When Boxing Social arranged to catch up with former British and Commonwealth cruiserweight champion Mark Hobson (27-5-1, 14 KOs) the 44-year-old asked if he could field the call during his lunch hour. Hobson works as a bailiff for the council and has been in that trade throughout his adult life. In the evening, he helps cares for and puts his baby daughter to bed as part of a strict routine.
The former WBU title holder had seemed one of boxing’s more steady characters during his career only to spiral into a life of addiction after being forced to hang them up after a successful British title defence against John Keeton in 2007. A BBBofC scan threw up some minor irregularities so that was a sign to stop. By that point, though, Hobson had already had enough of the sport and had made his decision anyway.
His day job serves up enough stress to last most people a lifetime. It has been even worse over the past year. Working in his field at a time when money, work and everything else is on lockdown must be an incredibly stressful process. One that invariably leads to flashpoints.
“I’ve always been a debt collector for the council,” Hobson told me. “You can imagine what is going on now, can’t you? If you give people a chance they will give you a load of shit, especially to bailiffs who are there to take stuff away from them if they can’t pay. Anyway, that is life. No point moaning about it.
“I just try to treat people right. The good thing with boxing is that you learn to keep calm under pressure. If you’ve got some guy in your face screaming at you, you need to be chilled and cool. Every now and again it goes off. I’ve been locked up a few times in this job for defending myself
“It isn’t supposed to go on, but the time I mentioned about getting locked up, I had to clamp some lad’s fancy car. He came flying out and I told him that if he paid his fines I’d take the clamp off. He comes back out with a hacksaw and tries cutting the clamp off while I was stood over him. An argument turned into me trying to stop him sawing the clamp off. Long story short, I stood on his hand by accident.
“He’s then jumped up and come at me with the saw. Like an idiot, I got into a tussle. This guy knew was he was doing as he got me into a guillotine neck choke. He’s fucking UFC-ing me! I got out of it and just knocked him out. I split his lip and sent him to hospital. Luckily, I had it on camera footage. The coppers needed to get interviews with us both, they even wanted me to press charges, but I came out unscathed so it didn’t bother me.
“My old man was a former copper. Then he was a bailiff. He’d get me to drive him around to his jobs. I had loads of times when we went out and he had that copper attitude. Just talking to people like shit in the way that coppers do. He’d get us into all types of trouble so I just try to treat people alright. Most people are okay with me.”
Most fighters are taken to the gym by their fathers. Hobson’s father left the family home when Mark was five so it was his mother who took him to the gym then invested her time and energy into his career. You know the cliché, I hardly even have to write it down, but I will: it gave him some much needed focus in his life. Hobson only realised this when it was all over.
“Until boxing left my life, I didn’t know what it had gave me,” he recalled. “When you walk away you just don’t know what to do with yourself. You get into all types of trouble. It is the old boring story of: ‘I could have been in jail’. That applies to me. I was a wrong ‘un. Well, maybe not a wrong ‘un, but I was a hyperactive kid with ADHD who never slept so boxing was perfect for me. I look back now and can analyse it: my temperament needed channelling.
“My boxing coach was like a god to me. If he asked us to jump, we’d just ask: ‘How high?’ That doesn’t happen at home or with your boss or in other areas of your life. You have to learn to focus that discipline into other aspects of life. I struggled with that. Once I left boxing it took me a while to do that.
“When I was boxing, I can watch what I eat, I can get up in the morning to run, but when you’ve got a job you have to be in work for nine o’clock and you think: ‘This doesn’t make any fucking sense’ — it is a different type of life. Then when you lose that bit of self-discipline you start going out. Your missus tells you to be home by 4am and you think: ‘Fuck that!’
“I swear to god, boxing helps you with ADHD. Yes, you’ve got an attention disorder, but it is about stuff you don’t give a shit about. Yeah, I did badly at school. I have conversations with people and just switch off. But I could focus on boxing. I’m an obsessive type guy. I can see why I got into so much trouble after boxing. I’ve got an addictive personality, which is great when you are boxing because you never get bored of it.
“Then you leave boxing and get into drinking. I thought: ‘Oh, I like this, I’ll do it every day’. You never get tired or bored of it, you ignore any pain, like you do in boxing, so you might feel discomfort in the morning then just crack on with the day. The man who makes you a boxer is the man who fucks you up in the outside world. You need that craziness in you to walk into the MEN to fight Enzo Maccarinelli in front of thousands of fans.”
Hobson binged on alcohol, drugs, sex and gambling. Unlike many fighters, he walked away from the sport with a few quid, which later became a lot of quids when he split from his wife and they sold their home. However, the quid pro quo of post-boxing life started to pile up on him to the point where he was so depressed he barely even noticed that he was on the slippery slope. The one that he had observed other boxers going down yet could not avoid sliding down himself. It only has one stop: oblivion. Hobson would obliterate himself with drink and drugs before piecing himself back together again. Then he’d repeat the process.
There is a film called Candy starring Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish, who played the titular character. It is a study of heroin addiction. At one point a friend of theirs, Casper, sums up addiction by saying: “When you can stop, you don’t want to. When you want to stop, you can’t.” It is addiction in a nutshell. Something that Hobson is fully aware of.
“It was just who I was — it was in me,” he said. “I’d never been drinking and all that in the way I did. As soon as boxing finished in 2007, I went on a mad one. If I find something I get into it, so if I say to myself, ‘Do you like boozing’, I’ll think, ‘Yeah’, and then I’ll do it every day. I’ll do it until I’m ill. It is a trait I’ve got, a bad one that I need to stay away from.
“You get into a routine. You go out and get on it on a Friday and then boom! You are on it on until Saturday. You get into work on Monday looking and feeling like a sack of shit. It eventually gets you down, but you are in a crooked maze. You surround yourself with people who like to party, too, and it makes it hard to walk away as you are walking away from your mates — they are all you’ve got left.
“You go out with the boys. A few lines get racked up. You get into it. I had to give people a wide berth for a long time. You just wanted to have a good time. I had a bit of money so you’d have these parties and they’d go on for a few days. For most people, they get a bag in, do it and that’s it. I could go on for days and days. When you lose structure and discipline it can go on and on. You think: ‘I don’t need to get up for work. Fuck that!’ What is the point of going to bed? I don’t need to get up and run. I don’t need to eat healthy as I’m not training.”
I asked Hobson if these addictions were innate. I’ve never taken cocaine yet when talking about it with a former trainer, who has an addictive personality, he turned to me and said: “The reason I never took cocaine myself is because if I did I’d take more cocaine than anyone in the fucking world!”
“Yeah, that is the exact reason I didn’t really touch cocaine in my career,” answered Hobson. “I’d had a few sniffs, but I was never a big coke man. Then I retired. I had a hard time. I split up with my missus and moved into an apartment block. My mates moved into the same block and they liked a bit of nozzle. It is different from just going out drinking. When you drink there is a start, a middle and an end — you end up pissed up on the couch or in bed by eleven o’clock. It is over.
“Add cocaine to that mix and you can go on for days. You feel as sober as a judge on it. Before you know it you are in a dog shit sandwich and there is no way out of it. Cocaine is overrated, overpriced shite. The problem is that it is like love and marriage when you are out boozing.
“Everyone tried to tell me [to stop], but you cannot be told. The thing that pisses me off is that it took me so long to figure out that I didn’t have a drugs problem, I had a drink problem. Alcohol is a gateway drug and it is legal. What the fuck is that all about? It all started with alcohol. I never thought: ‘I’ll do a few lines tonight’. Then I’d have a few beers and you are on it.
“I stopped drinking for a while and bit by bit life got better. I could be in control again. When I’m boozing, I think some things are acceptable at four in the morning that when you wake up you think: ‘What the fuck was I thinking?’ You do stuff drunk that you’d never do sober, shady stuff over a more than a 10-year period that caused a lot of damage.”
You’ve got the drink, then the drugs and all the while gambling was lurking in the background waiting to strike. Hobson had gambled during his pro career yet once he had nothing to focus on it became part of an unholy triumvirate of addictions. I subscribe to the theory that the best way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your pocket. Like most gambling addicts, though, Hobson had the opposite problem. He was winning at first.
“I didn’t gamble for most of my life,” he said with a laugh. “Then I was down in Maloney’s gym in London and Kellie’s brother, Eugene, was looking after me. Eugene was a professional gambler. We’d sit in the hotel gambling. I’d put a tenner on at first. He’d ring a premium number called Sport Spies for tips and that. Then we’d put our bets on.
“When I retired from boxing and had the split with my missus I had 120 grand in my bank as I’d been paid out from my portion from the house. I’m in Las Vegas for Mayweather-Hatton like an idiot putting on silly bets. The problem is I walked away from Vegas over 45 grand up. I’m thinking that I’ll go out and become a professional gambler.
“Then you start losing. Then you start chasing it by betting on the favourites. I’m lumping my pop on games of rugby in the World Cup. I don’t even follow rugby. I’m playing the double up game. Put a grand down on the favourite. Lose. Put two. Lose. Put four. Because the favourite should win. Then eight. Then sixteen. Still losing. Eventually, it ends up dropping wrong like it does on roulette — if you lose seven or eight bets the shit hits the fan.
“You end up 32 grand down. Then you put 64 on New Zealand, the favourites. Then you lose everything after the other team scores a try. I’m lucky that it got disallowed. I managed to come away unscathed, really, and stopped gambling more or less straight away after that. Twenty or thirty quid here and there is not gambling to me, potentially throwing my kids’ future away was gambling for me.”
Hobson is a changed man. He’s switched up his chemical intake, but don’t worry. Like most drugs, legal and illegal, LSD can draw out what was already there. In Hobson’s case it helped connect some (micro) dots. “It changed my fucking life,” he said. “I can’t recommend it enough to people.”
“I got some acid and dropped it,” he added. “Boom! I ended up with my head in my hands thinking: ‘What have I done?’ You know yourself that if done right LSD can sort you right out. It is a medicine, not a drug, if done right. You can treat addictions and depression with it. Psychedelic drugs can help people like me. I didn’t know what it could do. I just got some one night because I wanted to trip my bollocks off. In the end, I went to Peru in December to take some peyote and ayahuasca.”
Hobson thought for a moment before asking himself a question: “What else did I do? That’s it, I did some of that poisonous toad stuff. It were alright. I was tripping my balls off in the woods with some lads. It was crazy. I’m a big fan of them. It helped straighten a few things out in life. You have things in life that you pass off and think it is alright, the ways you behave, then you take some psychedelics and look at things. Not at yourself, but how others must have seen me.
“I’m thinking: ‘I’m one of those boys going out for a night out that turns into a weekend’. Next thing I’m asking myself what my kids must be thinking. All the bullshit. All the things you’ve done. I’ve never had a problem coming off a drug. Once I’ve had enough I just stop. I say: ‘That’s enough’. I don’t get withdrawals and all that. I think addiction is more a mental thing. Leave it out for a week and you’ll soon start coming around. You just need to be strong enough to get through that first week. You’ve got little triggers so you have to ignore them. You have a drink, you do some cocaine. You need to mentally un-attach yourself from it. Once you beat that you’ve cracked it.”
Hobson is settled these days. The Huddersfield man talks fast and without pausing for breath, but not manically — you just need to pick the right moment to pop a question in and let him go for it. He has a new baby girl. A baby brings routine and calm. Hobson doesn’t regret the drugs, drink and gambling yet he has one lingering regret.
“I fucked it all up royally,” he admitted when asked about his marriage. “I treated someone who didn’t deserve it really badly. I’m not proud of it. This might all sound like a laughing job for the readers, but there is a big price to pay for it. I didn’t get to patch it up. I am settled again now. We had a little baby in May of last year. She is a godsend. I love my kids. I always have and always will.
“I used to be out here, there and everywhere after boxing, and my kids got what was left of me after the weekends,” he concluded. “Partying and all that takes it out of you. I’ve loved lockdown as I’ve been able to spend quality time with my kids and my little baby. I had three or four months at home. I’ve spent a mad amount of time with my family. I appreciate it.”
To wrap this part up, we’ll return to the film Candy. Ledger’s character, Dan, sums up the nature of addiction when he looks into the camera and says: “There’s no going back. If you’re given a reprieve, I think it’s good to remember just how thin it is.” Hobson’s made his choices, now he can go on living life the way he wants it to be lived, and that is no small feat.
We’ve also made tentative plans to go to Peru together at some point.
In Part Two we look at Hobson’s fighting career in more depth.
Main image: Nick Potts/PA Archive/PA Images.