Book Review: Fighting Back by Frank Bruno

Broo-no, Broo-no! People of a certain age will remember that chant, probably even shouted it at the television on more than one occasion. Frank Bruno is an icon of British sport – well-known and adored by millions around the globe. Even the American audience chanted his name on home turf against one of their own (Mike Tyson). This is the story of “Big Frank” in his words.

Our story begins not with Frank Bruno reminiscing his childhood but by diving into the issues that most people will have wanted to pick it up in the first place – his mental illness. Bruno was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and has struggled with bi-polar disorder in the years since his retirement, not I hasten to add, as a result of his boxing career. This marked a low point for Bruno following a hard-fought title which he lost six months later.

As it is an autobiography, we do expect to read about how he got into the game, his family life and upbringing. But this is pretty unremarkable, a fact that Bruno recognises. He got into scrapes with the law and was sent to a school for boys with behavioural problems. It was there that he learnt to box and the self-discipline that went with it. He didn’t have an easy life, but it wasn’t particularly tough either. But boxing seemed to give this energetic young man the outlet for his aggression.

He chronicles his life going up the ranks and even sheds new light on some of his professional relationships with some of the biggest people in the game. He seemed to distrust Lennox Lewis but had (surprisingly) more kind words to say about Mike Tyson than most people seem to have done at the time. When he discusses Tyson, you get the impression that Bruno feels that most people just didn’t get him. He bites his tongue about Don King and curses himself for some of his silly mistakes inside and outside the ring.

This is largely a laid-back and easy holiday type read, and that would have been the case had a shadow not been cast over the volume. A title like Fighting Back suggests that it contains more than mere anecdotes and reminiscing over his brief stint as World Champion which he took on a thrilling night against Oliver McCall.

Towards the end of the book, Bruno returns to his struggles with mental illness. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and sectioned in the months and years following his retirement. Bruno’s spiral into the depths of dispair is as harrowing as it is hopeful. His frank, honest and open approach to cocaine use and mental health should inspire others to be open about there. After all, if it can afflict Frank Bruno then it can get to anyone. I would have preferred to read some of the facts to counter the nastiness and bullshit published by the media, particularly with The S*n’s headline”Bonkers Bruno Locked Up”. But he barely touches on that.

If you want to know the real Frank Bruno, this is the book to do it. It’s a remarkably quick read and you may learn a bit more about this national treasure you never knew before.

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