By George Gigney
JORDAN GILL did not owe us the admission he made on Saturday night after he had just stopped Michael Conlan in Belfast. He did not need to admit that he had dragged himself back from the brink, that in June he was going to take his own life, but in a moment of staggering honesty he did just that. When interviewed by DAZN in the ring after his win, he said: “After the [Kiko] Martinez loss, I lost touch with myself. I broke up with my wife. On 30 June I was in a field…and I was going to kill myself. Somebody came and saved me that day.”
Gill lost his European super-featherweight title to Martinez in October of last year, his most recent fight prior to facing Conlan.
His comments in the ring came as a complete surprise to those of us watching. Gill’s struggles were likely only known to those closest to him, yet he still found the courage to share them with the world. In doing so, Gill more than likely helped countless others dealing with similar issues, a reminder that you are never alone and you never need to be defined by your lowest moments.
In the coming days and weeks – and we’ve already seen it from some outlets – there will be talk of how boxing saved Gill’s life. And there’s no doubt that the purpose and structure the sport provides him will have helped him immeasurably. But to solely credit boxing with Gill’s recovery is to do a disservice to the man himself.
He wasn’t just thinking about ending his life; he was actively planning to do it. To be in a mental state where oblivion is preferable to living is something I would not wish on anyone. To come back from it takes an incredible amount of work and patience. In fact there aren’t words – certainly not any that I can muster – that would sufficiently describe the journey Gill would have been on to get from that place to the one he found himself in on Saturday night. It is nothing short of heroic. And he probably didn’t do it alone, either. Family, friends, his training team – they will have all helped him get better and deserve to be recognised for it. There’s also the person he alluded to saving him on that day back in June – we don’t know who that was and we don’t need to. Those are the people who will have felt the most pride when his hand was raised at the weekend.
Jordan isn’t the first boxer to admit to suicidal intentions and, sadly, he won’t be the last. But each and every one of them makes the world a better place by staying in it. Every time one of them shares their story in public, the conversation grows and those in similar distress can realise that it will pass. That they never need to find themselves alone in a field ready to make a final, fatal decision. Jordan Gill did so much more than just win a fight on Saturday night.
Another fighter who has been vocal about their mental health struggles is Ryan Garcia, who also got back to winning ways at the weekend when he stopped Oscar Duarte. Garcia has previously taken a hiatus from the sport to focus on his mental wellbeing, and this win over Duarte saw him bounce back after being stopped by Gervonta Davis earlier this year.
But the win also came amid Garcia’s ongoing tug-of-war with Golden Boy Promotions, with whom he is under contract. He and Golden Boy execs Oscar De La Hoya and Bernard Hopkins aren’t even trying to keep it behind closed doors anymore.
At the final press conference for the Duarte fight, we saw them trade barbs in what was something of an unprecedented media event, even in the wild west of boxing. Hopkins, at the podium, looked directly at Garcia and his trainer while delivering cryptic warnings. Garcia himself accused De La Hoya and Hopkins of wanting him to lose against Duarte and called Hopkins out for previously speculating on whether or not Garcia should retire from boxing altogether.
But it was De La Hoya who turned things truly toxic. He posted on social media: “I have to say I’m really concerned about Ryan Garcia’s state of mind. Considering his history of mental instability (which he’s documented himself) his current erratic behaviour shows he’s clearly not focused on Saturday’s fight. You won’t take my calls, Ryan, I hope you’re okay.”
As someone who has publicly struggled with addiction and other issues, De La Hoya knows all too well the toll mental illness can take on a person, let alone a famous fighter. Using it as a tool to undermine someone he promotes is cruel and beyond the pale. If he was truly that concerned he could have reached out to Garcia privately – he might not have been able to get him on the phone but there are other ways. It was a needless low blow.
Clearly the working relationship has soured beyond repair; the best thing for all involved would surely be to part ways as soon as possible. That doesn’t look to be the case as De La Hoya posted on social media after the fight that he is “proud” of Garcia and “looking forward to putting on the next major event whoever it is for Ryan.”
Thankfully De La Hoya’s manipulation tactics don’t seem to have impacted Garcia much, if at all. He got the win and continues to be defiant in the face of the animosity.
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