Kell Brook is not the first boxer to struggle after deciding to walk away from the ring and grimly, he will not be the last.
‘Before Kell, there was Ricky Hatton. Before Ricky, it was Nigel Benn. Every fighter has ended up in the headlines in retirement,’ said former world champion Johnny Nelson. ‘One story will die down and someone else’s will pop up.’
Brook, one of British boxing’s elite operators over the last decade who reigned as IBF welterweight champion for three years, bowed out in a blaze of glory a year ago, comprehensively beating old rival Amir Khan before announcing his retirement two months later.
Finding something to replace the void in his life has been a struggle. ‘It is a little bit like I died,’ he admitted in November as the Sheffield fighter opened up on feeling ‘lost’ without the sport he had dedicated 27 years of his life to.
Brook was thrust under the spotlight again last month when video footage emerged of him snorting a white powder with the 36-year-old later apologising and revealing he was ‘actively seeking the help I need to get me on the right path.’
Retirement is so often a boxer’s toughest fight and for Brook, the comedown from the glorious highs of his career has been a difficult road to navigate.
‘All of a sudden, you are bored s**tless,’ said Nelson, a fellow Sheffield fighter and someone who has known Brook his entire career.
‘You have been a kamikaze pilot with your life for the last 15, 20 years from being a kid. All of a sudden it is like you’ve just finished school, you can drink, you can smoke, you can stay out all night, you can do all the things you weren’t allowed to do. So of course, it is now an issue because you have an extreme personality for wanting to box in the first place. It is in your DNA to push it hard, harder than the average man.’
Aftercare for boxers once they hang up their gloves is limited but there is valuable support in the form of The Ringside Charitable Trust, established by Dave Harris four years ago. It offers help to fighters struggling mentally, financially, with addiction and with their health.
Nelson is also an advocate for a mandatory pension scheme to be introduced to UK boxing, forcing promoters and the British Boxing Board of Control to implement a structure whereby fighters have security once their careers have ended.
‘The most powerful people in boxing are the British Boxing Board of Control, if everyone has to have a licence. That is where the buck stops,’ he said.
‘The board needs to say to every promoter, anyone who has fighters fighting for them or is putting a show on, that each manager has to ensure their fighter has some sort of pension scheme that covers boxing.
‘At the time, fighters will be thinking, “What are you doing with my money?” But at least there is something in place, the Boxing Board of Control will have done their bit to make sure the promoters and the managers do right by the fighters. Because its a small window of opportunity.’
But that is only half the battle. The lucky few who retire from the sport with financial security are still vulnerable to other struggles where money is ‘the last thing that can help them’, says Nelson, who believes groups like the Ringside Charitable Trust must be backed in providing an essential environment for those fighters pressing reset on their lives.
‘You have to look out for these guys. It is not just about giving them money because that is where the problem is. It is about the aftercare and the facilities in place where fighters can talk to each other to prepare them for life after boxing once their careers are over.
‘Everyone thinks it just happens to them and that is hard. But if you get them together, they start talking, they offer a shoulder to cry on, suggest ideas how to move on, let each other know they are not alone. It’s about education and providing direction.
‘For some of these guys, you give them money and they are in the exact same position. It is about giving them an opportunity to further better their lives and give them something to work on.’
Brook retired from boxing having fought some of the biggest names of his generation in Khan, Gennady Golovkin, Errol Spence Jr and Terence Crawford. But after less than a year away, he is considering a return.
BOXXER promoter Ben Shalom, who presided over the Khan fight last February, revealed last month Brook was eager to fight the winner of Chris Eubank Jr and Liam Smith while a meeting with another retired legend in Manny Pacquiao has also been suggested.
While Nelson fears one last dance would be the very worst kind of therapy for Brook, there could be no stopping it if the money is right.
‘It wouldn’t be good for Kell at this stage but you know what, who is going to stop him? Who is going to tell him he can’t? Because it will be somebody else’s problem.
‘He is going to make money, everyone will make money. They are not doing to discourage him and tell him, “Kell, don’t do this”. That isn’t going to happen. The fanbase will get behind him, they will get all nostalgic, thinking about all those great nights while forgetting Kell isn’t the fighter he used to be many years ago. They have got to remember that.’
Johnny Nelson is an ambassador of Natural Sports
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