The plight of Scott Fitzgerald should highlight the mental health problems that many fighters battle with behind closed doors, writes Matt Christie
THE day before Canelo Álvarez unveiled his pristine physique and stood on the scales in Las Vegas, ready for battle with Caleb Plant, images of former British champion Scott Fitzgerald sleeping on the street were posted on social media and sent from mobile phone to mobile phone. Canelo would soon prove he was at the top of his game. Fitzgerald, meanwhile, was lost at the very bottom of his.
Fitzgerald’s story is becoming increasingly grim. It is no secret that he has struggled for several years with alcohol and drugs. Boxing, like for so many, became his saviour. That turnaround is a familiar theme for plenty of fighters. Dark beginnings before the discipline of boxing turns on the light. How many times have you read similar tales in Boxing News? Memories of despair and hopelessness replaced by glory inside the ring. Fitzgerald himself was the subject of such an article in 2019, back when he was threatening the feel-good ending.
He spoke of falling off a roof at the age of 14, drunk. He joked about how the local drug dealers had gone out of business after he had turned his life around. Victories, titles, family bliss. That was two years ago, when he scored back-to-back wins over Anthony Fowler and Ted Cheeseman to rule the country at super-welterweight. Two fights that several tipped him to lose. A terrific fighter and incredibly likeable human being, Fitzgerald was well and truly on his way.
Lockdown, when the gyms shut and the boxing world suddenly stopped, may not have been sole the reason for Scott’s sudden downfall, but it was certainly a catalyst. Arguments and accusations of violence behind closed doors blighted his reputation last year. The temptations of old had proved too difficult to resist. People who should know better passed quick judgement after seeing a photo of his then-girlfriend with a bloodied nose. Certain media, quick to jump on sensationalism, has a lot to answer for in that regard.
One hopes that Scott can find the strength to respect himself again. He has the support of the boxing industry – if he wants it.
Upon seeing the latest imagery of Fitzgerald, lying barely conscious on the streets in broad daylight, some fans criticised the sport for not doing more to help their own. The truth is that Fitzgerald, whether intentionally or not, has spurned several offers of help in the past 18 months. Though it would be untrue to say this is the path he has chosen, it is certainly fair to point out that the Preston boxer must first want to get better before he can get better.
He believes that boxing, at least in the short-term, is his only hope. Yet boxing can disguise all manner of problems behind the scenes. This brutal sport, inhabited only by the strong and brave, creates a foil that makes asking for help exceptionally difficult. The highs of fighting are tricky to replicate outside the ring, and a sure-fire recipe for disaster is mixing punches to the head with mind-bending substances. But that does not mean we should judge those who struggle with addiction, a disease that is almost impossible to shake when afflicted by it. It simply means we should be more aware.
For anyone struggling, there is help out there. Ringside Charitable Trust offer a priceless service that allows boxers to call if they are struggling in any way. They report that several have already used their helpline since it was launched last month. The work they’re doing is frankly outstanding.
Publicly, Fitzgerald vows to fight. “I mean all I can say is I’m saddened and shocked to see no one has created a meme,” he posted on Twitter this week, showing that old mischief and sense of humour remains. “Sorry to be a d**k and thanks everyone for the support. I’ll try my best to get back in the ring as soon as possible. I could with an MRI and I’ll pay you back when my giro lands.” A cry for help in many ways. A show of defiance in others. At 29, he has a future. Whether that is in the sport of boxing remains to be seen, but tomorrow awaits if he can find the strength to embrace it.
For those who pass judgement with only their own experience to guide their opinions, be kinder. Scott Fitzgerald is amid a horrific battle with himself, a gruelling rock ‘em, sock ‘em slugfest with his own mental health. The kind that the lucky ones could not imagine.
Everyone at Boxing News wishes the unbeaten Scott well as he embarks on his quest for survival. We know it is another fight he can win.