Ryan Garcia and Jordan Gill show that boxing – and talking – can save lives

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Ryan Garcia and Jordan Gill are connected by their day job in the ring and their visits to the darkest of boxing’s black holes.

Both returned to winning ways in two very different fights on Saturday night, and both were on the very lip of the abyss after recent defeats.

Garcia is the kid, the one selected to be a boxing superstar; he has the matinee idol looks, as they once wrote, the heart and fighting skills to turn his social-media status into genuine fame. That crossover act remains a holy-grail item in the swashbuckling boxing business.

A couple of years ago, he held a slim version of a world title and then he tumbled, fell heavily into the darkness and barely survived the fall. “I was not sure I wanted to live,” he admitted. He had to pull out of fights to “manage his health and wellbeing”. Garcia is only 25 now.

And Gill, well, he fell deeper and in the summer was at his lowest point, under all radars. It is easy to imagine from a safe distance that help is close, a phone call away, but that can be hard to see when despair sets in; Gill walked into a field to end his life. It is a well-trodden path. I was at dozens of ringsides during this time and never heard a word about Gill’s health.

In October last year, Gill was dropped twice and stopped by Spain’s Kiko Martinez in four horrible rounds. Gill lost more than his European title on that night; he lost his dream of a world-title fight and everything else that comes with that harsh realisation.

“After the Martinez fight, I fell apart,” said Gill. “I broke up with my wife. It was over. On 30 June, I was in a field and I was going to end my life. Somebody came and saved me.”

Gill, right, stopped Michael Conlan in the Northern Irishman’s hometown of Belfast

It was an anonymous salvation; Gill went back to the gym, back to the only thing he knows. He was then selected as the opponent – he was, to be brutally honest, picked to lose – for Michael Conlan’s triumphant return to winning ways in Belfast on Saturday. Gill saved his soul with a seventh-round stoppage; Conlan now has his own demons to fight.

There are now options and hope for Gill, who is still only 29. Conlan, who lost for the third time in five fights, will take a break to look at his future. Conlan twice lost in world title fights and, if he retires now, will be known as one of the best British boxers to never win a world title. His fame in the ancient fighting city of Belfast is secure.

In Houston, after Garcia had stopped Oscar Duarte in eight rounds, there was the return of dreams and big ambitions in the “King Ryan” business. In April, Garcia had been dropped and stopped by Gervonta Davis in the seventh round; it was a fight of mixed feelings, both a risk and a necessary test. Garcia failed on the night in the ring, but, according to his team, cleared over $30m. There were concerns that he could tumble again, but he went back to the gym, back to the place that makes him feel happiest.

“If you have anxiety issues, if you need help, you are not alone,” Garcia said before Saturday’s fight. “Talk to your friends and family. Share your thoughts.” It is always obvious from a safe place, and it looks like Garcia is now in that space.

Garcia, right, secured an eighth-round TKO against Oscar Duarte

Tyson Fury has often talked about the gym as his form of rehabilitation away from the turmoil of his own mental-health issues. It seems that both Gill and Garcia have found the same hope in the same place. They will both be aware that the highs are too often matched by the lows in a sport that has a problem with the minds of far too many of the fighters it has used and abused over the years.

Gill and Garcia could be poster boys for what has been an invisible campaign of awareness. Garcia has always been under the spotlight, Gill seldom trapped in that intoxicating beam, but at the end of the day they each do the exact same thing, and it carries the exact same dangers on both sides of the ropes. It was a delight to see Garcia and Gill winning and smiling again.

If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email [email protected], or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch. If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.

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