Banning will not stop boxing
Calls to ban boxing are again reverberating around the world and more so in Great Britain following the tragic death of Scottish boxer Mike Towell after his fight with Dale Evans from Wales in a 12-round British welterweight title eliminator at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Glasgow Scotland on September 29.
Towell passed away at the age of 25 on the following night due to severe bleeding and swelling to his brain. This was the first ring death in a British ring for three years.
Towell, an exciting and popular local fighter, was stopped at 1:50 of the fifth round after being dropped in the first round but recovered well to win the second round.
In the third and fourth rounds the fight swung both ways but in the fifth round Evans scored well, but despite the pace Towell continued to press forward before being sent down with left and right hooks to the head.
Holding on to the ropes he managed to drag himself up at referee Victor Loughlin’s count of eight and even responded to the referee’s request to walk towards him.
On resuming the action Evans scored with a clubbing right and two left hooks to the head, before the referee stepped in to call the fight off.
Towell collapsed soon afterwards and, after being given oxygen, within minutes he was taken to Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.
Boxing administrators, promoters, fighters, supporters and others involved in the sport will not be surprised by the reaction to Towell’s death.
Every time a boxer suffers fatal injuries, cries go up for governments to declare boxing illegal.
But despite many campaigns to eradicate boxing, the sport remains hugely popular in many countries and is growing in others, such as China and India.
Women’s boxing has made big strides in the past decade, both as an Olympic sport for amateurs and a professional occupation.
And as long as the top boxers earn millions of dollars it is highly unlikely that the “ban boxing” campaigns will get off the ground.
THE RIGHT TO FIGHT
It is hard to argue with those who want boxing to be banned because when two fighters step into the ring, the basic idea is that they would try to knock each other unconscious.
It has been said many times that boxing is the only sport in which the prime objective is to inflict maximum physical damage on an opponent.
But many believe anyone should have the right to fight if he or she wants to make boxing a career. They maintain, with some justification, that banning boxing will merely drive it underground, where there will be less supervision and probably more deaths.
For many years, boxing has been a way out of poverty; a road to a decent living, if not riches. When it was banned in countries such as Sweden and Norway, fighters simply moved to countries where they could use their talents and chase their dreams.
In Africa, Mexico, the United States, The Philippines and many other countries, boxing provides an escape from crime and drugs and death on the streets.
And all over the world, there are stories of much admired men who emerged from jail as excellent boxers, having learned a trade that enabled them to make a living and set an example to youngsters. Some became heroes and international sports stars.
Thanks to boxing, many South Africans have overcome unfavourable circumstances and disadvantages to rise above their contemporaries.
Brian Mitchell, Lehlohonolo Ledwaba, Vuyani Bungu and Sugarboy Malinga, and a long list of others became more than boxing champions; they became leaders in whose footsteps others followed.
But there is no doubt that boxing has always, since the days of bare-knuckle fighting, been a controversial sport. And after every “ring death” the debate flares up again.
Influential opinion formers, including medical experts, have condemned boxing as a barbaric sport. Others, with more hands-on experience and some with vested interests, have vigorously defended boxing and the rights of boxers.
Much has been done to improve safety measures to limit serious injuries and fatalities. Partly as a result of campaigns to ban the sport, boxing authorities introduced larger gloves and shorter fights, stricter rules and supervision.
But whatever the administrators do, there will always be serious injuries and fatalities in boxing, just as there are similar tragedies in many other sports.
CHAMPIONS WHOSE OPPONENTS DIED
Several fighters who later became world champions suffered the trauma of being involved in fights that led to the death of their opponents. Among them were five heavyweights – Bob Fitzsimmons, Jess Willard, Max Baer, Primo Carnera and Ezzard Charles.
Con Riordan collapsed in the second round of an exhibition bout with Fitzsimmons and died. Bull Young was stopped in the 11th round of a fight against Willard and died, as did Frankie Campbell, whom Baer knocked out in the fifth round.
Ernie Schaaf died after collapsing in the 13th round of a fight with Carnera and Sam Baroudi died after being knocked out by Charles.
A number of South Africans have died of injuries they suffered in the ring. In years of research I have traced 75 “ring deaths” since 1905. These included 24 amateurs and 51 professionals.
HEAVYWEIGHTS NOT AS PRONE
Strangely enough, records indicate that first-class heavyweights are not as prone to serious injury as boxers in the lighter divisions are.
The heavyweight division has no upper-end limit and the difference in weight can at times be alarming. Yet the biggest men in boxing often go ten or 12 rounds without any problem.
MAKING THE WEIGHT
In the lighter divisions, however, many boxers struggle to weigh in under the limit. They, usually with the knowledge of their trainers, revert to severe dieting, bordering on starvation, as well as dehydration and the use of various weight-loss products.
Many fighters leave it too late to get down to the required weight. They believe if they can shed the last few grams just before the weigh-in, they can rehydrate and be strong enough when the fight begins.
Scientists say a boxer should be no more than 4.5 percent above the limit two to three weeks before a fight.
Other experts feel boxers should participate in a series of compulsory weigh-ins before any fight. If rules are broken, the fight should be called off.
Clearly, this could cause problems for promoters, sponsors and broadcasters, but the well-being of the boxers is what counts.
Boxing, and most other sports, will never be completely safe. But to ban boxing globally will be impossible. And as long as the sport survives in some countries, boxers from elsewhere will cross boundaries to compete and earn a living.
It was reported that at the weigh-in at the eve of the Evans -Towell fight, Towell was two pounds over the welterweight limit and then lost two-and-half pounds (1.14kg) in an hour, to weigh-in at an official 146.50 pounds (66.45kg).
This practice is common in order to allow fighters to make the contracted weight.
However, because this can effect vital rehydration, which is possibly dangerous to the fighter, the controlling bodies of the sport should investigate this further despite the current safety procedures.
Possibly a fighter should have a number of controlled check weigh-ins of at least seven days prior to fight and be within a certain safety percentage.
There is no doubt that there needs to be a scientific approach into the control of boxers weights, without dehydrating themselves, as there have been a number of incidents of deaths in the ring where it has been revealed that a fighter has struggled to make the stipulated weight.