Philip De Fries had to hit rock bottom before he could claim KSW’s heavyweight crown.
When he was cut by the UFC in 2013 after a 2-3 run with the promotion, “F-11” ventured to Japan before finding his way back to the U.K., where he rebuilt himself on the regional scene.
He’s currently on a three-fight win streak, the last of which saw him derail Polish heavyweight prospect, Michal Andryszak, to claim the KSW heavyweight title.
The stunned Polish fans in attendance fell silent as the towering Brit emotionally embraced the title. Little did they know that the Sunderland native had to overcome crippling anxiety to climb to the top of the European heavyweight ladder.
“I had a few fights in Japan after the UFC. I got beat in Japan and I came back and I started fighting on the local circuit and I got beat by a guy who is not really ranked that highly,” De Fries told Peter Carroll on the latest episode of Eurobash.
“After that, I got a little bit depressed and I hit the bottle a little bit. Luckily, when that happened, I ended up getting treatment for my anxiety. I never realized I suffered from anxiety until I hit the bottle a bit — it made me depressed.
“I went to the doctor, got some medication and I had some counseling. Since I’ve got that, that’s when I’ve come back with this three-fight win streak. It’s totally revolutionized how I fight, getting this anxiety beat. Hitting rock bottom was what I needed.”
De Fries can’t identify with the person he became when he left the UFC. After dropping a decision to Satoshi Ishii in Japan, he was disgruntled when he had to return to the regional scene to stay active.
“It’s sh*t — going from fight in the UFC to go back to fighting on the local shows. You get a bit of an ego behind you; I thought I was mint, I thought I was too good to be fighting on the local shows, but you’re not,” he explained.
“The fans are there, it’s grass roots stuff. Now, I’d go and fight on local shows if I had to, but at the time, I got a bit of an ego — I was a young man thinking I was class because I was fighting in the UFC, then you go back [to the local shows] and it’s a kick in the balls. You need that kind of stuff, I’m glad it happened.”
De Fries revealed that his anxiety was not only fixed on the competition itself and the physicality of fighting, but also on the reactions to his potential defeats.
“It was just a fear of getting beat. Obviously you fear being beaten up, but you also think that everyone will think you’re a tosser [if you lose]. Now that I’ve hit the rock bottom, even if I go out there and I get beat, I don’t really give a sh*t. Obviously, I’m trying to win, but it’s not going to crush me [if I lose]. It makes me fight better. I think, ‘F*ck it, I’ll go in there and do my best’. I’m always sure I’ll win, but if I don’t, I’m still good,” he said.
“I used to be backstage in a state of sheer terror. Now it feels like I’ve got superpowers. Honestly, I feel great. I’m not terrified, I’m a little bit nervous, but it feels good.”
He remembers suffering with anxiety as an adolescent and recalled not being comfortable with interviews for a longtime during his professional career.
“I had chronic anxiety since I was child, I couldn’t make phone calls. I couldn’t have chitchat with people — I was literally insane. I would go to work, worry that my front door was open and then I’d have to go home and check it. I didn’t realize how off the shelf I was; I was pretty much an insane person. I would’ve been terrified of taking this phone call. If you’re that scared of taking a phone call, imagine how scared you’re going to be when you’re stepping in to fight one these lunatics in the UFC!”
De Fries’ three-fight win streak got underway directly after he sought out treatment for his illness. Now, reborn from his treatment, he’s aiming to get rid of Karol Bedorf in quick fashion to claim his first heavyweight title defense.
“I always start fast, you’ve got to start fast at heavyweight because you can always get tagged. There are bombs being thrown so you may as well put the effort in or get really tired later and have a sh*t time. There’s no point in saving your energy for the fifth round, because how many heavyweight fights get finished in the first round? Probably about 70 percent of them,” he said.
“I gonna go out there and get on him and smash his face in. But, I like him. I respect him, but I’m still going to try and get a hold of him and maul him a bit. I’ll be going for the finish in the first, hopefully it will happen in the first three [rounds]. Or I could get really tired later and win. I will be going for the finish though.”
Check out the latest episode of Eurobash podcast below. MMA Fighting’s Peter Carroll is joined by Off The Ball’s Niall McGrath to discuss all of the recent developments on the European MMA scene. The Phil De Fries interview begins at 43:45.