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Combat Sports Stars Who Have Struggled With Mental Health and How Times Are Changing

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Mental health is being mentioned a lot in the sports world again but this time it seems to be much more than the social media posts and fundraising for charities. A number of athletes in the public eye, from professional boxing to tennis, are coming forward to meet the issue head-on. They are speaking of mental health, their battles against depression and how we can all help each other by making a few small changes.

Heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury shook up the world, upsetting the betting odds from the casinos in London to the betting sites in Canada with his shock win over long-reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko in 2015, taking the Ukrainian’s world title in the process. The towering fighter didn’t appear in a professional ring again for almost three years, crippled by depression, drug use and dangerous weight gain.

Fury was able to return to the sport he loves, the sport he calls his saviour, and regain his world championship. He appears to be one of the lucky ones but he’s not the only sports star who has suffered from mental health worries. The struggles of Tyson and other mainstream athletes have had a positive effect on youngster sportsmen and women who, knowing the dangers of ignoring the warning signs of depression, are being proactive.

Ryan Garcia is boxing smart

He’s young, talented and has the boxing world at his feet but Ryan Garcia is determined not to fall into the traps of other fighters who became overnight sensations. Despite a stunning winning record and climbing the ladder, collecting major titles as he goes, Garcia has taken what he has labelled a “mental health break”. He has signalled his intention to take a break from the rigours of professional boxing, making time for him as a person.

The aim here is to not only allow his body to heal but to also allow his mind to recover from a hectic few years. Getting to the top of boxing is a huge demand but Ryan seems grounded with one eye on the future. It’s refreshing to see a fighter not sacrifice his mental health for fame and fortune. Could this be the start of a new way of thinking in combat sports?

Combat Sports

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Ronda Rousey struggled with defeat

Ronda Rousey was a trailblazer in female fighting, helping pave the way for the stars of MMA and boxing today. She won bronze at the Olympic Games in judo before moving into MMA. Ronda was the first female in the UFC, she was a star of the show, every bit as famous as Conor McGregor during the promotion’s rise.

An incredible winning streak took her to the top of the sport but after suffering defeat, she struggled with mental health issues that had been burning away beneath the surface. Rousey spoke of using sport and her quest for titles to help deal with depression but it appeared MMA was simply postponing it. She now works with many major charities, dealing with mental health and hunger.

Dwayne Johnson is a mere mortal

He’s The Rock. The wrestling star, a big name actor and a celebrity the world over. On paper, he has it all, but when did depression or mental health issues ever care about reputation? Dwayne found that out the hard way, but the chances are he always knew that to be the case, even as a world wrestling champion, performing in front of full stadiums and millions watching live on TV around the world.

His fans may think of The Rock as a superhero, and his achievements would certainly suggest so, but many of us are guilty of forgetting our favourites are mere mortals. They are humans who face the same difficulties and issues with mental health as every other human. Stardom, achievements and a healthy bank balance doesn’t protect them from the grips of depression. Dwayne spoke publicly about his problems in childhood, his mother’s attempted suicide and being evicted from their apartment.

Each of the big-name stars of combat sports have told how the biggest fight of their lives have been against depression and the stigma attached to poor mental health. Each is working every day to give their mental health the proper attention while helping others from all walks of life who are struggling.


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