Micael Calunga (16-4) enjoyed his ’15 minutes of fame’ last year, after throwing a spinning elbow KO at Ronin Fight Show and recently repeated this feat again at, Muay Thai Grand Prix 9 (MTGP 9). However, what these spectacular KOs don’t tell you is how the 23 year old had been battling depression, prior-to his 16th career win.
“When you get towards a fight you think of the negativity, your body naturally puts you in a negative state and you have to fight through that cause the biggest battle is with yourself. So that was in my head as well [as being a] bit sad about it and I also felt sad about my personal stuff that was going on. Literally a few days before the fight to the point that I actually wanted to pull-out.”
Micael Calunga with Double K Gym head coach, Kieran Keddle | Photo credit: Natalia Rakowska/Muay Thai Grand Prix
Unfortunately, depression has a great deal of social stigma attached to it despite being regarded as the ‘common cold of mental illness’; and pulling out of fights (even for genuine reasons) can usually lead to a fighter being mocked tremendously on social media – by both fans and even other fighters in the Muay Thai and kickboxing communities, worldwide.
A career in professional fighting is mentally and emotionally challenging enough as it is (not to mention the physical demands on the body) and the added strains of depression, or, mental illness can potentially compound the psychological harm to those suffering in silence.
So, how did Calunga inspire himself and beat depression?
“A day before the fight I played a motivational speech of Buster Douglas when he fought Mike Tyson – his Mother dies a few days before his fight and before she died, she said you’re going to defeat that man and he actually walked in there, got knocked down by Mike Tyson and got back up and knocked him out. He had two choices either, die for his Mum or make sure his why was stronger than everything to make that win and he did, he won.”
“So I said to myself, you know what that is nothing compared to what I’m going through. Losing a mother is a powerful think to lose. Any fighter would’ve said I don’t want to fight, I don’t care if I’m going to earn a million pounds, I don’t want to fight. This guy fought and won. So I said to myself, tomorrow even though I’m feeling depressed and you never know, other fighters could be going through depression, we don’t know; especially as a fighter you don’t want that, you don’t want that sort of stuff and you need to know how to fight.”
Mental resilience was the key to unlocking a more positive mindset and winning
“I just think fighters deserve a big recognition for what they do because you could go be depressed and go to work, you can be depressed and hang-out with your mates but being depressed and being in the ring, you need a lot of courage and a lot of strength to go through that.”
“So today I was calm for some reason, I wasn’t depressed no more. I wasn’t feeling defeated anymore, I was like you know what, there’s no way in hell this man is gonna defeat me, I don’t care if you come from Greece, Japan, Tokyo, whatever you wants to come, no way in hell is he gonna defeat me. No way!”
Calunga’s opponent at MTGP 9 was Nikos Grantzidis from Greece who, has since made it known to the British Muay Thai fighter, he wants a rematch in Greece as soon as possible. Although, Calunga has his sights set on new fights ahead, don’t be surprised to see the young Nak Muay travel overseas for a rematch or, to face new challenges as the promotion look to travel to new hosting nations in the coming months.
Click here if either you or someone you know needs help dealing with depression, or, any other types of mental illness in the UK.