Boxing: The secret world of depression haunting Sheffield and South Yorkshire boxers

Ukraine's Wladimir Klitschko, right, and Britain's Tyson Fury exchange blowsUkraine's Wladimir Klitschko, right, and Britain's Tyson Fury exchange blows
Ukraine's Wladimir Klitschko, right, and Britain's Tyson Fury exchange blows
In the macho world of boxing, you won't find many fighters willing to talk about a secret undercurrent that pervades the sport.

But Tyson Fury’s decision to vacate his world titles to focus on the bigger challenge of his own mental health has blown the lid of a hidden problem that is “rife” in the world of pugilism.

While Fury shocked the boxing world by beating Wladimir Klitschko he has never faced a more menacing opponent than depression.

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David Allen, left, ignores the abuse thrown by Jason Gavern.David Allen, left, ignores the abuse thrown by Jason Gavern.
David Allen, left, ignores the abuse thrown by Jason Gavern.

There have been times when he has not wanted to live any more.

Across South Yorkshire, there are boxers who might not be experiencing the same parlous scale of depression and melancholy - but they’ve had to face their own demons.

Some of them have been brave enough to make their problems public, in the hope of helping others.

They revealed their innermost thoughts to Head of Sport Bob Westerdale.

The end of the road for Ross BurkinshawThe end of the road for Ross Burkinshaw
The end of the road for Ross Burkinshaw


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At 24, Allen is currently taking a rest from heavyweight combat so he can recover from a bout of depression which followed his biggest ever ring contest, against Dillian Whyte.

“Tyson shares some of the behavioural patterns that depression has caused in me - happy one second, down in the dumps the next” says the Conisbrough man, who has developed quite a following in the past couple of years. I have struggled with depression since I was 14 but swept it under the carpet.”

Allen went to see a counsellor and that helped. Since then he has been better at controlling his problems, but admits: “I’m aware that a bad day, or week, is never far away. When that moment comes I will go and see a counsellor again and talk things through - I feel comfortable doing that now.”

Herol Graham with Barry McGuigan.Herol Graham with Barry McGuigan.
Herol Graham with Barry McGuigan.


The Sheffield bantamweight’s flamboyant ring entrances featured a supporting cast of soldiers. But the former English champion’s career was cut short by injury.

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The 30-year-old said: “I got quite depressed at times, because boxing is all I know. All that’s in me. When it was suddenly all over I cried every day for a while, mainly out of frustration I couldn’t do what I’ve always done. Up until a couple of months ago, I couldn’t watch a boxing match on TV without shedding a tear.

“I downed a bottle of wine every night as I tried to get my head around it.”

Boxer Chris Dutton. Picture: Andrew RoeBoxer Chris Dutton. Picture: Andrew Roe
Boxer Chris Dutton. Picture: Andrew Roe

Burkinshaw said emotions often run riot for boxers competing to get up the rankings.

“Your mind is always on the go. You train in the morning, train in the evening, go to bed and think about your fight-plan or your opponent and don’t get to sleep until 3am. Three hours later you are up for the morning run and your mind is still going full pelt. That’s a side people don’t see - boxers can be consumed by the sport 24/7.”

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Support from his family helped, as did a new job running a gym in Morland Road, Sheffield.

“I am really happy now, buzzing. I still like a drink, but only for entertainment, not as a crutch. I feel sorry for people who find themselves dragged into depression. Look at Tyson Fury.

“He beat the ‘unbeatable’ in Klitschko. But then he never got the accolades he expected.

“He may have said some daft things but he had just become The Man at heavyweight - and got zero recognition.”

Ben Davies - happy when he's training or boxingBen Davies - happy when he's training or boxing
Ben Davies - happy when he's training or boxing


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One of the greatest boxers ever to fight out of Sheffield - but his later life has been blighted by depression.

Herrol’s friend Glyn Rhodes MBE, a long time trainer, says: “Boxing is notorious for the mental strain on fighters. Problems are rife. It’s partly because it is a one-on-sport. There seems no in-between - you are on a high because you won or you are so low because you lost. You are up there and then down.

The biggest example I can think of is Bomber (former British, Commonwealth and European middleweight champion). He went from three world title fights to working at ASDA. He hit rock bottom and has been open enough to admit he’s struggled.

“Others like Tyson Fury couldn’t find happiness in the sport and Ricky Hatton struggled when it was all over.

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“Some fighters only have boxing in their lives - no other work, interests. Some young boxers need a different type of guidance than trainers can give them.”


The 33-year-old has gone through some bleak moments since packing in his £40,000 building management job to pursue full-time boxing.

Sutton, from Gleadless, says isolation and money problems can set a cruel background.

“It can be a very lonely sport, sometimes” he said. “It is OK when you are in the gym, you have your pals and your banter. “But there are plenty of other times when you’re on your own - and the old saying is that everybody is around you when you are winning but when you lose you are by yourself.

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“If footballers lose they can share the blame around, in boxing there’s only you.” The part-time DJ indulged a lifelong wish by turning pro in May.

He has won all three fights at light heavyweight, so far. Sometimes his mind plays tricks on him, though.

“In my first fight I felt brilliant and strong.

“In my second I didn’t feel as fit - yet I’d trained, prepared and dieted in exactly the same way. It was weird.

Money can be a big worry for some” he said.

“I am not an extravagant person so I try not to let that bother me.

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“But if I don’t get another fight before Christmas then I’ll be eating beans out of a tin...”


The fighter from Brierley, Barnsley, sinks into a dark place whenever his love for the sport is interrupted by injury.

In two fights his shoulder was so badly injured he couldn’t even throw a punch. It meant an operation and 11-month absence for the 27-year-old father of two.

“Boxing is a massive part of my life and it leaves a big hole to fill when I’m out” he said.

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“I felt absolutely terrible then. I don’t normally drink but I got into the habit of coming home from work (as a roofer) and opened up a can or two. I became quite a miserable person, stuck in my own little world.”

Davies has a plan for when his career is over. “I want to give something back - I already help other boxers and people wanting to lose weight. I’ll keep doing that. I need to keep positive!”