Protecting The Fighters

gerald mcclellan08.03.07 - By Matthew Hurley: In the aftermath of yet another fighter falling into a dark void he may not recover from, Iíve found myself questioning the passion I hold for the sport of boxing. After witnessing firsthand the death of Leavander Johnson and writing about the proud fighter before he fell and eulogizing him after he was laid to rest I promised myself that when it happened again, as we all knew it would, I wouldnít write about the death of a fighter again. I had already said enough. Only I hadnít, and I never possibly could. I love and respect boxers too much to simply grimace and turn away when tragedy strikes.

Victor Burgos a tough thirty-three year old boxing veteran was completely overmatched against fearsome flyweight champion Vic Darchinyan. For nearly twelve rounds the undersized, light hitting fighter Ė his heart beating furiously with pride Ė did everything he could to keep the onrushing champion off him. As the rounds wore on and the beating continued he began to run for cover but his corner kept sending him out for more punishment when it was apparent to everyone that all hope was lost.

When it was over, Burgos, a fighter through and through, collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. A blood clot was removed from his brain and he was put into a medically induced coma, in which he still remains.

The night before Ricky Quiles was battered into near submission by Nate Campbell on ESPNís Friday Night Fights. Round after round the massacre continued until broadcaster Teddy Atlas ripped off his headset and pleaded with the referee to stop the fight. His words were ignored as the fight went to the final bell but those words, and his compassion for Quiles, did not go unnoticed by those of us who truly love the men who climb through the ropes to entertain us. Boxing scribes Doug Fisher and Steve Kim have both been highly critical of referees and corner men that ignore the obvious and allow, yes allow, fighters to absorb unnecessary punishment.

A fighter will never quit. The pride and courage of a fighter is what allows him to get in the ring in the first place. Itís the job of the corner men and the referee to save a fighter from himself. And if they donít, they should be held accountable should the worst case scenario transpire.

In the wake of all this I watched, on DVD, the fateful 1995 bout between Gerald McClellan and Nigel Benn alone in my apartment. Itís hard to watch knowing the near vegetative state McClellan now resides in but as a man who makes a living writing about fighters I find the need to watch these tragedies to remind myself of just how courageous these men are when Iím sitting on my couch or on a ringside seat cheering them on to throw and take more punches.

The late Jack Newfield wrote an article a few years back contemplating a ring death and wondering, as I am now, if he should cover boxing anymore because of his moral ambiguity. His disgust with the way fighters are treated Ė no union, no pension plan, no protection from greedy promoters Ė was only tempered by his compassion for the fighters themselves. It was a brilliant article by a much admired writer and I now find myself in much the same predicament. However, I accept the brutality of the sport I love. Itís contained violence and its participants at the lowest level are more courageous then you or I, and at its highest level are the most magnificent athletes in all of sports.

They all know the risks of their profession and they accept them. Itís everyone else, from referees to trainers to ringside physicians to, yes, writers and fans that need to protect them. We need to protect them because they are not just fighters, they are husbands and fathers and sons and brothers and friends. There is nothing heroic in taking an unnecessary beating. A fighter should always be able to live to fight another day, be it in the ring or simply soldiering on in the day to day grind of everyday life.

I write about fighters because they represent so many aspects of life itself. It hurts me when a fighter takes too much punishment. It breaks my heart when a fighter is damaged in the ring. Yes, boxing is a blood sport, but in the end it is waged by common men. They fight because thatís what they know how to do. Most fighters will never know the glory and rewards of an Oscar De La Hoya.

Most fighters have multiple jobs outside of the ring and will struggle when their careers are over. But no fighter should have to go through what Victor Burgos is going through now. When someone like Teddy Atlas feels itís necessary to comprise his journalistic integrity to alert a referee to stop a fight that referee should damn well listen. Our sport canít afford anymore black eyes.

Article posted on 09.03.2007

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