“…health and safety of fighters must be protected to the greatest extent possible…national, uniform health and safety regulations must be instituted and enforced.” – Lou DiBella, speaking after the passing of Leavander Johnson
Leavander Johnson (34-5-2, 26 KO’s) *IBF lightweight champion. Born: 12-24-1969, Died: 9-22-2005
The 35 year old lightweight had realized a lifelong dream just three months prior to his passing when he stopped Stefano Zoff in seven rounds to claim the IBF lightweight championship. On September 17th 2005, three months to the day after winning the title, Johnson was stopped in 11 rounds by Jesus Chavez, a former super featherweight champion that had come up in weight for that fight. Entering the 11th frame and well behind on points, HBO’s Jim Lampley stated of Johnson, “the guy who is getting worked over has his father is the corner as his trainer, constantly sending him back out to take more punishment”. Less than a minute into the round, the fight was stopped as Johnson took a hellish pounding. He collapsed after the bout, the result of a blood clot on the brain, and was placed in an induced coma following surgery. After making some progress, his condition failed to improve. His family opted to remove care, and the champion passed away five days later with his family at his side.
Laverne Roach (27-5, 11 KO’s) Born 2-22-1925, Died 2-23-1950
A National Golden Gloves champ in 1943, Roach was a member of the U.S. Marine boxing team where he was named the best fighter of World War II. As a professional, he was named Rookie of the Year by Ring Magazine in 1947. He beat Tony Janiro in 1948, lost to Marcel Cerdan two months later and after two more defeats the same year, took a 15 month break before returning to win three straight, setting up a fight with Sugar Ray Robinson. Two weeks prior to the Robinson bout he faced Georgie Small at the St. Nicholas Arena, where he thoroughly out boxed Small for seven rounds before taking a heavy shot in the eighth that changed everything. Roach hung on through the ninth, and was dropped in the 10th for a nine count, and dropped again for good by a simple jab. He lapsed into a coma after being helped back to his corner and passed away at St. Clare’s Hospital just 14 hours later, the victim of a subdural hematoma. The fight was broadcast on CBS Network, Roach being one of the few to have taken a fatal punch on live television. Every year in his home town of Plainview, Texas, the Lavern Roach Memorial Award is given as the highest honor bestowed upon a senior male student at Plainview High School by popular vote of the student body.
Sonny Banks (18-7, 14 KO’s) *Michigan State heavyweight champion. Born 6-29-1940, Died 5-13-1965
Fighting out of Detroit Michigan, Banks is well known for being the first fighter to knock down Muhammad Ali, doing so in the opening round of their 1962 contest. On May 10th 1965, Banks met once beaten Leotis Martin at The Philadelphia Arena in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was considered a step up for Martin, and came in with an 18 pound weight advantage (some reports had him at a 25 pound edge). The bout was dead even after eight rounds with Banks winning the ninth, staggering Martin before taking a shot to the left temple. According to the Beaver Country Times, “Banks slumped to the floor and his head struck the canvas. He was counted out with one second remaining in the round.” Taken from the ring on a stretcher, he was looked after in his dressing room where he’d regain consciousness 20 minutes later, answer a series of question from the attending doctor, then fall unconscious again a short time later. Surgery was performed the following morning to remove a blood clot form Banks brain, but was unsuccessful. He died May 13th, three days after the fight.
Jose Poticor Berje (8-9-2, 4 KO’s) *aka Joe Berje, Little Joe, Black Joe. Born 1-1-1919, Died 7-9-1948
*Details are sketchy on Berje, as he fought under his three alias names and has records on Boxrec.com under “Joe Berje” and “Black Joe”, the record stated above is a combination of both, as it is most likely the case that these were the same fighter.
Born in the Philippines, Berje fought most of his bouts out of California. On July 8th 1948, he squared off with Roy Higa, a 2-0-2 featherweight out of Honolulu, Hawaii. He was dropped three times in the eighth round before before being knocked out (in the same round), and died the following day as a result of contusions of the brain and hemorrhage. Berje’s death resulted in the California State Athletic Commission requiring eight ounce gloves and a mandatory eight count following all knockdowns.
Braydon Smith (12-1, 10 KO’s) *WBC Youth featherweight champion. Born 4-22-1991, Died 3-16-2015
The Australian featherweight passed at the young age of 23 following a points loss on March 14th 2015 to undefeated John Vincent Moralde, a super bantamweight coming up in class. Following the loss he appeared OK as he spoke with friends at ringside. He later went to Toowoomba Hospital and collapsed just 90 minutes after the contest. He was transferred to Prince Alexandria Hospital and remained on life support in a medically induced coma, but died two days later as a result of bleeding on the brain.