Boxing has long been associated with physical fitness and toughness, but it is also gaining recognition for its potential benefits in improving mental health.
The sport is becoming more and more popular as a method to relieve stress, build confidence, and improve overall well-being. Scientific data researching the link between boxing and mental health is growing, and it is showing that the sport has numerous benefits for individuals struggling with a variety of mental health issues.
The World Boxing Council brought awareness to the topic by launching its Mental Health Awareness press conference last week.
Mauricio Sulaiman, WBC president, spearheaded the campaign, commenting: “During the month of May, we have a series of activations with the firm intention of promoting mental health care…We try to find people who need help. We seek to create community and break barriers through courage.
“We tried to spread the message that no one is alone, everyone is beautiful, and this is what we will always stand for. I invite everyone to be empathetic and not minimize people’s emotions. The world is better when we unite.”
Common stereotypes have depicted the boxer as either a strong, silent type, or a charismatic trash-talker. A boxer’s talking is done with fists, it is believed, and success is measured with championship belts and accolades. In a world where a boxer is only as good as their last fight, it has been easy to forget that boxers are indeed human, too, with no one above the challenges of mental health.
Legendary Mexican boxer Erik Morales, WBC champion in several weight classes, opened up about his struggles with mental health in an attempt to change societal perceptions.
“It is necessary to make visible this problem that afflicts hundreds of human beings. Out of embarrassment, we do not dare to ask for help, and sometimes this silence has a fatal outcome,” Morales said.
“I have been prey to anxiety and depression. My life has taken unexpected turns in recent years with changes and very hard events.
“However, sports, a good diet and above all allowing myself to recognize these feelings have helped me overcome these episodes. Learning has not been easy because, like any human being, we must face success, defeat, adversity and understand that there are many things that we cannot control, that we must let go, breathe and move on.”
Tyson Fury, current WBC heavyweight champion of the world, has been candid about his struggles with mental health in recent years. He described his initial confusion and frustration at being unable to understand the problem.
“I’ve been suffering with mental health problems all my life, specifically anxiety, depression and later on, bipolar disorder. I remember feeling anxious and being left behind and didn’t know why. One thing I do regret is not going to see a doctor 10 years before I did,” he said.
The boxing heavyweight champion of the world is regarded as the “baddest man on the planet,” relying on brute force, imposing strength and knockout ability as the keys to success. Tyson’s recipe for success, however, is speaking openly about his mental health, training consistently and eating healthily to combat his stress and anxieties.
He said: “I do think the most important thing for those suffering with mental health is communication. Without communication, we’re not going to get better. Without the help of a doctor, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Louisa “Lulu” Hawton, the WBC interim atomweight champion since 2019, is the WBC’s mental health ambassador. She credits boxing with helping her through dark periods in her life and now uses her influence to positively impact others with similar struggles.
“Boxing helped save my life to some degree and helped set me on a really positive path,” she said.
“From my time in that dark place, I now recognize that you will still go into some tunnels in your life, but when you can recognize that you are the light in the dark tunnel, that you just have to be able to turn your own light up, then you are able to lead yourself through anything that life gives you.”
The WBC and its champions are helping to break the stigma of mental health. Boxers may appear as unbreakable, carefree entertainers who have immense riches and celebrity lifestyles, but they are also human.
Fighters have long relied on their physicality to succeed in their field but are increasingly mindful of the mental side of it.
Many boxers have now hired mental coaches to help them.
If these boxers can find the courage to open up and share their struggles in a profession where this has previously been taboo, it is hoped that this will inspire others to do the same.
As Fury noted: “A lot of people in sport are suffering…and they need to know that help is out there and you can get better.”