Former world title challenger Anthony Yigit is boxing’s Rubik’s Cube.
Where his peers present themselves, simple to understand and one shade in the majority, the Swede has always been a bit of a puzzle.
Yigit (24-1-1, 8 KOs) fights this weekend, challenging the loud-mouthed Rolando Romero on the undercard of PBC’s Jermell Charlo vs Brian Castaño event, but in a couple of months he’ll be rehearsing monologues and working on the intricacy of acting for theatre, where every twitch of a creased lip tells a story, unravelling complex characters and detailing their flaws.
The Swede has been battling some of Europe’s top 140-pounders for the best part of a decade, beating names such as Joe Hughes, Sandor Martin, DaMarcus Corley, and Lenny Daws. His only defeat came at the hands of former IBF world champion Ivan Baranchyk, as the pair battled for the angry red strap as part of the World Boxing Super Series. Yigit was forced to surrender, his eye grotesquely swollen, at risk of permanent disfigurement, and his ego dented.
That fight was easy though. He buried his emotions after dropping that first defeat and made his return to the ring when his eye had healed, performing for the crowds at his next three fights. But after the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, it was time to call ‘scene’ and address a dark secret, buried under blue robes, hand wraps and thick skin. Time eventually for ‘action.’
Behind the press conference curtains and, after stepping off the scales, Yigit was faced with a hurtful truth he’d shielded from most loved ones: he was a bulimic, and he had been since reaching early adolescence. After going public about his eating disorder, the 29-year old has been embraced by support groups in his native Sweden, but when speaking to Boxing Social, he explained that the condition is still taboo for male athletes.
“I see food as comfort, but the problem is that afterwards, I get anxiety, because I know that, ‘Shit. All right, I’m a fighter,’ and everyone’s relying on me as a fighter, and I see myself as a fighter and nothing else,” he said. “So, if I can’t make my weight, then I’m not disciplined enough, and if I’m not disciplined enough I don’t deserve whatever it is that I’m doing.
“I just felt really bad and the only thing to get rid of that anxiety was to put my fingers in my throat and even though it didn’t help my weight and it gave me more anxiety afterwards, at that moment right there and then, it helped. It’s like smoking a cigarette. It doesn’t help you except for in the moment right there.”
Yigit continued: “I didn’t realise it was an issue, because I was just thinking, ‘Oh, this is something I have to do to stay at my weight’. So, I just thought that it comes from me having to make weight. If it wasn’t for that, then I wouldn’t be doing it, but then I spoke to a friend of mine and she told me, ‘You have an eating disorder, you know?’ And once I started talking about it, [once] I went public about it in Sweden, it became a major thing because, you know I’m a male and I’m a boxer and it’s a macho sport and all that. And it was a huge thing that I came out with it.
“Once I started talking about it more and more, I could differentiate or isolate the problem from me, because before I was thinking that I was the eating disorder, but now I could see the eating disorder for what it was and that actually helped me. So, I decided on December 31 last year, ‘All right, no, I’m going to fucking be healthy. I’m not going to do it anymore’. And since then, I’ve been healthy, because I just realised I have had this problem for almost like 13 years and it’s never going to stop unless I really do something drastic about it.”
Since going public about his experience with bulimia, Yigit explained that top fighters had contacted him in confidence, explaining similar issues when faced with making weight and maintaining the perception of elite athleticism. It begs the question: how big an issue could eating disorders amongst male fighters actually be? And how could it be avoided in a sport which encourages the boiling down of musclebound boxers, to maximise their physical attributes and deceive the scales to score advantage?
“It’s sad to hear, but at the same time I’m happy that they can reach out to me and say, ‘Listen, I struggle with this as well’. So, there are a lot of fighters struggling with this. And since I came out with it, what ended up happening was this curtain of false perception around me just fell and everyone behind it had eating disorders. Everyone.”
Yigit has always been an exquisite talker and a funny, affable character, and he ends that particularly difficult subject with humour, thanking his ex-girlfriend for bringing his own condition to light. No longer together, there was a raw sincerity in his tone. It was important to acknowledge.
A former London 2012 Olympian, Yigit was never supposed to fight interim WBA champion Romero this weekend. In fact, there were doubts he’d fight again.
Before catching up with him ahead of his road trip from Florida to Texas, he’d been described to Boxing Social as “leaving boxing behind to pursue a career in acting”. Half true, it seems. After winning Sweden’s version of ‘SAS: Who dares wins’ and through years of friendship with Swedish actors such as Joel Kinnaman, the big screen has intrigued him. Just another string to his bow. Could he truly focus on boxing – a dangerous game at the top level – while having one, previously precarious eye on the exit (stage left)?
“I hadn’t fought for two years,” explains Yigit. “So, I was thinking maybe I should just apply to this school, and I don’t know if I’m going to get in or not, because it’s quite a prominent acting school. It is really hard to get in and you need to do auditions and stuff like that. And many of the actors that get in, they are getting in after several years of trying, but I ended up getting in on my first try. It’s a great opportunity. Why not? I’ll just do it and I’m acting while I’m [in] the school, but while I’m studying, I can also train.
“When I get summer vacations and stuff like that, I might fight. I still want to do boxing, maybe not pursue it one hundred percent like I have been, but just to keep it going for two years. And then, after the acting school, I’ll maybe make a final push for the world title. We’ll see, I don’t know… Being a fighter is fun. I love boxing, but during this whole pandemic, I just found other things that I like to do also, and I just feel like other dreams and goals have popped up and I would like to pursue them, too. I’m going to try to prepare my life and everything surrounding it for after my [boxing] career is over.”
While Yigit shows wonderful foresight, those steeped in boxing with scarred knuckles and ringing in their ears will be the first to tell him that anything less than one hundred percent isn’t enough. The Swedish fighter is setting out to be the exception that proves the rule. There is a softness about the former European champion, an openness and willingness to bear his soul. He never had that the first time he’d spoken at length with Boxing Social. He was a fighter then – polite, sure – but nothing more than a talented boxer chasing that elusive world title. Now, his words were both important and inspiring.
It has been over two years since he toppled the tough Siar Ozgul in his last professional outing, and now he steps into the lion’s den opposite one of the sport’s brash, colourful entertainers. Yigit knows that inactivity won’t push him closer to victory – but he is an excellent talent who should be in his physical prime. Fighting down a division at lightweight for this contest, some have pondered the cut, while nobody has queried his ambition.
“So, his opponent got a knee injury or something, so they asked me if I wanted to take the fight and I said, ‘Yeah, of course that would be great. That’s a great opportunity for me’. My biggest strength I would say is my experience and I think my boxing and my footwork and everything, I think everything just works better than what he does. The only thing I got to be careful about is not to get tangled up in a slugfest,” said Yigit.
“[Romero] gets the job done in the ring. I can’t argue with that. He goes in and knocks people out. That’s what he wants to do, but he hasn’t really been tested and last time he got tested, it was a hard one for him. I think I’m going to be his hardest test yet and if anything, if he’s smart about it, then he’s going to learn a lot from it. I don’t think he’s going to win, but he can take that loss and come back stronger from it. That’s something I believe he can do. He’s confident. He’s strong and he’s a character. He’s good for boxing.”
But is boxing good for Yigit after years of obsessing about his image as a fighter? He remains in love with the sport – but at arms’ length, keeping himself out of range whenever possible. His fight with Mayweather prodigy Romero takes place on Saturday but you can’t help but feel that Yigit has his next two steps planned out. It’s a tightrope, dipping your toe in that pond. And hopefully, he emerges healthily and with his Hollywood charm intact. It’s extremely clear that he has more to offer than pounding fists on flesh – it’s refreshing.
“Well, they [the fans] can always expect explosives: ‘Dig it, Yigit.’ I’m always putting on good shows, good fights. It’s always fun to watch,” he said. “I expect this fight to go into the later rounds, but I might be able to stop him. That depends on what he does and what his game plan is. I think he’s going to come out strong, but I think he’s going to tire out quite quickly. I think we’ll take it from there. It also depends on where my conditioning is at this point. I think it’s quite good, but we’ll have to see during the fight…”
Yigit has straightened himself out and has his colours in order. He was twisted, confused and unsure of how to find himself again. So often for fighters, boxing is their sleight of hand, their cure, their answer. Unusually for the aspiring actor, it was time away from the ring that breathed life into other ambitions. Yigit may have different sides to his character, different shades of colour on his good days and his bad days, but he’s made for more intelligent things. And Saturday, despite it drawing him back to the temptation of fast money and Vegas boxing, could be the nudge he needs to pursue them safely, whatever the outcome.
Main image: Leo Wilson Jr/Premier Boxing Champions.