On Saturday 26th, Chris Eubank Jr. defeated Nick Blackwell in a boxing match for the British middleweight title, with the fight being stopped in round 10 – by advice from the doctor. The event ended with Blackwell collapsing and being stretchered out of Wembley Arena, whilst receiving oxygen, and to the hospital. It was claimed that he had suffered a small bleed on the brain – per BBC Sport. On April 2nd, according to Sky Sports, the 25-year-old boxer was woken from his induced coma and has been speaking to family and friends. The source is reporting that the injury was a small bleed “on the skull” that did not require surgery. Eubank Jr. tweeted this after hearing the news:
Very happy to hear @nickblackwell02 has awoken from his coma. Nick i'd like to come see you if possible, I've got something for you bro ??
— Chris Eubank Jr (@ChrisEubankJr) April 4, 2016
The incident has once again brought the sport of boxing under the spotlight, with many that oppose the sport calling for it to be ended – citing the potential health issues associated with participating.
Boxing is a long-standing, popular, and well-respected sport, with many of the greatest sportsmen of all time originating from the ring. So thinking that the whole sport could simply be ended seems unfathomable, however, many of those opposing the continued instatement of boxing hold their main concerns with the well-being of boxers. As a sport, boxing is inherently violent. The aim of the game is to stop your opponent before the end of the match – be that in 6, 8 or 12 rounds – and the most effective way of doing that is to knock them out, via a punch or repeated punches to the head.
Other sports may be considered more violent – a poll on The Top Tens found that people rank ice hockey, rugby and mixed martial arts as more violent than the Sweet Science. However, in ice hockey, the only time that pain is meaningfully inflicted on an opponent’s head is when both consent to a fight – which often doesn’t last too long; in rugby they don’t play with their heads, or go out with intent to harm another’s head; in MMA they do attack each other’s heads – and it’s a method of victory – but the sole focus isn’t on landing blows to the opposition’s head. It is a focal point – as it is in Boxing – because it’s the quickest method of achieving a knockout.
However, MMA does allow for other means of victory, such as through pinning the other fighter. The fairly new sport also allows methods other than punching to be used, allowing for a larger – all body – target zone, and less focus on repeated blows to the head.
Other combat sports like wrestling (not WWE, that’s just athletic people rehearsing and re-enacting scripts, closer to theatre than sport), kickboxing and Judo, also have other methods of victory that reside away from repeated contact with the opposition’s unguarded head. However, concern for pugilist well-being isn’t the only concern coming from the ban boxing camp.
The website Debate has had a poll running on whether or not boxing should be banned. At the time of writing, 54% said no to banning boxing – whereas 46% said yes. A majority of comments on the “yes” vote didn’t concern boxing welfare but instead cited the wider view of having a violent sport deemed acceptable. Many claimed that there’s no place in modern society for violent entertainment, and others questioned the influence that the sport had on children. Further arguments claimed that a game which centres around two people trying to hurt each other shouldn’t be a sport.
A sport which presents more overall violence than boxing is mixed martial arts, and yet it rises in popularity every year. It has quickly become a respected and acceptable sport, and yet people say there’s no room for the levels of violence in boxing – which is a far less aggressive sport and is fundamentally less violent. Away from sport, in media entertainment, violence is more popular than ever. Sure the ‘80s had the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone killing 100’s of people per movie, but nowadays we find ourselves preferring to get attached to those that will inevitably be violently killed off – such as in Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.
This may be besides the topic of violence in sports but the point still stands, no matter how “civilised” people want to believe our society is, there is still a desire for violence in entertainment – be that on set or in the ring. Concerning the argument for boxing being a bad influence on children, it is in-fact troubled youngsters that find the greatest solace and return from getting involved in boxing. In accordance with The Guardian, The Right Hook – a report from All-Party Parliamentary Group on Boxing – in March 2015 revealed the extent of boxing’s services in Britain, where the sport is nowhere near as popular as it is in the United States. The report cites such organisations as the Boxing Academy – an organisation to help those who have been permanently excluded from school – has seen 90% of its attendees go on to further education, employment or training.
The source also cites Brendan Ingle’s saying, scribed below the base of his gym’s sign, which reads: “Boxing can seriously damage your health, but teaches self-discipline and gets you fit. Smoking, drinking and drugs just damage your health.” Ingle also says that despite the big names that have been guided through his gym in Sheffield, he mostly remembers “the hundreds who never stepped into the ring professionally but transformed themselves by coming here [to the boxing gym]”. Ask anyone who has been around boxing, there is no doubt that it not only gets you fit but can also turn your life around – especially when it comes to the lives of troubled youths. Given the tabloid-media-incited hatred toward “youths” and the fear of all of the crimes they are highlighted to commit, then surely activities such as boxing that take a young person out of crime must be a good thing. In spite of what many would believe, the majority of boxers are actually very talented, skilled and disciplined athletes who participate in a sport which, to them, is not about wailing on the opponent. Boxing is a sport of outwitting the other person in the ring, working out their tactics, and then making moves that leave them exposed for you to capitalise on.
The Sweet Science is less of brutality and pure aggression, and more of concentration and anticipation. Sure the participants let their fists do the talking and often engage in smack-talk, but they’re not there to hurt each other. This was highlighted by Chris Eubank Jr. decision to avoid hitting Nick Blackwell in the head, after conferring with his father to see that Blackwell was suffering – as reported by The Guardian. There are obvious pros and cons to a sport like boxing, but it shouldn’t be ruled out by such an outsider and simplistic view of the sport simply being too violent. It is violent, as are many sports; the real concern is the physiological implications of the injuries that can be inflicted during boxing.
The sound reasoning to ban boxing originates from the injuries inflicted on participants, such as that Nick Blackwell sustained against Eubank Jr., and these calls have come from the British, American, Canadian and Australian Medical Associations – according to Live Strong.
The associations cite a high risk of brain damage and that the sport is unsuitable for young athletes but, to counter, defenders of boxing emphasise that the death rates for boxing-related injuries are low and that the participants know the risks. Live Strong weighs the pros and cons of boxing as an exercise. They say it’s great for fitness, losing weight, strength, endurance and stress relief, but warn of the minor injuries associated with training, and the major concerns from fighting in the ring – such as with dementia pugilistica (a brain disorder which results from repeated blows to the head). There have been other major events and boxers that suffer from debilitating illnesses due to their involvement with boxing. The most famous of course being Muhammad Ali. Considered by many to not only be the greatest boxer of all time but to also be one of the greatest sportsmen of all time (not just for his boxing), Ali suffers from Parkinson’s disease – which could have been influenced by his career as a heavyweight boxer.
Another example would be the controversial Nigel Benn v Gerald McClellan fight, in 1995. In the late rounds, the ref or McClellan’s corner didn’t recognise the struggle of the American boxer – with the early signs being him holding his gum-shield in his teeth, rather than wearing it. Then the commentator noticed McClellan blinking a lot before, in that same round, McClellan took a knee twice which prompted the ref to call it. The American collapsed soon after, to return home blind and unable to walk following surgery on a blood clot in his brain.
While it’s bad enough that people can suffer life-long illnesses as a result of boxing, and that some people die, it’s their families that also suffer. Muhammad Ali’s wife is now his full-time carer and, as a result of the Benn-McClellan fight, Benn turned to God and is now a deeply religious man, while McClellan lives in poverty – as shown by ITV’s The Fight For Our Lives, originally broadcast in 2011.
As serious and horrifying as these incidents and results of boxing are, the sport claims that they are unlikely and few in number.
Death by Boxing
In 2011, Joseph R. Svinth presented his work on the Manuel Velazquez Collection in honour of those that had lost their lives to boxing. The article analyses a collection of statistics concerning boxing deaths by Velazquez – who was against boxing. Svinth finds that: Boxers (at all levels) continue to die from ring injuries (from 2000-2007) and that the U.S accounts for over half of the overall deaths during that time period – which is most probably down to the greater popularity of the sport. Boxing deaths have decreased significantly over the decades – peaking in the 1920s at 191 deaths, and hitting 67, 78 and 68 in the 80s, 90s, and 00s respectively – but older counts may, in fact, be higher due to lack of internet.
The most common rounds that result in death, in pro-boxing, are the sixth, tenth and fourth; Since 1890 (to 2007), 923 professional boxers have died with the average age of death at 23.1 years old; On the percentage of deaths examined since 1890, 30% were caused by falls, 24% were as a result of Misadventure (death caused by a person accidentally when performing a legal act without negligence or intent to harm), 11% were due to a prior injury, 7% due to being unfit, and 9% were down to it being a mismatch, weight reduction or other. Looking into the death rate in a statistically average U.S. state – Nevada – a death rate of 76 per 1,000,000 participants was found, which is lower than the average for athletes in general of 220 per 1,000,000 participants – per Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Though the numbers amassed in the above study may read as fewer than expected, it’s still a lot of people to be dying as a result of a sport. However, everyone involved in boxing is warned of – and is in the knowledge of – the great risks that can be associated with the sport. But many see their passion for the sport, and the potential gains from it, as being just cause for the risk. At the end of the day, it is their choice, and boxing is a sport that many people enjoy to watch and participate in. So how can the boxing organisations make the sport safer for their athletes, and maybe ease the pressure from communities that want to ban boxing?
Potential Safety Improvements
There will never be a full solution to stopping deaths in boxing – as there never will be in any other sport or many activities – whilst there’s still an element of human error, nothing will be foolproof. However, there are many ways to make the sport safer and increase the prevention of serious injuries in boxing.
Extra Padding and Head Gear:
Seems like an obvious option, but research by AIBA and the British Journal of Sports Medicine – per Fightland – Vice – has revealed that the so-called “protective” headgear has actually been increasing the chances of concussions and lasting brain trauma.
Age of Participation:
The aforementioned study by Svinth showed the average of death in pro-boxers to be 23.1 years old. Possibly having a minimal age for aspiring boxers to be before taking on another person – even in training – would not only allow young boxers to better understand the risks but also allow them to develop themselves more – which might deter them from engaging in the competitive side of the sport.
Fewer rounds equal a decreased chance of injury, right? The Svinth study showed that rounds six, ten, four, eight, two and three held the most boxing-related deaths. So a reduction in rounds would seemingly be ineffective.
A Move on Scoring:
Some suggest that moving to a point scoring system – such as in fencing – would be beneficial. Depending on how the points were weighed, for example, three for a clear body shot and just one for the head, then the focus would be taken away from the delicate head region. However, this would be a huge change in the sport, and retract the aim of the game – the knockout.
Body Shots Only:
Boxing has the no shots below the belt rule, so why not a no shots above the shoulder rule – much like in rugby or ice hockey (when checking). But this would be a huge change in the sport, and the focus on the torso may result in other injuries that have a higher death rate, such as serious damage to the lungs or heart.
Softer or Thicker Mats:
Boxing mats are well layered as it is, and the 30% of pro-boxing deaths resulting from falls in the Svinth study may be greatly influenced by the time before extra padding was implemented to the ring’s turf. As seen prior to Tyson Fury’s recent win over Wladimir Klitschko, some boxers don’t like softer mats. Fury even had a layer removed as it felt like he was “walking on sand”. Whilst an upgrade in impact reduction on the mats would require boxers to adjust, it could ultimately reduce the risk associated with the knockout fall.
More in-depth training for referees into the warning signs of serious injury. Also, a requirement for boxing coaches – and others in their corner – to undergo courses on player protection and the need to preserve boxers. Boxing is a sport, and people play sport to win, once the adrenaline gets flowing there’s only one target in mind, and that’s victory. So boxers can’t really be trusted with their own well-being in the ring – to an extent. So those officiating the match, and those coaching the athlete, need to be responsible and aware that they need to keep them safe.
Picture this, each corner has X amount of coloured flags per match as prompt reviews. When thrown in, these flags force the doctor and referee to scrupulously examine the other corner’s boxer to see if they’re fit to continue. Boxers or coaches don’t want to see anyone get seriously hurt if they feel that the opponent has endured too much punishment they should be able to compassionately urge an end to the contest. Of course, this could be misused to stop the flow of the fight or get an extra break for their boxer, but if proper regulations were brought in for their use, this could be a great way to increase awareness around the ring. It would have also allowed for the Blackwell v Eubank Jr. to have been ended a lot sooner.
Whilst the sport of boxing involves many inherent health issues, some minor and some serious, it should not be disbanded as a sport altogether. It does far too much good away from the spotlight for it to become banned. Without trying to play down the tragic cases of injuries or death in boxing, they are relatively small in number when compared to sports as a whole, and some professions – as for boxers, boxing is a profession. That’s not to say that the number of serious injuries needs to be reduced, as it certainly does; it’s more that there are methods that can be instated to reduce the risk of injuries before seriously considering an all-out ban.
There are unexplored routes, and a lot of room for reform when it comes to safety in boxing, but it’s down to the boxing authorities to make a huge review of their sport and adapt it in light of modern medical and technological advancements and capabilities. A big problem with boxing is that the sport hasn’t often reacted to potential danger until legal precedent or a serious incident forces it to. But boxers know the risks and agree to participate in spite of them, for various reasons. It’s their choice and who knows, if they didn’t have the ring to fight in or aspire to, then they may take their fighting elsewhere. Hopefully, good can come from this new wave of pressure to ban boxing and cause the sport to adapt its ways for the safety of those that love the Sweet Science.
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