Back in the game: Matchmaker Jason McClory interview
In a candid and revealing interview, matchmaker Jason McClory talks to Ezio Prapotnich about his return to boxing and details his inspiring comeback from physical and mental health issues...
Life is not as simple as boxing, where you hear the bell and can see your opponent coming towards you from his corner.
Some of us are challenged to a deadly fight by a sneaky kind of enemy, one that makes his nest inside your head and whispers in your ears to drag you into fighting its fight. Only you can hear it but not even you can see it.
This parasite is called depression. It fights from the outside, circling around you, and its punches hurt the most because you do not see where they are coming from.
Like an evil version of Ali, it talks constantly to distract you so you don’t hear the instructions and it covers your corner from sight to make you feel alone.
It has brought to their knees men who were untouchable in the ring.
Some, though, have found the game plan to defeat it.
Depression is a just bully without skills who cannot possibly win by its own merit. The only chance it has is that you defeat yourself by falling for its lies.
Silence is its biggest weapon. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO SPEAK!
Reversing his decision to walk out of the sport at the end of last year, Warren Promotions’ matchmaker Jason McClory is back to what he does best. Ahead of his return on 23 March Leicester Morningside Arena card, he opened up to Boxing Monthly about his past health and mental health issues in the hope that his words can inspire others and raise awareness about depression in the boxing community and society.
BM: How did you get involved in boxing and become a matchmaker?
JMC: My father was in the army and based in Germany when I was born. My mum split with him when I was two years old and we moved back to the UK in Lincolnshire. I started following boxing around 12. The fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Donny Lalonde got me hooked for good. I boxed in the army but wasn’t very good, still I remained obsessed with the sport. I attended many live shows, including [Nigel] Benn vs [Gerald] McClellan, and always felt I was part of that world. Then life took over. In 2005 I moved to Sweden, which is my wife’s birth country.
In 2007 they lifted the ban on boxing and I went to the very first event. It was actually a good production with good fighters but after that there wasn’t another show in six months. I kept complaining to my wife that they could not promote properly in her country till she got fed up and put me on the phone with Olof Johansson, president of the Swedish Boxing Federation. I asked to manage fighters and he put me in touch with Patrick Bogere, a former Athens Olympian who beat Paul McCloskey in the qualifications. He asked me to take over his friend Badou Jack as well. I had no experience, resources or contacts whatsoever but by sheer graft I got Badou four paid fights and five for Pat within a six-month period. I started matching my own fighters and built relationships with stables abroad and it grew from there till I decided to come back to the UK.
BM: Was it hard to both manage and match fighters?
JMC: Very stressful indeed but the main reason I dropped managing is that it can create conflicts of interest. In that sense, I agree with the American policy whereby the Muhammad Ali Act you can only have one role in professional boxing.
BM: Did you have to make adjustments to survive in the more competitive UK market?
JCM: I started as an agent bringing in foreign opponents for British fighters. I made it more affordable and easier for promoters to choose me as all they had to do was to pay me at the end of the night. I booked the fighters, picked them up at the airport, made hotel reservations and worked their corner. As a result, I was involved in a hundred shows per year while other matchmakers were active only every three months.
BM: How did your collaboration with Frank Warren come to be?
JCM: Asif Vali put me in charge of the whole card for an Amir Khan’s BoxNation date in Sheffield and went really well. That was my first time matching British fighters as well. Regretfully, later that year Dean Powell passed away, which hurt me deeply. I always looked up to him and often consulted him for advice. Shortly after, I got an offer from Tommy Gilmour of St Andrews Sport to work on Warren’s annual charity dinner show. Then Dean Powell’s memorial came, which was the first ever show at the Copper Box, headlined by Billy Joe Saunders vs John Ryder. After that Frank offered me a permanent position at Warren Promotions as matchmaker.
BM: On November 2018, you walked away from the sport. Was it a personal or business choice? And what made you come back?
JCM: Personal. I never fell out with the Warren family. We still used to text each other about football during my lay off. I had enough because the job took over my life and I wanted it back. I got my own locksmith company called Lock and Load up and running. But pretty soon I found out life was pretty boring without boxing. I was looking for different ways to get back into it, even as supervisor for one of the governing bodies. On 28 February, I got a phone call from George and Frank asking me to come back and that was it.
BM: Were you approached by other promoters in the meanwhile?
JCM: Yes, but I won’t name them. Let’s just say there are other promoters I would work with and some that I wouldn’t because of my loyalty to Frank. As far as I’m concerned, I’m back home with Warren Promotions and it’s like I never went away.
BM: Reportedly, in recent years you struggled both with health and mental issues. Were the two related?
JCM: The physical part came first. On January 2016, I was home in my office and out of nowhere lost control over my body and fell on the floor. I could not speak or pick myself up. It was a minor stroke. They brought me to the hospital and I had a full one. I remember grabbing my wife’s hands and face, just to feel her while I still could. For some reason, I could not talk except for swearing. Not sure why. Probably cursing is generated in a different part of the brain! I recovered in three days but something did not feel right.
I went back to matching but was not attending the shows. Sometime in March, I started to feel sick. I thought I had only a stomach bug but my wife got worried and called an ambulance. My blood pressure was so low they could not measure it, my internal organs were shutting down, I lost mobility again and had swellings all over my body. They had me a week in intensive care then moved me up to the wards for six weeks.
I came back home in May but still didn’t feel right. I took tests and it turned out I had a latent heart condition all my life and did not know about it. My heart just could not cope with pumping the blood. They had to put a device in me, kind of a pace maker with an in-built defibrillator which also monitors my state. It needs two wires connecting to the heart chambers to work properly. I had the first one installed without issues, then went back for the second one. I was in the ward waiting for surgery and closed my eyes. When I opened them again I was in intensive care, surrounded by my whole family. Apparently I collapsed and they could not operate. The doctor told me I was not going to live past the afternoon.
BM: What was the first thing that went through your mind then?
JCM: “Who is going to walk my daughters down the aisle?” and that was followed immediately by “I am not going to die, I’m going to be ok”. Guess what? The next day I was still alive and the operation was completed successfully. My family came to see me. They put me on a chair and said I would not be able to walk for months. I refused to accept the idea. I told myself: “I am going to walk over to my wife, stand tall and hug her”. And when she came I got up and did it. Then I started matching fighters again while still in intensive care.
BM: How did depression manage to creep in after such a strong display of will?
JCM: I went back home and all seemed back to normal, except for some minor side effects. Because of what I had put them through with my ordeal, for some reason I started feeling I let my family down. I thought they saw me as a crippled failure. In MY eyes, not theirs, all of a sudden I thought wasn’t enough, that they could do better without me, to the point I wished I had died in the hospital. I used to go to work and instead of going into the office I just sat in the car in the parking lot and cried.
BM: It seems that the problem originated from a false perception on your side. Did you try to speak to your family about it to vanquish your doubts?
JCM: The thing about depression is that it eats you up but you don’t want to say anything because you are afraid to look weak and pathetic. The slightest thing said gets filtered by this mental cloud and puts you down for no reason. My wife would say something good to me but in my head another voice commented: “Yeah, of course she is going to say that”. It creates a void around you. Even while you are with someone, you feel you are in a different place. I got to the point where I wanted to take my own life, I even wrote a note to say goodbye. That’s how close I was to doing it.
BM: Did anyone around you notice any sign of what you were going through?
JCM: That is another important knot of the issue. You look ok on the outside, you might even be laughing and joking and there is no physical ailment but inside you are dying. You feel like everything is pointless and cannot find anything to motivate you to go on.
BM: How did you break out of this downward spiral?
JCM: After the operation, I had regular appointments to check my heart. My doctor sensed something was wrong and I started to slowly open up to her, until I cracked and asked for help. She referred me to the emergency mental health team and it got me very close to be actually committed. They prescribed tablets but those were not enough. Pills are just a symptomatic cure that does not fix the root of the problem. Counselling is what got me out of it, to be able to open up and admit to myself and others that those feelings existed, then finally speaking to my family about it.
BM: How did your loved ones react to it?
JCM: A few months later, I went to my son’s school for a Parents’ Evening. We looked at the children's books. They had to write something on the subject “People that inspire you”. My son had written “My dad inspires me. He inspires me to be a doctor. He inspires me because he is tough, resilient and can take anything”. I then realised my son never saw me as a failure but my mind didn’t let me see it.
BM: Tyson Fury is the most recent example of a boxing figure that struggled with depression and overcome it. Unfortunately, there are also many documented cases of fighters who succumbed to it. Do you think there might be a link between the traumatic nature of the sport and depression?
JMC: I don’t think so. This is a universal problem that affects anybody in every walk of life. The issue with boxing though is the 'macho' aspect of it, in the business side as much as for the fighters. You can never let down and show a chink in the armour otherwise somebody is going to take advantage. That might take a toll mentally. The BBB of C is doing a great job in taking care of the physical health of fighters but not so much is being done for the mental one. Actually, I think it should be up to the governing bodies to introduce and implement counselling services and a dedicated help phone line for boxers. In the meanwhile, I urge fighters who are experiencing depression to speak to their trainer, manager or promoter.
BM: What do you think might be the causes of the problem on a larger scale and what the solutions?
JCM: Society and media put too much pressure on people to live up and conform to certain standards and stereotypes. When I was a kid people were just happy to get by, now you have to own and show things. You feel under constant scrutiny. I don’t’ have the answers to the problem but I want to raise awareness in the hope that the experts and powers that be will pick up and implement the necessary solutions.
BM: Is there anything else you would like to share that might be of help to anyone going through depression right now?
JCM: My heart goes out to any of you out there who is suffering. My advice is to speak to someone. Anybody: friend, mum, dad, sister, wife, doctor... It is important that you let someone know how you feel. It is the hardest thing to do but the only one that can save you. If I came through it, you can do it too. You got to realize it is not just your life at stake. There are a lot of people around you that love you and would be affected if you end up doing something drastic. You might be surprised at how many people out there care for you and are ready to help. Being happy is the best possible contribution you can make to the world.
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