CRAIG JOHNS BREAKS THE FIRST RULE Fries rar­ing to go af­ter bat­tle with his demons

Sunday Sun - - Boxing -

IN NOVEM­BER 2011, Sun­der­land mixed mar­tial artist Phil De Fries should have been on top of the world.

The pop­u­lar heavy­weight was un­de­feated and had just signed to the UFC – the pin­na­cle of mixed mar­tial arts.

He won his first fight for the world’s big­gest MMA pro­mo­tion and, from there, the world should have been his oys­ter. Ex­cept it wasn’t. De Fries would win an­other two fights in the octagon, but would also lose two be­fore leav­ing the com­pany and re­turn­ing to the North East.

It wasn’t within the cage where his big­gest bat­tles were though. It was in­side his own head.

“I had re­ally bad anx­i­ety. Not just about fight­ing, about life in gen­eral.

“In truth I was not well. The anx­i­ety wasn’t di­ag­nosed but I knew I was not in a good place.

“I kept fight­ing, but in truth, I hated it. I hated fight­ing, I hated com­pet­ing in the sport. I hated ev­ery­thing – train­ing, spar­ring, the lot.”

It seems strange that Phil would hate the game that much. De­spite his UFC dis­ap­point­ment, he kept on go­ing.

It takes a lot of ded­i­ca­tion to com­pete in any sport at the level that Phil has through­out his ca­reer, but to will­ingly step into an arena know­ing it’s just you and an­other man, one-on-one, with the ob­jec­tive be­ing to hurt one an­other, takes a lot of mo­ti­va­tion.

What­ever kept Phil go­ing, it’s a good job it did.

Af­ter one par­tic­u­lar de­feat post-UFC, the Sun­der­land vet­eran ad­mits he took it badly. He felt as low as ever and “hit the bot­tle hard”, as he so mat­ter-of-factly puts it.

“I knew some­thing wasn’t right. In truth I’d al­ways known, but I was so low then that I de­cided to see a doc­tor,” he said. “He di­ag­nosed me with se­vere anx- Phil De Fries de­feats Michal Andryszak to win the KSW heavy­weight ti­tle iety and I’ve been get­ting treat­ment for it ever since.

“Through pills and ther­apy I’m slowly start­ing to turn my life around. I feel happy for the first time in a long time.

“In truth, I prob­a­bly suf­fered from this anx­i­ety for years, I just never re­alised that’s what it was. Once it was di­ag­nosed I was fi­nally able to get it sorted.”

Phil’s story is one that cer­tainly out­lines the im­por­tance of speak­ing out about what for too long has been seen as taboo – men­tal health.

And not only has speak­ing out and re­ceiv­ing treat­ment helped his per­sonal life, his pro­fes­sional life has flour­ished too.

The wrestling spe­cial­ist has been com­pletely rein­vig­o­rated in the cage – in­spired by the birth of his two daugh­ters. He’s on a three-fight win­ning streak, with big vic­to­ries ries in M1 and Bel­la­tor be­fore pick­ing ck­ing up the KSW world heavy­weight ti­tle in Poland in his last fight.

And next Satur­day the 32-year-old makes the first t de­fence of his ti­tle against Karol Be­dorf as the big Pol­ish pro­mo­tion makes its UK de­but at the SSE Arena Wem­b­ley.

Be­dorf was the in­au­gu­ral KSW heavy­weight cham­pion, pion, but Phil is con­fi­dent in his own abil­ity. il­ity.

“In truth, the he UFC came far too early for me. As well ell as my demons out­side the cage, I wasn’t de­vel­oped enough in­side it ei­ther. r.

“I’ve learned ed so much since then and I’m a much more rounded fighter now.

“Be­dorf has s to be re­spected. He held this belt pre­vi­ously. iously. But I hon­estly don’t think he’s as good as the guy I won the belt from (Michal Andryszak). I be­lieve I’m bet­ter than him in every as­pect. It’s up to me to prove that.

“I’m not just fight­ing for me now. I’m fight­ing for my fam­ily. I’m fight­ing to pro­vide the best life for my two daugh­ters. It’s go­ing to take some­thing spe­cial to stop me with that mo­ti­va­tion.”

Phil De Fries (15-6) vs Karol Be­dorf (15-3) for the KSW heavy­weight ti­tle head­lines KSW 45 at SSE Arena Wem­b­ley on Satur­day, Oc­to­ber 6. Tick­ets are still avail­able from the arena web­site. Al­ter­na­tively, you can watch the fight on­line at w w w . kswtv.com for £9.

Phil De Fries cel­e­brates his KSW heavy­weight ti­tle win

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