With the recent death in the ring of Patrick Day on October 16, it was the fourth boxing-related death in the world this year.
Russian boxer Maxim Dadashev died four days after 11 rounds against Subriel Matias of Puerto Rico on July 19.
Hugo Alfredo Santillan also died in July in Argentina and Boris Stanchov in Bulgaria in September.
When a boxer dies in the ring questions will be asked and fingers pointed and the anti-boxing brigade will call for the banning of boxing as a solution to the sport’s dangers.
How can we argue against them when you accept the logic that it is legitimate for a fighter to seek to knock his opponent unconscious. It is possibly the only sport where the prime objective is to inflict maximum damage on an opponent.
Should boxing be banned the sport would be driven underground, where there would be no supervision, medical or otherwise.
In a free and democratic society, like we now have in South Africa, any young man and possibly woman should have the right to fight if he or she wants to make boxing a career.
Boxing is, for many hungry young boys, a way out of the ghetto. Boxing has been banned in countries like Sweden and Norway, but this does not stop their fighters from performing in other countries.
Some of South Africa’s current and former champions like Mike Holt, Nkosana “Happyboy” Mgxaji, Lehlohonolo Ledwaba, Vuyani Bungu, Sugarboy Malinga, Mbulelo Botile, Brian Mitchell and Zolani Tete have become national heroes and made money in boxing. Should they be prevented from doing what they do best? Of course not!
Because of the dangers involved in boxing, it has created the most controversy, especially after a ring death or a serious injury. On the one hand, you will have those condemning boxing as barbaric while on the other, the sports defenders, many with vested interests in its survival, contend that improved safety measures are the answer.
Calls have been made for the mandatory use of headgear, larger gloves, shorter fights and the doctors having the right to stop the fight. None of these proposals would automatically preclude boxing deaths or serious injury.
An amateur boxer, Kevin Sutcliffe, died as a result of acute brain injuries sustained during a sparring session at his local ABA club in Cheltenham, England. He was in training for his first amateur contest.
Sutcliffe was wearing a head guard for the sparring, but Commander Rod Robertson MBE, Chairman of the European ABA Safety and Equipment Commission, suggested the use of a head guard could have contributed to Kevin Sutcliffe’s death by either giving him a false sense of security or by amplifying the rotational effects of his sparring partner’s “glancing jab” to the head.
Some years ago in England the Defence Research and Evaluation Agency conducted tests into the design and composition of boxing gloves and their effect on a blow to the head.
Dr Sandy Bell, the research scientist was asked by Commander Rod Robertson to widen the scope of the study to include the use of bigger gloves and a head guard.
The tests showed that while using bigger gloves and head guards reduced the effect of impact, the effect on the brain was greater. Not only did it increase the reverberation or resonance of shock waves through the brain, it also made the head spin more quickly because the size and weight of the head guard added to the torque of the head. It is the rotation of the head rather than the shock of the impact, which causes the most damage to the brain. It has been estimated that more than 80 per cent of brain injuries in boxing are of this type.
It has also been suggested boxers are perhaps more in danger during sparring than in competition.
Recently amateur boxing decided to do away with head guards, which had been in force for many years.
Several fighters who later became world champions, among them five heavyweights, Bob Fitzsimmons, Jess Willard, Max Baer, Primo Carnera and Ezzard Charles, fatally injured their opponents.
Con Riordan collapsed in the second round of an exhibition bout with Fitzsimmons in Syracuse, USA and died. Bull Young was stopped in 11 rounds by Willard and the battering he received, resulted in fatal injuries. Frankie Campbell died after being knocked out by Max Baer in five rounds, in San Francisco. Ernie Schaaf died after collapsing in the 13th round of a fight with Carnera in Madison Square Garden, New York and Sam Baroudi died after being knocked out by Ezzard Charles.
However, even though there have been deaths in the heavyweight class, most of the deaths in the ring have been in the lighter divisions.
Here in South Africa, we have had our fair share of ring deaths. Records are very sketchy, but after many years of research, your scribe has been able to trace 76 deaths since 1889 - 24 amateurs and 52 professionals.
However, if you consider the number of fights and rounds boxed in the past 130 years the percentage ratio is minimal, but nevertheless even one death is one death too many and boxing authorities, together with the medical profession, must continuously endeavour to introduce safety measures to avoid serious injury or death in boxing.
In recent years, even with compulsory weigh-ins 24 hours before a fight in order to help boxers rehydrate, Carl Wright, Spencer Oliver, Chris Hendry and Paul Ingle have suffered injuries.
In trying to analyse these tragic fights there is a common denominator; they were all under championship conditions, which means they were either ten or 12 rounds and the boxers had to make a specified weight.
There have been arguments for lesser and shorter rounds, but I don’t think this is the answer.
The problem in championship fights involves weight, or more pertinently, making it. Bigger fighters have less difficulty, but the lighter divisions are legendary in the way they suffer in order to make a stipulated weight. Starvation, dehydration, diuretics and all sorts of other methods are used.
In Britain, it was rumoured that it was no secret that Paul Ingle was prone to putting on a lot of weight between fights and probably the process of shedding too much weight in too short a time contributed to his downfall against South Africa’s Mbulelo Botile.
Many a fighter makes the weight the day before the fight in the false belief that he can rehydrate enough by fight time.
They are wrong, as a boxer’s optimum weight should be four and a half per cent above the required weight two to three weeks before a fight.
As a safety measure boxers should have a series of weigh-ins leading up to the fight under control of the Boxing Commission to ensure that the fighter is making the weight in a sensible manner and comply within a certain percentage otherwise the fight is off. This could cause all sorts of problems to promoters and TV companies, but rather that, than a tragedy in the ring.
Boxing will survive and by its nature, it will never be 100 percent safe, so it is better that it continues in the open under the firm control of the Boxing Commissions who, together with the boxing fraternity, must continue to strive to make it as safe as is humanely possibly.