Bobby Chacon, Meldrick Taylor, Wilfred Benitez…..Muhammad Ali.
These are just four of the most famous cases of ring casualties we can list; fighters who thrilled millions yet left the sport (far too late) as seriously damaged human beings. The sport of boxing is truly on its own, in as much as it takes and makes an unknown young man – be it a sign painter’s son in Louisville, or a fighter determined to live up to his Philly roots – and it turns him into star; into the man he felt he had to be. But then it leaves him cruelly ruined; physically as well as mentally compromised in a major way, with no way back.
Yet we celebrate these brave (often too brave) fighters and we will never stop. Some of us may go as far hating ourselves for it, while others don’t have a care; they will get their kicks from the punches these wondrous souls both throw and take and then they will move on to the next value for money crowd-pleaser. But what happens to the broken when they have given all they had to give?
Look at the enormously gutsy Chacon, a fighter who thrilled millions, in over a dozen epic ring battles, but was left almost totally broke, with no ability whatsoever to talk in an understandable way. Do we still think about Bobby now? Some of us do, yes, but could Chacon have been saved from the sad fate that awaited him even before he had hung up his gloves?
Ali, the greatest, at both heavyweight boxing and at talking. How did he end up? Ali was an even more pitiful sight than Chacon at the end yet we all continue to watch the damaging fights he entertained us with; the fights that left him so irreparably damaged. Today, Benitez is, without being cruel or too overindulgent, almost impossible to look at. The one-time “El Radar” cannot even sit up, let alone take a walk on his own. Boxing did this to Benitez, yet his fans have moved on.
The once magnificent Taylor? He is unable to speak clearly and the last time we read about him, he was breaking the law. We can only hope Meldrick lives out his final years in better comfort and with more dignity than Benitez will.
So what’s the point of this article – from a lifelong boxing fan, at that? I don’t know. I do know we should always take time to remember the greats fighters of yesteryear, those who laid it ALL on the line. Even when a new star comes along. That’s pretty basic. But how can we help those who literally leave a piece of themselves in the ring, who have their precious brain cells hammered into oblivion as they fight for our entertainment?
Perhaps there is nothing that can be done to help a fighter who has reached such a sorry state. Nor will there ever be anything that stops us from tuning in to the next great, savage, bloody, damaging ring war.
But the least we can do is remember.