by Myron Usher
In the movie Gladiator, Russell Crowe’s character, Maximus, stands exhausted in the center of an arena after brutally slaying a dozen challengers and angrily asks the blood-thirsty audience “Are you not entertained!? Is this not why you are here!?”
Hand to hand combat is one of mankind’s earliest spectator sports. From depictions of wrestlers in prehistoric cave paintings to Roman gladiators, combat sports represent our most basic form of competition. As we’ve become more civilized over time, some competitions were eliminated entirely and others had rules devised to make them more humane.We’ve advanced from yelling “Kill, kill, kill!” as Roman citizens did in the Coliseum. At least I hope we have.
Boxing is my favorite sport. When at its best, I believe,it has the ability to create more drama and have me captivated longer than any other sport at their best. As a teenager in the mid to late 80’s I remember how every Tyson fight felt as big as the Super Bowl. I remember the energy and drama in Azteca Stadium surging thru the television for Greg Haugen vs. Julio Cesar Chavez in Mexico City – still unmatched to this day. I was fortunate to watch my favorite fighter, the late, great Arturo Gatti, live at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City against Mickey Ward. Their trilogy was about as entertaining and bloody in boxing history and I loved it. We all did.But there’s a difference between a courageous, classic fight and a one-sided brutal pounding that leads to tragedy. Admittedly, it’s not always easy for me to distinguish but I’m not a doctor.
Russian Heavyweight Magomed Abdusalamov lies in a coma clinging to life after first suffering a stroke as a result of the beating he courageously absorbed for 10 rounds from Mike Perez on November 2, 2013 at Madison Square Garden. Doctors at St. Luke’s–Roosevelt Hospital say “Mago,” as his friends and family call him, may never see or walk again, if he survives. He has a wife, Bakanay, and is the father of three young daughters. Many fans were tweeting that the fight should be stopped as early as the 4th round of this HBO undercard bout.
Hall of Fame promoter and professional windbag Bob Arum said afterwards that “We’ve got to educate corner people to realize that when a fighter is getting beat and getting beaten badly that they can’t be stupid and think a miracle is going to happen and risk getting permanently injured.” This misdirected placement of blame is what I have come to expect from a sport that has evolved the least of any “major professional sport” in the world. Since when are fuckin’ corner men required to go to medical school and go through a residency? Boxing’s power brokers, and their dinosaur-era thinking,are why the sport is only a tad above professional darts in popularity among sports fans.
The first line of protection of a fighter’s health and welfare in that ring should always be the referee and doctors, but doctors are particularly accountable. The ring doctors and medical officials sole responsibility on fight night is to monitor the well-being of these athletes unlike referees who are charged with rules enforcement as well as protecting these competitors. A referee is expected to stop a fight when a barrage of blows land upon a boxer who is putting up very little or no defense. In that situation, the first line of defense may only be the referee because of his close proximity when quick action is needed. A sustained round-after-round, one-sided pounding, however, shifts the burden of responsibility to the ring doctors.
All too often ring doctors are just spectators who are reluctant or incapable of doing their jobs; especially in New York.The New York Post recently reported that some New York ring doctors said they were hesitant to call fights for fear they won’t be assigned to work future bouts.New York State Inspector General’s Office said they began an investigation immediately after learning of this tragedy to see if the athletic commission handled the fight and post-fight correctly. If they act as honest brokers I believe they will find a series of preventable failures that are emblematic of a state athletic commission with no systematic controls. These same failures have continued under the watch of the New York State Athletic Commission since the Paret–Griffith tragedy in 1962, Gamache–Gatti in 2000 and Scottland–Jones in 2001. All were very avoidable.They should start by investigating why, in 2013 with all we know about head injuries, was a family doctor and an eye doctor chosen to be ring doctors for this fight card?
Add to that an outdated, industry–created culture that makes a boxer out to be a pussy if he feels his brain crashing against his skull too many times. Ever since Roberto Duran supposedly said “No mas” most boxers are reluctant to call it quits. There’s no tapping out in boxing and unfortunately it’s behind the times. The UFC and other MMA organizations should consider it a blessing that their sport is banned in the state of New York.
Top promoters and television executives also have a ridiculous fixation on the loss column which makes a boxer (their team included) feel like they will not get opportunities if they collect too many L’s. This puts an enormous burden on corner men to make a decision on career vs. their fighter’s safety. This is why Bob Arum’s post-fight comment was both foolish and hypocritical. Corner men, promoters, athletic commissions, broadcasters, referees, medical officials and boxers all have unique roles to execute during fight night. The corner throwing in the towel should be the last line of defense.
I personally would rather see a fight stopped too early than too late. Some may say that any of the three Gatti–Ward fights could have been stopped and we wouldn’t have seen this great trilogy. Then so be it. Boxing has to advance to the 21st century and utilize all that the latest technologies and medical knowledge has to offer to make the sport as safe as possible. That means standardized safety procedures, better training for referees and requiring that ring doctors understand up-to-date medical practices specific to combat sports. True boxing fans appreciate and respect these incredible athletes too much to treat them like Roman gladiators.