Irish super-welter prospect Keane McMahon considered ending it all but tells Jonny Rashman he is now ready to take his career to the next level
“I was sat on the couch staring into the darkness, the abyss was calling my name, the ticking of the clock seemed louder and louder, the thought of all the people I had let down kept washing around my head. I picked up a cold kitchen knife and I decided to end my life at that very moment.” Irish boxer Keane McMahon vividly describes this pivotal moment to Seconds Out.
Boxing pulls us in like no other sport. We’ve all heard of the Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury stories. Yet, boxing is littered with tales just as powerful, just as inspiring, they just haven’t been widely told.
For popular Dubliner and super-welterweight prospect Keane “The Iceman” McMahon, 6-1 (3), the sport of boxing has long been a way of life. The endless training sessions and battles inside of the ring is the easy part, it’s life away from the ropes that the Irishman has been forced to battle head on.
“We all have problems it’s just some of us never admit it,” Keane tells me. “I bottled my feelings up for so long that It was inevitable I was going to explode at some point. I was doing everything I could to escape my feelings. Gambling and drinking was my defence mechanism.”
After recently becoming a father for the first time and finding a new home at the respected O’Rourke’s Boxing Gym in Dublin, Keane is in a good place but knows the struggles of his past can boil to the surface at any point.
“Life wasn’t easy growing up in the sense of I never met my dad and my mum battled drug problems, which resulted in my brother going into foster care and me being raised by grandparents,” he confides. “I didn’t take in the magnitude of what was happening to me at that age. I was extremely fortunate I had two amazing grandparents otherwise who knows where I could have ended up?”
The most important thing at age 12 is usually attending school and playing with your friends, a week after claiming the first of his six Irish national titles, “The Iceman” was given news that would change the trajectory of his young life.
“I remember it as clear as day,” he explains with a lump in his throat. “My mum was only 33 and had a rare heart condition. I knew she was in hospital, but I did not believe I would never see her again. That day I was playing the PlayStation in my room and my auntie came in and told me my mum had died. I sunk my head into the pillow and cried. My mum had her demons, but I knew she loved me.”
Losing a parent at any age is a hard pill to swallow; for McMahon this tragedy would take many years to come to terms with. The smell of sweat, leather and the camaraderie of the boxing gym would prove to be his comfort blanket.
“Luckily, my late grandfather had pushed me into boxing when I was eight,” Keane recalls. “I was training every day. He would force me to run in the morning. I think he saw something in me at a young age. He was a proper boxing historian. I remember him telling me that Floyd Mayweather will go down as the best boxer of his generation. He wasn’t wrong!”
As a staunch Manchester United fan, football was Keane’s first love, until a famous battle of Britain fight captivated the youngster.
“The fight that convinced me to be a fighter was Michael Gomez vs Alex Arthur [in 2003; McMahon was nine],” he enthuses. “What a fight that was. I loved Gomez’s style and I said to myself I can be just as good as him. From there on in, me and my grandfather would watch the old Friday Night Fights. It may not have been the world’s best fighting every week but there was an authenticity about it and there were some right good scraps.”
Training daily lent purpose to the young Dubliner, yet grief continued to flow freely, growing increasingly powerful. Temptation would rear its ugly head at any given moment.
“One day when I was at school my mates took me to the bookies for the first time and told me to pick a number on the roulette machine,” he remembers. “I said 14, It never came in but when I played by myself it came in straight away. That was the first time I gambled, and I loved it. It was a proper buzz.”
Gambling would be a constant in his remaining teenage years. The thrill of the wins was only matched by the crushing losses. The mental roller coaster of spending half his time in the bookies and the other half in the boxing gym was taking its toll; the self-destruct button had been firmly pushed.
“February 2018, a week before my second pro fight, I was in a dark place.” he reflects. “I was beyond depressed. I had all these thoughts racing around my head. I could not stop thinking about my mum and grandfather. Gambling was my escape where I could block all those feelings out my mind. I had just collected ticket money which I was meant to hand over to my manager and I went straight to the bookies and lost it within 10 minutes. I was numb and I couldn’t stand the thought of letting my family and boxing coach down.
“So, I walked for hours and hours from Dublin and ended up in Meath. All I could hear was the sound of cars rushing past me and the rain sprinkling on my head. I ended up on a motorway bridge and I was about to throw myself off it. For some reason that I can’t explain, something stopped me from doing it. But I still wanted to end my life. I was missing for over 24 hours and when I got home, I ended up in an empty flat. I knew the owner was away, so I went in through an opened window.
“I sat on a couch for hours and hours with a kitchen knife in my hand. I had come to terms with what I was about to do and as I literally put the knife to my throat out of nowhere my brother, who had been out looking for me, shouted through the window, ‘What are you doing?’ Thankfully he was there at that moment.”
No matter who you are and where you’re from, there will be a time In your life when you reach rock bottom. It is how we deal with this that defines us. For “The Iceman”, the comeback was on.
“I decided I had to come to terms with my feelings,” Keane relates. “That was crucial for me to fight this. I went to Pieta House who are a suicide-awareness charity. They were amazing. I would go to weekly meetings. It truly was a game-changer. All the feelings I buried deep inside of me came flooding out. I was on the right track to recovery.
“Not long after I met my girlfriend and future wife [Rebecca], she has been amazing and has supported me through everything. I have recently become a dad and it’s the best feeling I’ve ever had. I never had a dad growing up so I’m going to make sure my son [Klay] has the best life possible.”
After making some tough decisions regarding his boxing career and a burning desire to overcome his demons, Keane is laser focused and back to what he does best, fighting!
“I decided to change my whole team, I needed a completely fresh start,” he explains. “I will always be grateful to my old coach Richard Fox at Ballybough Boxing Club. He was a mentor to me and taught me how to fight. The problem was I was the only pro in the gym, and I wasn’t getting any better or any worse. So, I went looking for a coach who could take me to the next level.”
The man assigned to this task is respected trainer Steven O’Rourke who has one of the most impressive stables in Ireland. With the likes of prospects Ryan O’Rourke, Victor Rabei, Tiernan Bradley, Tony Browne, Christian Preston, Paddy Nevin, Aaron O’Reily and Craig McCarthy populating the busy gym, Keane was now a small fish in a shark’s tank.
“I am in a gym with the most talented fighters in the country,” McMahon states. “I have all the sparring partners I need. I don’t have to travel around playing second fiddle to anyone.”
Keane has a reputation as an all-action, sickening body puncher, who will fight anyone. This rang true in his most recent clash for the BUI Celtic welterweight title, which resulted in him losing on the scorecards after an eight-round thriller against talented unbeaten prospect Dean Sutherland, 10-0 (2).
“I went to his backyard in Scotland,” Keane says. “It was a war of a fight, some will say it was a gamble to take so early on in my career, but I believe I can beat any man when I’m at my best. Dean’s a good kid and he did beat me, but I was killing myself to make the weight. I just couldn’t make welterweight anymore. I have no doubts if we were to meet again, I would beat him. That is what I believe.”
Only seven fights into his career and following a year away from the ring, disaster struck for him (and the world) in the form of the dreaded Covid-19 pandemic. The world temporally paused.
“To be honest I’ve been running around like a mad man waiting for the birth of my son,” he describes. “That was the only thing that mattered. I’m not going to lie though, it has been a nightmare not being able to train in the gym or have any fight dates to look forward to. But my mentality now is, ‘I don’t have fight camps anymore, every day is a fight camp.’ I am close to my new weight of super-welterweight and believe me, I’m going to cause mayhem in this division.
“I’m going to be a world champion. Make no mistake about that! All my focus is on boxing. It’s my full-time job and no one is going to stop me providing for my family. Trust me on that.
“Even though I’m confident inside of the ring. I know more than most how life can bring you down. I want people reading this to know that no matter what situation you find yourself in you can overcome it with the right help. I’m living proof of this.”
With his beloved grandmother passing away last year, Keane has lost more than most at the tender age of 25. Although, in his own words, “I’m going to use the pain of my past as fuel to get me to the top of boxing and provide for my amazing family.” I tend to believe him.