Like the phoenix, Phil De Fries has found a second life. After struggling with mental health, drug and alcohol addiction and more, De Fries brought himself back from the brink and made himself into a champion. Ahead of his next title defense at KSW 67 against Serbia’s Darko Stosic, De Fries looks to become even more at peace with himself. Never one to take himself too seriously, De Fries spoke with me about his mental health struggle, the upcoming fight and much more.
De Fries martial arts journey started as many sadly do: being bullied at school. He looked for an out, a way to defend himself. It wasn’t long after that De Fries found success and decided to make a change over to a more popular sport: mixed martial arts.
“I started off doing BJJ because I always used to get picked on at school. That went really well and I won a lot of competitions. But nobody cared about BJJ, everyone was talking about MMA, you know? I said, ‘I’ll give a go at that,’ and did okay you know? So here I am.”
The path for Phil De Fries has not been easy. After going 7-0-1, he was called up to the big show, the UFC, and looked for the next step in his career. But his mental health would rear it’s ugly head and Phil De Fries would not have such good luck in the UFC. He dropped fights to Stipe Miocic, Matt Mitrione, and Todd Duffee, all knockouts. While the opponents were respectable, it wasn’t enough to keep him with the promotion. Instead, De Fries spiraled out and into a dark prison that was his mind.
“I’ve thought about this a lot. I’ve had chronic anxiety my entire life. I was kind of raised with it. I didn’t know what anxiety was really, I was raised with it and I didn’t really know what it was. Fighting, I hated it. It got worse, I started drinking, doing drugs and things, and I kind of despised fighting. I hated it. A lot of fights in the UFC, the Stipe fight, the Mitrione fight, the Duffy fight, I lost my ball and I got scared and didn’t fight. I became a full time alcoholic and got out of shape with a year off. I was mad, I was crazy. Then I thought, ‘This is not normal, Phil. Something’s not right here. But I still didn’t acknowledge the fact that I had chronic anxiety. So I googled ‘irrational fear of everything’ and it said ‘anxiety’ and I said, ‘Anxiety? I’ve heard of that.’ So I went to the doctor and I got some pills and three months later, no anxiety, the anxiety was completely lifted and I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is so good.’ That’s when the eight fight win streak started. I was so terrified of fighting but now I enjoy it. I’m getting better. So, pills, pills from the doctor fixed me,” said with a self deprecating laugh.
But, De Fries knows that he was lucky and not all with his illness have had the same luck. He said, “I tell people all the time my story and I tell them, ‘I’m on these pills.’ Other people have not had the same luck, the pills didn’t work with them at all. I’m so lucky that the first thing the doctor tried fixed me. I did some counseling and things. But the doctor keeps trying to take me off the pills but I tell him when I’ve retired and I don’t have to fight that bridge anymore then we can cross that bridge.”
Phil de Fries: Coming to KSW
Coming as a foreigner to a Polish promotion, Phil De Fries had an uphill battle to win the hearts of fans. But in his six fights with the promotion, he has chipped away at the hearts and minds of fans. De Fries has come to love the Polish as well, talking about their support and he’s received from the fans and KSW.
“I think they’re great. When I came in I was the underdog against Andryszak who is the Polish hometown fighter. I was meant to win and I thought I won. I thought they were going to try some funny tricks here but I won. They’ve been nothing but great. I’ve never had a promotion treat me so well. Business is business and things could change, I’ve never been threatened and they pay me well. You never know what is going to happen and business is business but I’ve never had a promotion treat me so well in my life.”
De Fries goes on to talk a bit more about his fan base that’s swelled in Poland since his time in KSW.
“I think I’ve grown on them a little bit. When I first beat Andryszak the arena went silent and you could have heard a pin drop. But a lot of them don’t like [Tomasz] Narkun and when I beat him my fan base grew a bit. They quite like me as a person but I’m growing on them.” Continuing, Phil De Fries says, “They’re like the Japanese, they get right behind it and right in it. You know, MMA fans are kind of fickle. I think Polish MMA fans are a bit nicer.”
Fighting at KSW 67
Going into KSW 67, De Fries has been on top of his game and feels confident about his odds against Darko Stosic. He knows how dangerous the man in front of him is and, given his skills and physical attributes, feels he’s going to be the man with his hand raised at the end of the night.
“I never take anyone for granted. I think I was on the verge of being over trained. The fight got pushed back two weeks, another two weeks, then another two weeks so I was in camp six weeks longer. I pushed my body to the limits. But I feel great. I think I’m better than him. I’m going to be 20 kilograms bigger than him. I feel very confident. He’s very explosive though.”
But, Phil De Fries is going out there to do what he does best: win. While Stosic is a strong and proud fighter, De Fries is there to go out and put out the best version of himself he can.
“I want to totally dominate people. I feel like your first round has got to be your hardest round. I always go in trying to kill them as soon as possible. That’s just my style. I can understand in a championship fight you’d want to keep the fight as long as possible.” De Fries continues, “If I take a back seat, I’d let that little bitch in. I have to go hard, I can’t take a back seat.”
He continues, talking of conquering his inner bitch. “Once you let that little bitch in, it’s hard to get rid of him. I got rid of him once, I don’t want to let him back in.”
So why tune in? Why pay attention to a random Polish promotion? KSW 67 is loaded and Phil De Fries says he’s going to go out there to put on a massive show and also likens the promotion’s quality to the fan favorite promotion: PRIDE.
“I’m going to kick some ass and get a finish, it’s going to be a great fight.” Continuing, “And, KSW has got some of the highest production values in the world. It’s like PRIDE, it’s a spectacle.”
Win or lose, Phil De Fries is in a good space mentally and that’s what matters. Being champion is nice, but being happy is ideal.Become a Patron!