his own fight with anxiety and depression, describing anxiety as one of the worst things anybody could have. I concur as Tyson Fury and I have more in common in that respect than would first appear. Anyone who has ever been knocked down by anxiety will know the sheer strength it takes to get up and go again. A major reason we used boxing in the GRIT programme was that I felt very strongly that if a boxer could talk about mental health, then anyone could talk about it. Two years into GRIT I was therefore delighted when Fury spoke about his depression, addictions and hitting rock bottom. The epitome of resilience, he has since fought back in every sense of the world to being one fight away from potentially unifying the heavyweight championship, a feat not achieved since Lennox Lewis over two decades ago.
I am also encouraged by increasing numbers of high-profile people speaking out about their own mental health battles. Yet I also have concern about the language we use around this and its implications. Does it have to be a fight? Indeed the thing that has helped me most with my anxiety is not fighting against it but in surrendering to it (for any panic attack sufferers try just saying at the start of one – okay – here we go, hit me with the best you’ve got, I’m ready for you) Implying it is a fight implies that there will inevitably be a loser, something that Fury himself alludes to by saying that this is one battle he will never win. I (and not to his face) disagree with Fury here. It’s not about winning or losing; it’s about learning how to out-manoeuvre your opponent so ultimately you no longer need to fight at all. It’s accepting those moments of defeat not as losing but as part of the journey to ultimate mastery. Ultimately whether Fury unifies heavyweight boxing or not the biggest legacy he could leave will be unifying a group of people who felt too ashamed to admit to anxiety or other mental health problems and realising they are not the only one.