The real life boxer played by Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter was sexually abused as a child.

Sporting legend 'Irish' Micky Ward, whose life story was the basis for Wahlberg's Oscar-winning movie, kept the devastating secret from his friends and family for many years, but has now opened up about the traumatic experience in his new autobiography.

Ward claims he was abused between the ages of nine and 12 by a man who was 10 years older than him, telling New York Post gossip column Page Six, "He never asked me to do anything to him, but rather I was always on the receiving end of his advances. It wasn't every month or every week, but it happened and it happened many times... I didn't tell anyone - I was too embarrassed."

The boxing legend also reveals he confronted his attacker many years later, but fought his instinct to assault him.

He adds, "I could have ripped his head off. But I realized that if I... took justice into my own hands, and wound up spending the rest of my life rotting in a prison cell... he would have won."

Ward's book, A Warrior's Heart: The True Story of Life Before and Beyond The Fighter, is released this week