We’ve all heard the story of the world champion boxer who took up the sport to get away from stress at home and trouble on the street. That’s how Anthony Joshua and countless other boxers began their careers, but it’s not usually the prologue to the career of one of grime music’s biggest ever stars.
My advice to anybody that’s suffering with depression is to keep it moving
You see, most people have that one friend who could have made it as a footballer or could have been the next AJ if only they’d been more committed. In most cases, as we’re sure you’ll agree, it’s bullshit. But Bugzy Malone’s – real name Aaron Davis – sporting potential is definitely more fact than fiction.
Trained by Brian Hughes, who was nicknamed ‘the Godfather of Manchester boxing’ and coached boxers like Scott Quigg, Malone showed early on that he had the talent, if not the tenacity, to become a boxer. If someone like Hughes thinks he can make it then you know that you’ve got something about you, but Hughes believed in Malone’s ability more than he did himself, and that was the problem.
When Hughes retired a couple of years into Malone’s career, he didn’t really have what was needed to go it alone.
Thankfully, though, that wasn’t the end of Malone’s story, and music gave him a reprieve. “The main thing I got wrong in boxing was that I could do all the right things, but I didn’t believe I could do it, and that’s a big chink in your armour,” says Malone. “So I thought, OK when I go into music I’m going to believe I can be the very best. I truly believed it and because it’s the thing that comes natural to me, it’s something that’s instilled in my head. I know I’m better than people, I understand that, and there’s reason behind that. I made a lot of progress in boxing and I’ve managed to bring that over into music.”
As Malone is currently undertaking the biggest headline tour to date by any grime artist, ever, which will see him perform to more than 38,000 people, it’s hard to argue against his assessment that he is the best in the business. But before he went out on that tour, Malone sat down with MH to talk boxing, mental health, and workouts.
Men’s Health: When and why did you become involved in boxing?
Bugzy Malone: I got into boxing when I was about 17, and I just think I had a lot of stress at home, and I was getting into little bits of trouble on the street, so for me boxing was a form of discipline and something to give me something better to do.
Initially, I went to a gym that was Amir Khan‘s first gym, and there was a lot of Irish guys, so I took a couple of beatings in there. It wasn’t easy at all, and then I got over to Moston and Collyhurst boxing gym, and that’s where I truly learnt the science of it and fell in love with the sport.
MH: What was it about boxing that made you fall in love with it?
BM: It was a bit of a team feeling to replace the team feeling I had on the streets, and a bit of a family feeling to replace the disfunction that I had at home, so I was able to kind of find home within a boxing gym.
MH: How close were you to pursuing a boxing career instead of a music career?
BM: I think music’s much easier. Boxing’s one of the most difficult jobs in the world, so nothing but respect for these guys who literally put their lives on the line every time they get into the ring. For me, boxing is just a hobby and a science that I enjoy. I enjoy studying it and I’m a fan of the guys that are doing well.
MH: Why did you stop pursuing a boxing career?
BM: It was my coach, I was trained by an elderly guy called Brian Hughes and he’s an MBE, so he had a lot of world champions under his belt, and he seemed to believe in me more than I believed in myself. I think stylistically I was good, but I’m not sure I had the right determination and the emotional strength that’s needed. He seemed to believe that I could be a world champion, but unfortunately he retired a year or two into my boxing. I had a good coach who was a good life mentor, and I think if I’d have had him behind my back I would have been a boxer. He was that solid of a character.
MH: When you quit boxing did you replace it with anything else?
BM: No, and that was a mistake that I made, that’s where I found myself coming unstuck. I felt as though I’d failed as well because my coach wanted me to be a champion. I had to redevelop myself after boxing and figure out who I was and what I wanted to do. That was a little bit of process in itself. Jim Carrey had an interesting outlook on depression and he said depressed is deep rest and that’s how I see it. I just kind of rested in my mind, saw what I wanted to do next and went for it, and luckily it worked out for me.
MH: Do you still suffer with depression?
BM: No, not necessarily, I think I had depression for about two years at one point. I think it was when I stopped boxing. My thing is this: the human body is constantly regenerating cells, so the body needs exercise and it’s the same with the mind. What I found with depression was that it occurred when I was lying dormant, when I had nothing better to do.
If you get into a stage where you’ve not got much to do, it’s hard to get into a rhythm of doing something, so you kind of just get stuck in this rut and that’s where I was for maybe two years, not being able to do stuff. I couldn’t get the momentum. I’d put so much into boxing, I’d drained my emotional energy, and I was just done for a minute. When I kind of got the momentum, that’s when I did music. In the beginning it started as a hobby that was just to get me moving again. Now that I exercise my mind and body, my career is bringing me into situations that I enjoy, doing challenges and stuff like that. It releases endorphins into the body so you feel good about yourself, so my advice to anybody that’s suffering with depression is to keep it moving. I think you need to move and everything else just kind of falls into place.
MH: What does a typical Bugzy Malone workout look like?
BM: I wake up in the morning and eat as clean as I can, protein and supplements and stuff to make sure my immune system is strong because I can’t afford to get ill. Then I go over to the weights gym and work on isolated muscles, so something like chest and core with a little bit of cardio. I just eat as clean as I can throughout the day. Then I do boxing at night time, so some skipping, some shadow boxing and some pad work. Maybe a little bit of sparring, maybe a little bit of a circuit training, and then that’s it. That’s a day’s workout.
What’s your favourite thing to do in the gym?
I just like movement. I like being in touch with the body and have an understanding of where the body is up to. Being able to listen to the body and know how much of an exercise to do, how much I can push myself and know when I’m in unbelievable shape. But like I say, I do a lot of shadow boxing, a lot of sparring, pad work. I like the impact of throwing punches. I do bag work, skipping, a lot of whole-body movement and that kind of thing. Other than that, I like to keep my fat percentage low.
How important is your athleticism and physicality when you’re performing?
That’s where for me boxing comes into it – the cardio side of things. It’s making sure that I can come out and have as much energy at the beginning of the show as I do at the end of the show, and still look good and feel good, and be able to deliver that energy.