With the rise of Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury, the UK boxing scene is on the rise, including Liverpool-born boxer Paul Blackburn.
The 20-year-old has grown up surrounded by other fighters, with his dad owning his own Dojo in the city.
Speaking of how he got into the sport, Blackburn said: “I was born into fighting, all my family fight.
“My Auntie Muay-Thai, my Uncle kick-boxing, my Nan and Grandad both karate, my Nan was World Champion.
“My dad did Judo, so it’s just ran in the family for years and years.”
His rise to professional level was put on hold during lockdown, but this didn’t stop his ambition to get there.
Blackburn continued to train daily, which was vital for his own mental health.
The Liverpool and Cheshire champion doesn’t shy away from talking about his mental health on his ever-growing platform, admitting he did struggle in the lockdown.
“There were times in the gym where I was punching the bag and laughing hysterically, and then the round would be over and I dropped to my knees and I was crying.
“My mental health wasn’t right, one minute I’d be so happy and the next I’d be so down.
“I was on my own in the gym, no one else there, for maybe six or seven hours a day.”
Since he was a child, he has battled with anger but channelled this through his boxing to keep him focused.
“I used to have anger problems when I was younger, and that was down to frustration.
“I saw a lot of things I didn’t have to growing up. Lots of people around me were in gangs and selling drugs.
“So, I stuck to fighting and it just kept me on that straight and narrow.”
With no outlet and access to socialising during the lockdown, he began to find himself feeling more isolated and down.
“During lockdown, I’d say a lot of my friends struggled, one of them just kept taking drugs as he didn’t have a gym to go to. Luckily I had the keys to my Dad’s Dojo so I could let off steam.”
The stigma behind men’s mental health, especially in combat sports like boxing, is something Paul feels needs to be broken down.
The help of Tyson Fury speaking so openly about his own struggles is vital in the movement.
“The fact he overcame his mental health problems, and then got back in the ring and beat Wilder who’s never been beaten before, it’s amazing.”
But more government cuts to the health sector continues to put this movement on hold.
The ‘Time to Change’ campaign which has run for more than 13 years, and backed by champion boxer Frank Bruno, is set to close next year due to a lack of funding.
Bruno also runs his own mental health charity, the Frank Bruno Foundation, which aims to support people through boxing and counselling.
A statement on their website says:
“The Frank Bruno Foundation’s primary function is to provide a safe environment with the aim to improve the mental wellbeing of participants who are facing or recovering from mental ill health.
“We will do this primarily through the delivery of our Round by Round 12-week wellbeing and non-contact boxing programme Complemented by a need led wrap around support service.”
The website can be found here: https://www.thefrankbrunofoundation.co.uk/
Just before the UK was plunged into a National lockdown, Blackburn had returned from fighting in Bahrain.
He competed on behalf of their national team.
“Going over there I was scared, really scared. But going over there it’s a lovely country, the people are amazing it’s such a peaceful place.”
He trained under boxing coach Tony Davis for around three months.
“I came back home, packed my bags full of boxing gloves and headguards and gumshields and off I went.
“All these big names, and then there was me a little Scouse lad, it was good.”
Looking to the future, he wants to turn professional in the next year and devote himself to his sport full-time.
He has trained since he was a child, and spent his whole life working towards becoming a pro. This is something the new found fame of ‘YouTube Boxers’ haven’t done.
In more recent years, the likes of KSI and Logan Paul have risen from YouTube stars to boxing stars.
Logan Paul is facing Mayweather in the new year, a feat never achieved by Amir Khan.
This new light on boxing has left people like Blackburn conflicted on how to feel.
“I’ve worked my whole life, this is all I’ve ever known.
“These people have come up online, got a few followers and a bit of money and have stepped into a boxing ring and made millions.
“And there’s me, I’m 20, I’ve worked my whole life to get to here and I’m not even professional yet.”
On the other hand, this has brought a new audience to British boxing that might not have been there before.
“It’s very good publicity because they have got so many followers.
“There’s kids who look up to them that would never have even thought about boxing before. They’ll now get into it because they’ve seen their idols do it.”
Blackburn recently did a podcast with The Tenth Pint which is available for you to watch below.