It seems like every week we see and hear a boxer talking about their battles with mental health issues, doesn't it? Middleweight prospect Austin “Ammo” Williams is the latest pugilist to put on the table some of the issues he's dealt with which have proven arguably more challenging than performing in the ring. The middlweight from Texas will show his stuff on the Canelo-GGG 3 card at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, Sept. 17.
Williams holds an 11-0 record, with 9 KOs, and has stood out more so for some curious and chatter-provoking occurrences than his in-ring acumen, arguably. This fight week, as he counts down to a clash with Kieron Conway, he's been unafraid to talk more openly about how depression has at times gotten the better of him.
“We all have stuff going on,” said the lefty who turned pro on April 26, 2019, and last gloved up April 30, 2022, besting then 17-0 Chordale Booker via TKO in round one of a schedule ten on the Katie Taylor-Amanda Serrano undercard.
“The brain is so complex you don’t really take time to sit with it and understand it,” Austin ‘Ammo' Williams stated. “Boxing is the loneliest sport in the world so we’re dealing with something that’s so high level, putting your life on the line for a living. You are out there to be judged in front of a crowd, your heart on your sleeve and showing your art to the world, and your physical health is attached to that.”
Austin ‘Ammo' Williams came on the radar of some casuals when in April 2021 he drew attention for some actions that spurred raised eyebrows and then some. Williams put out a video in which he took aim at promoter Eddie Hearn, a few days after his scheduled clash against Brian Rose in Vegas, on a May 29, 2021 Devin Haney v Jorge Linares production. “You an effin pussy, bro,” he said in relation, seemingly, to Hearn, who he labeled a silver spooner. Pics of his dog flashed as he Hearn for disrespecting his beloved canine.
Rose gave some a first insight into what was maybe happening behind the scenes for the boxer who grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and got to No. 1 in America at 165 pounds despite having 40 something amateur bouts. “Apparently he pulled out due to his mental health,” Rose said to media. “I can’t say too much about that because I can relate in a way, but at the same time I’m really disappointed. I’ve dragged myself from a dark place, I was in a bad way myself before Christmas. But I won in Spain and got myself into a position where it was a dream come true for me to fight in Vegas, it’s been a dream of mine since I was a little boy. For it to be taken away from me is absolutely devastating.” Rose picked up the pieces, and, it looked like maybe Austin ‘Ammo' Williams did too. He beat 14-2 Quatavious Cash (TKO2) in December 2021, and started off 2022 in good form with a TKO6 win over 33-15 Javier Maciel, following that with the stop on Booker. ‘Ammo’ meets Conway for a WBA “International title,” and his No. 6 WBA rank at 160 figures to improve if he gets the W in Vegas.
If you recalled Ammo's “interesting” takedown on Hearn, and believed those that speculated this young man needed some focus time on his mental/emotional health, perhaps you thought that he'd merely stepped in it during a moment of misguided passion.
SHARING ISN'T SHAME INDUCING SO MUCH ANYMORE
Maybe this was just his ambition and intensity spilling over? No, it turns out, Austin ‘Ammo' Williams is copping to having to fight hard to keep his head on straight, so to speak. And with more and more high profile athletes speaking about their difficulties in maintaining their mental/emotional faculties in a charged and complex time, it's almost run of the mill now, how sports standouts share with followers their out of the ring scraps with fearsome foes like depression and anxiety.
“If you don’t learn how to manage that it’s so easy to fall into depression and things like that, so I love when athletes, especially boxers, open up and talk about it because acceptance is the first step to heal anything,” Austin ‘Ammo' Williams said this week. “People can think pushing things to one side and acting like nothing is wrong is the way to go, but it’s not at all and it pushes you to breaking point.”
No, he didn't go into depth and detail about the shape and scope of his head worries, but it sure sounds like he's on a solid track, as he discusses the wisdom of processing ones' issues that spur mental turmoil.
‘Ammo’ meets Conway for a WBA “International title,” and his No. 6 WBA rank at 160 figures to improve if he gets the W in Vegas.
He did give some intel into ways he's staying on a smooth track: “I decided to make a change and go back to my regular team. I learned so much from Kevin Cunningham, it was a great place for me to be at the time with the struggles I went through with my mental health, to be with someone that is very structured. Kevin was in the military and a police officer; he’s lived in harsh environments and was the right man to polish me up and taught me a lot about the business. He saw I had the boxing ability and talent, he took another route and taught me the game, how much of boxing is in the mind, because he’s been there, and I was receptive to listening to it. I’ve had to prove my loyalty back to my team and show that I wanted to keep my ball rolling at a great pace. I was given the chance to go to south Florida and I always said the best thing for me is a great environment to keep me right in mind, body, and soul. So that was a real blessing, and he came into my life at the right time, and it was a mutual understanding to part ways.”
No, Austin ‘Ammo' Williams isn't at this moment ready to go into the darker spaces in his mind, and what was swirling in his psyche as he took shots at the promoter who, frankly, could've dumped the kid and made his life a continuing hell if he so chose. But, it feels like the fighter is both giving Hearn props for his patience and also signaling that it isn't wickedly abnormal for someone to fall into a mental mode of self destructive impulsivity. “Eddie signed me as a young kid, I was just 22, and they introduced me to the world,” Williams continued. “Everyone has seen my maturation into a man, and the team understand that you sign kids, and you are watching them grow. You learn every day and you learn what you go through and become a man from it.”
EXPLANATION OR EXCUSE?
As we move forward, and the acceptance level for bold faced names in the sporting realm, even in rugged and macho quarters like combat sports, there will be a point where it's so prevalent that a backlash could ensue. OK, that already took shape when Adrien Broner cited mental health woes as the reason for announcing he'd not go through with a planned fight against Omar Figueroa on Showtime. “Man, I'm going thru a lot at this moment in my life but I ain't go give up I set some more goals and UI ain't stopping until I finish what I started but sorry to say this but I'm not fighting #August20th,” Broner wrote on his Instagram. “Sorry to all my fans but #MentalHealth is real and I’m not about to play inside the ring I’ve watched a lot of people die playing with they boxing career and that is something I won’t do just pray for me I love the sport of boxing to much to not give my all and I feel Like I came up short before because my mind wasn’t 100%. I need to make some changes for the better instead of worrying about other people feelings and pleasing them when In all reality I have nothing to prove to nobody,” AB wrote, adding, “I have to step back and overcome this obstacle before I go put my life on the line inside the square circle again I know I’m far from being finished with the sport SEE YALL SOON #Respectfully❤️ 🆎”
Yes, the reaction to AB in some circles felt like a consummate blowback deal, with people who'd seen and heard Broners' sometimes abrasive and puerile antics for enough years that it made them dis-inclined to give him the benefit of a doubt. A more obviously sympathetic character was the 32 year old Figueroa, who has been up front about his striving to beat back depression, as he readied himself for the Aug. 20 faceoff with the 33 year old Broner. “What really pisses me off is that now this mf wants to use #MentalHealth as a fkn excuse,” said Figueroa, who related he's faced depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder. “You don't get to cry #MentalHealth now, mf! You don't get to undermine mine and countless others' journey and struggles with #MentalHealth because of your undisciplined/childish dumb ass!”
I found myself thinking as I pondered the Austin ‘Ammo' Williams case how two things could be true, that Broner might've used his mental wellness as a convenient excuse for being heavier than he'd like so close to the fight, and also that he's shown us several times that he would be a superlative candidate for some intensive focus on facing his fears and worries in a more structured manner, with the aid of mental health professionals.
We've seen side taking already, with people who might have been inclined to take Ryan Garcia at face value, when he said he'd take a break from building his boxing resume to get at his hard to handle struggles with anxiety. (Click here to see and hear Ryan Garcia explain what he was contending with, in his mind, which had him step away from the sport.) Pretty much everybody accepted Danny Garcia's post-win admission that he'd had a helluva time staving off depression during his almost two years away from the squared circle. (Click here, our own David Phillips wrote that he felt uplifted by Danny Garcia's strength of character exhibited in his show of vulnerability.) Then, you might recall Gervonta Davis said in colorful terms that people needed to stop using mental health as an excuse when they chose to avoid difficult hurdles.
But, he said, Broner's issues are real, he wasn't referring to him.
TREND MAYBE NOT YOUR FRIEND, BUT WILL ACCELERATE
Expect more, much more of these developments, where titans of the ring, grid and pitch admit to the world their facade is just that. That they find the fight versus anxiety or depression or the like to be one they aren't succeeding at conquering. The trend is a positive one, though of course there will be times when the upsides will be camouflaged by our human nature, to condemn prior to investigation.
That Austin ‘Ammo' Williams can share about how challenged he's been by blows to his psyche is not to be casually dismissed by cynics, because more and more of us get it, that living isn't easy. Maintaining ones' sanity isn't slam dunk simple–fame and money and magnificent skills on the court or in a ring don't make people immune from getting taken down by imperfect mental hygiene or genetic pre-dispositions. Williams' new focus on sharing portions of his life he'd kept private potentially make him more popular, because rooters can easily find common ground they can identify with. “It can be liberating, that’s how I feel now, because everybody knows me to say ‘I’m not perfect’. I’m myself, I trust myself,” Williams said, summing up his POV. “I know what I need to do next, and I feel the confidence and courage to follow your dreams and be the author of your own book is the scariest thing to do, but the most fulfilling.”