Mental Health Stigma Within Combat Sports

Cindy Wilson Thumbby Cindy Wilson
BS, Dietetics and Nutrition

In a recent wave of inspiring courage, professional fighters are taking a stand against the stigma surrounding mental health issues, sending a powerful message of support to their peers and those who grapple with depression and anxiety. 

This article delves into the world of professional fighting, where a macho exterior often conceals the internal battles faced by athletes. We’ll explore how these tough individuals are breaking stereotypes, sharing their own experiences, and contributing to the broader conversation about mental health.

mental health stigma within combat sports

Fighters are Alone Most of the Time

Millions of people worldwide continually contend with the haunting thoughts within their minds, and professional boxers are no exception. In fact, mental health concerns are prevalent within the world of professional fighting. Often depicted as robust, unbreakable, or emotionless figures, the “tough guys” of the sports realm find themselves in a sport where these traits are closely associated with strength.

In contrast to sports teams that compete weekly for half of the year, fighters typically step into the ring only two or three times in a twelve-month period. The grueling training camps leading up to their fights largely occur away from the public eye, with just 36 minutes of in-ring action accessible to the public.

For fighters, much of their existence is solitary, transitioning from the intense attention of millions in the weeks preceding a fight night to the quiet days, weeks, and months of seclusion afterward.

Studies from the United Kingdom reveal that suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 45, with one in six people reporting some form of mental health complications. In the context of a male-dominated sport like boxing, these statistics are amplified.

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These challenges underscore the importance of men opening up, and although strides are being made in addressing the stigma, a growing number of professional fighters discussing mental health will undoubtedly bolster awareness.

Tyson Fury and His Advocacy for Mental Health Awareness

The reigning heavyweight boxing champion has been candid about mental health in recent years, leading a growing list of fighters who are challenging the stereotypical image of a boxer’s mental resilience.

Fury is not the first boxer to do so, but what sets him apart is the public journey of emotions he has shared during his active career. Fighters like Frank Bruno and Ricky Hatton have championed mental health after retiring. Hatton shared his experiences on Mental Health Day in 2018:

“It’s very hard to describe it unless you’ve been there yourself. It’s just totally depressing, no motivation, not the will to even get up in the morning. You know you need help, but you don’t want to tell anyone. You’re in bed crying every day. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

“People think because you’re successful and you’ve got a few pounds in the bank, you’ve got nothing to worry about, but that’s not the case. I think if someone like myself comes out and admits it, more people will come forward. I do a lot with Frank Bruno; he’s the same.”

In a conversation with Joe Rogan prior to his showdown with Deontay Wilder at the end of 2018, Fury expressed similar sentiments to Hatton:

“I didn’t care about nothing. I just wanted to die so bad. I gave up on life, but as I was heading to the bridge, I heard a voice saying: ‘No, don’t do this, Tyson. Think about your kids, family, sons, and daughter growing up without a dad.”

Adrien Broner’s Openness About His Struggles with Mental Health

Adrien Broner has been open about his struggles with mental health. In 2018, he posted a series of disturbing messages on Instagram. Broner later said that he was going through a mental breakdown and that he was seeking help.

In August 2022, Broner pulled out of a scheduled fight with Omar Figueroa Jr. due to mental health issues. He released a statement on Instagram saying, 

“Sorry to all my fans but #MentalHealth is real and I’m not about to play inside the ring I’ve watched a lot of people die playing with they boxing career and that is something I won’t do just pray for me I love the sport of boxing to much to not give my all and I feel Like I came up short before because my mind wasn’t 100%,” Broner wrote. 

Broner’s openness about his mental health struggles has been praised by many fans and fellow athletes. He has helped to raise awareness of mental health issues in the sports world.

Broner has said that he is focused on his boxing career and that he wants to be a champion again. His story shows that it is possible to get help and overcome these challenges.

Broner’s next fight is scheduled for November 4 against Chris Howard at Casino Miami Jai Alai in Miami, Florida. This is a tune-up fight as Broner looks to get back into the title picture. Howard is a solid opponent, but he is not considered to be a top contender.

Broner is a former four-division world champion. The Ohio Native was once considered one of the best boxers in the world. For Broner’s next fight, you can bet Ohio Sportsbooks will have odds in his favor and he continues to rebuild his name in search of capturing another world title. Broner (35-4-1, 24 KO) is set to be back in action on November 4th in Miami. He will be taking on fellow Cincinnatian Chris Howard (18-2-1, 8KO)

A victory over Howard would likely set up a bigger fight for Broner in 2024. Broner has said that he wants to fight for a title again, and he is determined to prove that he is still one of the best.

The Stigma Surrounding This Issue

the stigma surrounding this issue

Danny Garcia won a majority decision against José Benavidez Jr. on July 30, 2022, in his first fight since December 5, 2020.

After his victory, Garcia revealed the mental challenges he had faced during his absence and why his triumph meant so much to him.

“I did take a break, going through mental things,” Garcia explained. “I went through some anxiety, depression; I was just trying my best to stay strong.”

Garcia then became emotional while discussing the mental health issues he had endured.

“It was the pressure of life, the pressure of boxing, being a good dad,” Garcia said. “I’m just letting it out right now because it was stuck inside; it rained on me for a year and a half, and the only way to get better is to fight and to win, and I’m a fighter; it’s what I do and love to do. If you battle anxiety and depression, you can get over it; that’s what I did tonight.”
The macho culture associated with combat sports is gradually fading, and it was heartening to witness a great champion like Danny Garcia overcome mental health issues. If anyone can challenge toxic masculinity and serve as an example, it’s professional fighters, who hold the power to inspire hope in others.

About Author

Cindy Wilson Thumb
BS, Nutrition & Food Science | Connect with on LinkedIn
Cindy Wilson

Hello, I am Cindy, and this a website where I inspect everything related to nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. I have a BS in Dietetics and Nutrition (Kansas State University) and have completed a dozen specialty courses related to nutrition, biochemistry, and food science. I am open to learning more, but foremost I would like to share all my knowledge with you.

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