KSW heavyweight champion Phil De Fries is bursting with confidence ahead of his return to action on Dec. 19, but the affable Englishman wasn’t always so sure of himself earlier in his career.
De Fries (18-6), who takes on Michal Kita in the main event of KSW 57 in Lodz, Poland, is in the best form of his top-level career and looking to register his fourth straight title defense since he captured the belt on his promotional debut back in April 2018. But, prior to his recent successes inside the cage, he faced personal issues that threatened to derail his career.
“I had a severe mental health problem through my entire career,” he explained. “I had irrational fears, that the slightest things could lead to terrible consequences, which isn’t how life is, you know? I got cut from the UFC and had a bad loss, and I hit the drink and stuff and had a bit of a mental breakdown, so I went to address my mental issues. I didn’t even know what anxiety was. … I was suffering from it so badly.”
De Fries saw a therapist and was subsequently put on a course of anti-depression medication that he says has been transformative, both for his wellbeing and his career. Now he’s riding a six-fight winning streak that stretches back to the fall of 2017 and the fighter who admitted to previously suffering from crippling pre-fight nerves now heads into his fights full of excitement and confidence.
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“I saw a therapist and I got some pills for my anxiety and I haven’t lost a fight since,” he explained. “Backstage I used to have this unbelievable fear, but now, with the medication and the therapy and stuff, it’s like, ‘This is great! I can enjoy myself now!’”
That change has been reflected in his results. Wins in M-1 Global and Bellator earned him a contract, and an immediate title shot, with Polish organization KSW. He took that opportunity with both hands as he finished Michal Andryszak in the first round to capture the title at KSW 43. He then followed up with three straight title defenses over Karol Bedorf, Tomasz Narkun and Luis Henrique as he cemented his position as the promotion’s premier heavyweight.
His next test comes in the form of Michal Kita, a 40-year-old veteran who blasted his way into contention with a first-round knockout of Andryszak at KSW 54 in August.
“He’s great,” admitted De Fries. “He’s a very methodical striker. He doesn’t put a lot of output out there, but what he does is quite smart work. But I feel that I’m better all over. I’m going in this camp in incredible shape. I think my athleticism, he won’t be able to deal with it, (and) especially my offensive wrestling – I don’t think he’ll have a counter to it.”
It’s clear that, after dealing with the issues that plagued him earlier in his career, De Fries is riding high and on top of his game as he heads into his latest title defense. Winning the title on his KSW debut was a huge confidence boost, as was his first title defense on home soil in London. Now he said he’s happy to shed the underdog tag and dominate the heavyweight division moving forward.
“When I won the belt I was a four-to-one underdog – nobody thought I was going to do it,” he recalled. “I was an underdog against Bedorf as well, but it was fantastic. Every time I win I grow in confidence, and I feel invincible now.”