Don't Stop The Boxing Fight Just Yet!

gerald mcclellan(Gerald McClellan, seen here taking a knee in the 10th round of his tragic bout with Nigel Benn in 1995) 12.04.07 - By James L. Boyle: In response to Ted Sares articles Crossing The Line and Blood Sport, I want to start off by saying that I'm in full agreement that blatant mismatches should be avoided. It's dangerous, and when you get a former world champion with a record of 58-3, going against a club fighter with a 10-6 record, the former champion is obviously going to win every time. However, being a fan of the sport for over 30 years, I've also seen way too many fights stopped when they didn't need to be. This is professional boxing, folks. It's not the PGA, the NBA or even the NFL. While most of today's popular sports such as baseball, basketball, and football were developed within the last 100-150 years, boxing is an ancient sport, and also in essence a barbaric one.

While one of the objects of the sport is to hit your opponent while not being hit in return, it is also one in which the goal is to knock your opponent out. Such a sport will always have it's tragedies. We have taken this barbaric sport and shoved it into the ultra-civilized (and I use that term loosely) and politically correct world of the 21st century. Can the two co-exist? In today's sporting world, people are concerned with making boxing safe. It is almost an oxymoron.

Boxing is not safe; It is a violent contact sport, nothing less. I never want to see anyone seriously injured or killed, but at the same time, I don't want to see a sport whose intentions are violent be watered down to the point where it's no longer enjoyable to watch.

While we really don't need to see beat downs like the way Jack Dempsey ko'ed Jess Willard or how Roberto Duran was allowed to pulverize Davey Moore for a round and a half too long, neither do we need to see Lennox Lewis not get a chance to shake out the cobwebs and see if he can come back to retain his title against Oliver McCall or have Meldrick Taylor lose a fight with two seconds left because he didn't look straight into Richard Steele's eyes and say, "Yeah, man, I'm fine." He shouldn't have stopped it if there were still two rounds left, let alone two seconds.

Meldrick was never the same again, not because of the fight, as far as I'm concerned, but because his heart was no longer into it the same way after being on the receiving end of a questionable stoppage like that. The stoppage of the Joe Calzaghe / Peter Manfredo fight this past weekend is a perfect example. Yes, Calzaghe was winning, yes, he was the superior fighter, and, yes, he was almost assured of victory, but since Peter Manfredo was there to fight that night, whether or not he deserved to be there in the first place, he should have been given more time. And I'm a Joe Calzaghe fan. The premature stoppage turned a bit of a dubious fight into a garbage fight. Manfredo wasn't hurt yet. Granted, he wasn't throwing back, but most of the punches were hitting on Manfredo's boxing gloves. So, as it turns out, Calzaghe was denied the possibility of a convincing KO, Manfredo was denied the possible, albeit slight, chance of letting Calzaghe tire himself out so he could regroup himself, and the fans were denied of a conclusive finish however it may have ended.

A tragedy can occur with one single punch at any moment of any round. According to the Journal Of Combative Sport in January of this year, there have been 81 boxing related deaths since 1997. Ten of those deaths were caused in either sparring or training. In regular bouts, at least 30 of the remaining 71 deaths occurred in four rounds or less of boxing. I say 'at least' because there are several bouts in which the final round was not indicated. So while it is assumed many times that boxing fatalities usually occur when a fight goes into the later rounds, this is not necessarily so.

As I said earlier, it can happen at anytime. Ring injuries and death in this sport are as inevitable as taxes, outrageous gas prices. Take the Gerald McClellan/Nigel Benn fight, for example. The fight was a war right up until the point in which McClellan took his first knee in the 10th round. No one at the time knew there was anything wrong, even Ferdie Pacheco said, "He's quitting!" It wasn't until later on during replays that people noticed that McClellan had been blinking his eyes, which may have been a sign that something was wrong. It's extremely likely, and almost a certainty that he started to bleed on the brain much earlier in the fight. The referee, even his corner, had no idea. So how and when do you stop a fight like that? And this wasn't a mismatch.

In cases of fighters that suffer from boxing related injuries and death over a long period of time, it appears that many fighters are more susceptible than others. It may be possible that genetics play a role. Jerry Quarry, for example, died in 1999 from the effects of Pugilistic Dementia. In 2006, his brother, Mike, passed away from the same thing. These two fighters had long and rough careers and it isn't surprising that they could suffer such a debilitating and ultimately life taking illness. But both brothers? And if I'm not mistaken, I recently read that younger brother Bobby Quarry, who had a very short career in comparison, also suffers from some boxing related problem. Could their genetic makeup be so that their brains and bodies just couldn't handle the punishment like others?

Roberto Duran, a ring legend of 119 bouts, and whose career spanned four decades and finally retired at the age of 50, has shown no immediate ill effects. What about Archie Moore, who fought in an era when fights were never stopped premature? He had 220 recorded bouts, lived to the age of 81 and as far as I know, he never suffered from any serious head trauma, at least nothing that would keep him from helping to train George Foreman during his comeback. And the list goes on. Many fighters, who had many tough fights have retired and have lived full lives afterwards.

Some of the most memorable fights of all time are fights that have ebb and flow to them. One fighter starts to take control of the fight and then all of a sudden the other comes back to win. Does anyone remember the brutal five-round war between Caveman Lee and John LoCicero. That fight could have been stopped many times earlier and for either fighter. But it wasn't and came to a fitting conclusion. That's what I'm talking about. The first fight between Arturro Gatti and Micky Ward is a great example. Both fighters pulling out all the stops and going for broke every round. First, Gatti, then Ward and so on. In the 9th, however, it looked like Ward was going to finish Gatti off near the end of the round. Even Jim Lampley said, "Go ahead, Frank, stop it anytime you'd like," referring to referee Frank Cappucino stepping in to halt the action. But, fortunately, Frank didn't, he knew how great of a fight it was and allowed Gatti to continue and he ended up finished strong.

Now, what would have been said if after this fight one of the fighters collapsed in his dressing room from a head injury during the fight? What if he died? Well, then all of a sudden everyone is saying that "boxing has suffered another black eye." But it didn't happen, and they fought like animals two more times. So the Gatti/Ward Trilogy goes down in history as one of the greatest series of fights ever. I, for one, want to see brutal fights like this and not have them stopped when one fighter starts to get a little wobbly. IT'S BOXING, FOR CRYIN' OUT LOUD! Someone gets hit hard or knocked down they're obviously going be a little shaky in trying to recover. You can't just stop the fight immediately because someone is a little woozy. How ridiculous is that? These men and now women too know the risks when they step into the ring. They have also trained very hard and should be given every opportunity to win. If all the fighters were to say, "yeah, fights need to be stopped early or prematurely" then I would have nothing to say. But these people are a different breed of athlete, they aren't like you and me. They live to fight and sometimes unfortunately die, too.

It's an unfortunate byproduct of the game. Now, I suppose, if you really want to prevent ring death and injury, there is a way to do it. First, have all pro fighters wear head gear like they do in the amateurs, then have them wear 50 ounce gloves filled with feathers. Have all fights, including championships, be only three, two minute rounds and as soon as one fighter gets hit with anything more than a solid jab, stop the fight. Either that or have Chris Byrd and DaVarryl Williamson fight exhibition bouts every weekend, like they almost seemed to be doing the first time because that would also prevent any ring trauma. It would also prevent anyone from ever having insomnia, too. And I'm only half joking about all of this.

If your idea of a great fight is to watch Pernell Whitaker dance and run around the ring all night, then be my guest. And, yes, there is something to be said about a fighter who can miraculously duck and dodge bullets; It's pretty to watch. But thanks all the same, I'd much prefer to watch Gatti/Ward, Holyfield/Dokes, Lee/LoCicero any day. I can't comment on the fight directly because I never got a chance to see it, but when Arthur Abraham suffered a broken jaw against Edison Miranda, it could have been stopped right there, but he was allowed to continue and amazingly came back to win. I would love to see that fight. However, I heard in some circles that it was a bad decision, so I don't know. Regardless, though, Abraham must have been amazing to take that kind of pain and to absorb those monstrous shots thrown by Miranda.

So I agree wholeheartedly that blatant mismatches are ridiculous and I say blatant because sometimes there are perceived mismatches that turn out to be great fights or great upsets. One only needs to look at Buster Douglas' KO of Mike Tyson to realize that. Jorge Castro's amazing come from behind win against John David Jackson may be the exception, but it is the exception that makes history and memorable moments in boxing. They are part of the allure that keeps us coming back for more. In my opinion, two of the worst things about boxing are bad decisions (which I think everyone agrees with) and premature stoppages. So, Ref, don't stop the fight just yet, give them a chance and then intervene.

Examples of bad stoppages:

David Tua KO 10 Hasim Rahman
Lennox Lewis KO 6 Vitali Klitschko
McCallum KO 2 Julian Jackson
John Ruiz KO 11 Fres Oquendo
Mike Tyson KO 7 Razor Ruddock
Joe Calzaghe KO 2 Peter Manfredo
Michael Dokes KO 1 Mike Weaver
Julio Cesar Chavez KO 12 Meldrick Taylor

Examples of timely stoppages:

Evander Holyfield KO 8 Michael Moorer
Kostya Tszyu KO 2 Zab Judah
Mike Tyson KO 2 Trevor Berbick

Article posted on 13.04.2007

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