In the closing minutes of the biggest fight of his life, Ted Cheeseman wanted to be punched and punished.
As the blows smashed against his face and body he was thinking: “Stop me, knock me out.” The tens of thousands of pounds he was being paid to put his unbeaten record on the line had already been gambled away. Not for the first time, he was essentially risking his life in a fight for free.
It was the rock bottom he needed. A year has now passed since his last bet, but when opening up to BBC Sport he says he fears many are currently “going through torture” in fighting addiction in coronavirus lockdown.
At just 24, Cheeseman already knows the stories Gamblers Anonymous meetings serve up. He has learned how people lose partners, access to children and houses. It is his view that a standout low point is needed to jolt an addict into truly decisive action.
His came in front of a packed O2 Arena in London, where he headlined the bill in a points defeat by Spain’s Sergio Garcia in February 2019.
Short presentational grey line
Thousands watched as Cheeseman stood post-fight, lost and beaten. None of them knew the lonely battle he faced outside the ring. All they knew was his dream of winning the European light-middleweight title had gone.
It was the sad climax to a fortnight during which he had gambled away his fight purse. He had won most of it back, only to then blow the lot once more – about £30,000 – before being cheered to the ring as the home fighter.
Recalling the late stages of the fight, he says: “My hands are down and I’m letting him hit me. In my head, I’m punishing myself. You have a million thoughts in the biggest fight of your career, and mine were about money. I realised I’d mucked my chance up.
“Gambling is like an up-and-down process. One day you lose five grand, you feel low, hate yourself, hate boxing, want to kill yourself – all of those emotions.
“The next day you go and win a grand. Then you think you can break the system, so your mood is up. Before the Garcia fight, the last five grand I had out of my purse I gambled the night before the fight, after the weigh-in.
“I thought: ‘I’m in a European title fight, I have this money, I wasted all the rest, so it’s either win or bust.’ I can honestly say from my first fight in 2015 to my Garcia fight, I fought for free. Whether it was before the fight or in the weeks after a fight, losing the money always happened.
“When you’re winning fights and earning money, you don’t realise. Then defeat comes and I thought: ‘I either gamble and my life goes to pot or I give up.'”