One book I don't regret asking for last Christmas was the auto-biography of Ricky Hatton, War and Peace. Though not primarily for Boxing reasons, since his last book covered his fighting career all the way to the Mayweather fight, and since then he's only boxed four times.
Rather, it's that the book confirmed to me something I've suspected my whole life: that no athletes in the world are more suspect to depression than in Boxing.
Most sports pose a relatively high risk, because a successful career can last anywhere between 15 years and 2 weeks. Those that say "Oh but they get paid so much, how can they be depressed?" should stop reading now, because if that's your perspective then understanding mental health problems for you will be like getting through London with a map of Dundee.
Football is a big one, and has a long list of victims; as does Rugby, Cricket and most other sports where your physical prowess begins to deteriorate on the wrong side of 30. And in all of these sports, depression is triggered by a seemingly unchangeable circumstance: an injury, own goal, missed chance in a big game etc.
Yet most sports, aside from injury, give athletes a good chance to rebuild and there are lots of opportunities for athletes in other sports to make a great account of themselves after disaster. Think Stuart Pearce after his penalty miss, David Beckham after his sending off against Argentina. And in hindsight of everything, a Rugby player with 500 appearances has more leverage for disaster than a boxer undefeated after 35 fights, with a lot of them not going the distance. Of course, age plays a huge factor in this, so this article is written with athletes at their peak in mind. Amir Khan and the likes of George Groves will no doubt be disappointed with their losses, but neither are at the tail end of their career where depression lurks the most.
So let's take Ricky Hatton and use him as an example in comparison to other athletes in other sports. Here is a summary of why Ricky Hatton, on 44-0, preparing to face Floyd Mayweather, was at a higher risk than athletes in other sports:
A loss changes everything
Take Ryan Giggs, over his illustrious and lengthily career. On his CV are 2 Champions Leagues, numerous Premiership titles, FA Cups, Carling Cups and Community Shields. Despite this, his career also features a lot of losses spanning his 600+ appearances. Defeats to lower division sides, open goal misses, reckless tackles, misplaced passes, losing his man and a long list of errors that have cost his side goals. But none of these are remembered too much in light of all that he's achieved. Boxers don't have this luxury. In no more than, on average, 40 fights, every fight is a World Cup final. He misses an open goal, he has 50 games next season to make up for it. He loses a game against Man City, he'll probably play Man City potentially 4 times next year. Hatton loses to Mayweather, he never faces him again. He doesn't get a rematch, and he has to live with the fact that half an hour of Boxing will be inked in the history books with no opportunity to make up for it. Imagine if Hatton had the chance to fight Mayweather in the same range of frequency that the England Cricket team play Australia?
Then came the Pacquiao fight, in which a rematch with him would probably not have been sanctioned in respect of safety. Imagine Arsenal being told that, after losing 8-2 at Old Trafford, they could never play Man Utd again because it was unsafe? This is the stuff depression preys on, because it's fueled by it's best mate, regret.
What goes up must come down
Winning a fight is arguably a higher ego boost than any other sport, since beating another man in conflict is a high that stretches back as far as the caveman era. Other sports have their highs, but these highs aren't brought down as promptly on a Tuesday night away to Everton with 37 games to go in a season. 25,000 fans flew out to see Hatton face Mayweather, to see him beat the shit out of another man from another country, community and way of life with only 36 minutes to prove it. You are the man that Britain would least like to find themselves in a pub scrap with. You are the man people are climbing lamp posts to sing your name about.
One punch, in Hatton's mind, changed all of that and all of his thoughts about being the dogs bollocks were replaced with skepticism and doubtful opposites. Flash forward a few years and one Manny Pacquiao fight confirmed this doubt, thus sending the Mancunian down a well of negative thinking. That bipolar swing was caused by around 30 minutes of Boxing. Though other athletes have fallen into depression, has it ever, aside from injury, been caused by just 30 minutes of action?
You fight, you don't play
Think of a retired cricketer, or footballer. Once that final whistle goes in football, a player has a lifetime of opportunities ahead of him at amateur level. Charity matches, Sunday league and even a jumpers-for-posts kick about at the park. But in Boxing, when the bell goes, little opportunities are available for them. Boxing is never anything over than a 100% effort, and although people will point out the chance to spar, this really doesn't match up as an adequate pass-time for a boxer who was once cheered by 50,000 rowdy fans.