Brook returns to the ring after 15 months in the wilderness and spoke candidly about his battle with depression
For Kell Brook, the personal success, the acclaim, the world titles and the millions of pounds that have changed his life and secured the future of his family, does not matter when the darkness takes hold.
Brook returns to the ring this weekend after 14 months in the wilderness, but his greater fight – against mental illness and depression – has never ceased. It began in 2016, in the wake of a punishing fight against Gennady Golovkin, a naturally bigger man and the most powerful puncher on the planet at the time, and was exacerbated the following year in a bout with Errol Spence.
Those fights broke Brook. Physically, he was shattered – both his orbital sockets were smashed in those two defeats – but it was the mental damage which hurt the most.
“It ruined me. It was dark, a very dark time. I needed counsellors, the lot,” he explains, in a pause during his workout at the 12×3 Gym in London. “Words can’t describe how low I’ve been.”
Behind him, trainer Dominic Ingle – son of the great Brendan, who trained Brook as a child – pipes up that his fighter “went missing for weeks” after that brace of losses before suddenly reappearing at the gym.
Brook nods. “I can’t think about what to do, I’m that far gone, when I have felt like this. I am that lost. My mind doesn’t think about time, about any of the positives around me in life.”
Brook has spoken openly about his mental health struggles before, but rarely as openly or lucidly as on this chilly January afternoon in Paddington. The Yorkshireman adores his three children, and his wife, Lindsey. But when the darkness descended, he was inconsolable, he explained. “When I’m that bad, sometimes I can’t even be around them. Personally, you’re that low and it’s deep. It’s depression. You can’t put it into words.
“You get stuck and time passes by. I’m stood there on the edge of a cliff, can’t go back and can’t go forward. Days go by. I’m still in the same place. Everyone else’s life goes on, but you’re stuck. You try and try and try and I don’t know how, but you came out of it eventually.”
When he heard the heavyweight Tyson Fury talking of his own experiences of depression and mental illness, Brook could relate. “I know Tyson and I believe him. I don’t believe any fighter has been as low as Tyson and me. I’m a rough character and I’ve been through it. But the light is so bright now.”
In the short-term, Brook’s sights are trained on his hometown of Sheffield and this Saturday’s return fight against Mark DeLuca, a 31-year-old former US Marine who served in Afghanistan as a machine gunner. But he has not lost hope that he might yet have one last big fight to set the seal on his career – a contest with pound-for-pound king Terence Crawford, a three-weight world champion promoted by Fury’s US ally Bob Arum, or a rematch with Spence, ideally in Las Vegas or Madison Square Garden, both “dream venues” for the fighter. “I’d like a big fight in America, it would cap off my career in a great way,” he says. “But right now, Eddie Hearn, my promoter, hasn’t got time for me, and I’ve got to prove myself.”.
There is also the chance of a fight with Amir Khan, which Brook has long coveted. They are natural enemies but for five years, they have danced around the fire. Brook was once desperate for the fight but he is now largely resigned to missing out on a bout that would have created bragging rights at welterweight in the UK.
“That fight is always going to be there. If Eddie said it was signed we’d all be jumping and excited. But I’ve not a good feeling about it. It’ll be down to him. He don’t fancy it. Amir knows where I am. If he wants to fight, it’s not hard to make. I’m not being awkward and the world knows that. He’s reluctant because we’re both British and wouldn’t be able to walk the streets knowing he’d been pasted all over the ring by me.
“He’s been saying for years that he will do this, that and other to me, so when I put him flat on his face he wouldn’t be able to walk around the streets. It would do him in. What it’ll come down to is his high-maintenance wife and having another kid and him thinking, s— I need some money. That’s what’ll do it. Other than that, I don’t think it’ll happen.”
It is a rare burst of vitriol from Brook, who – for the vast majority of our time together – is as bright, lucid and eloquent as I have ever seen him. At 33, he has already experienced more than most men his age ever will – he has, after all, survived two stabbings, the second a vicious assault with a machete while on holiday in Tenerife in 2014 – and has reached the age when boxers begin appreciating every fight as if it could be their last. Indeed, he has already admitted he will retire if De Luca defeats him.
“I’ve had a year out and I can’t wait to perform for the fans,” he says, thinking ahead to what should be a frenzied atmosphere at Sheffield Arena.
“It feels amazing to be back and being so healthy, fit and focused. Physically I’m 10 out of 10. I feel young and I’m flying past all these 20-year-olds in the gym.
“I know it’s near the end and when it’s over I want to be able to say to myself – not anyone else – that I’ve given it everything. At least in the last part of my career. Two-time world champion – that’s my goal. I want to be a world champion again. And I know I will be.”