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How Do We Reconcile Ring Deaths?

Glax0r's Photo Glax0r 17 Jan 2013

How do we reconcile ring deaths?
Boxing's benefits are undeniable, but do they outweigh the greatest danger of all?
Updated: January 17, 2013, 2:48 PM ET
By Nigel Collins | ESPN.com


I went to the Atlantic City Medical Center along with a handful of grim-faced journalists hoping to receive some good news about Freddy Bowman, a preliminary fighter who had fallen into a coma following a TKO loss to Isidro "Gino" Perez. The bout had been even on the scorecards after five rounds, but in the sixth Bowman's trainer, Gene Minor, noticed that something was wrong with his fighter and signaled the referee to stop the fight. Bowman, a 24-year-old lightweight from Winston-Salem, N.C., managed to walk back to his dressing room under his own power, only to collapse while unlacing his boxing boots and begin foaming at the mouth.

Compared to the carnage of war and civilian violence around the world, boxing is a relatively tame undertaking and, in the minds of those who love it, an honorable manner in which to express the dark side of our makeup.

There was no good news forthcoming on that chilly February evening, and we shuffled out of the hospital in silence, knowing that it probably wasn't going to end well for Bowman. He had suffered a brain bleed and, despite three operations, never regained consciousness. Freddy lingered in a coma for more than a year before finally dying in March 1982. In a dark coincidence, Perez would meet a similar fate, dying of brain injuries six days after his knockout loss to Juan Ramon Cruz in September 1983. Such is the curse of prizefighting, an activity in which contestants are sometimes called upon to pay the ultimate price for their participation.

Sometimes while watching a fight you can sense that something bad is going to happen. It starts with a weird feeling inside you that can easily lead to involuntary yelling. "Stop the fight!" or words to that affect spill out of your mouth as the anxiety becomes almost unbearable. The difference between a great fight and a tragedy can be wafer-thin, and the fear bubbling in your guts is often a false alarm -- but not always.

Then there are ring fatalities that sneak up on you, even though they shouldn't. I never thought for a moment that either Jody White or Pedro Alcazar was in mortal danger as they walked past me on their way back to their dressing rooms after losing to Curtis Parker and Fernando Montiel, respectively. But both died of head injuries -- White the night he was stopped and Alcazar two days later.

We all know what's at stake, but after the initial shock of a ring death wears off and the finger-pointing and grieving subside, we generally choose not to think about it too much. Not that it helps. The possibility of disaster hangs over the prize ring like an invisible shroud, periodically reminding us of unpleasant possibilities we'd rather forget.

[+] EnlargeFernando Montiel and Pedro Alcazar
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesNigel Collins never had any sense that Pedro Alcazar, right, was in great danger after his 2002 loss to Fernando Montiel. Two days later, Alcazar was dead.

Boxing struggles against PED abuse, alphabet organizations run amok, weak commissions, horrendous decisions, inadequate and inconsistent medical standards, etc. But the most profound issue is seldom discussed. It's as if something were decided a long time ago and that was that. Nothing more to be said. True, the majority of the dilemmas faced by the sweet science could theoretically be solved, but boxing's Gordian knot will forever remain untangled. As long as people hit each other in the head, some of them will die.

Light heavyweight Sergey Kovalev, who will fight Gabriel Campillo on NBC Sports Net this Saturday, knows all too well the devastating power of the human fist. On Dec. 5, 2011, his opponent, Roman Simakov, collapsed in the seventh round of a match held in Russia and died of his injuries three days later. The 27-year-old Simakov had lost only once in 21 pro fights and certainly didn't seem a likely candidate for disaster. Kovalev was understandably upset.

"If I ever step in the ring again, I will dedicate my next fight to Roman," blogged Kovalev a few days afterward. "All of my earnings will be sent to his family. Forgive me, Roman … Rest in Peace, Warrior."

Kovalev has already fought twice since the Simakov catastrophe, scoring knockouts on both occasions, and if these post-tragedy fights are any indication, he'll be doing his level best to concuss Campillo. Anything less would jeopardize his own well-being.

Only the very best can hold back and still prevail the way Emile Griffith did for so many years following the death of Benny "Kid" Paret in their 1962 rubber match. "I'm still sensitive about that time," Griffith told author Peter Heller more than a decade after Paret's demise. "I've never stopped anybody since then, not really."

Evidently the viewing public wasn't nearly as squeamish as Griffith.

"The replays went on the air and showed the beating Paret was taking," said Don Dunphy, who was behind the microphone during ABC's broadcast of the fatal encounter. "Again and again it was repeated. I heard later that the ratings for the postfight show were higher than for the fight itself. Apparently, people were calling friends and telling them to tune in, that a guy was getting beaten to death on TV."

[+] EnlargeEmile Griffith vs Benny Paret
Charles Hoff/NY Daily News Archive/Getty ImagesAfter Benny Paret died at his hands in 1962, Emile Griffith became a different fighter, holding back out of concern for the risk of another tragedy.

The first recorded boxing death in the United States was that of Thomas McCoy, who died as a result of the vicious beating he took from Christopher Lilly during an illegal bare-knuckle bout. The infamous brawl took place on Sept. 13, 1842, at Dobbs Ferry, a small town about 25 miles up the Hudson River from New York City. At the end of the 119 rounds -- under the old London Prize Ring Rules, a round ended when one of the fighters went down -- McCoy collapsed and died on the spot. A coroner's inquest determined he had drowned in his own blood, the result of his wounds draining into his lungs.

Although no exact figures have been kept, since McCoy was killed, thousands of boxers have perished due to injuries inflicted by their adversaries. Nonetheless, men and women continue to box, and every so often one of them dies as a consequence. Recently instituted advancements in health and safely measures have significantly reduced the number of boxing fatalities, but as long as combat sports exist, the threat of a disastrous outcome will never be entirely eliminated.

Why does society permit such barbarity? Surely we should have come to our senses by now and risen above such an atavistic form of entertainment. How has boxing managed to remain legal, especially now that we're fully aware of all the dangers involved -- including the insidious consequences of multiple concussions, ranging from crippling neurological problems to depression and suicide?

There are, of course, the standard rationalizations: Boxing keeps kids off the streets and out of gangs, teaches discipline and the merits of hard work, offers a way up for those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder and provides a method of channeling aggression and anger into socially acceptable behavior. Furthermore, numerous other sports suffer far more fatalities than boxing. And you know what? All of that is true. But a few extenuating circumstances won't turn a rationalization into a justification.

Who knows? Maybe the benefits of boxing trump the bad; maybe they don't. But either way, it's only part of the story. It all starts with the human condition. At our core we are still raging beasts easily provoked and unmerciful in our response to real or imagined danger. Evidence of this reality is everywhere you look: Wars around the world continue a tag-team approach to mass violence, the warm ashes of one conflagration lighting the fuse of another in an endless round of death and destruction. Civilian gun violence has hit an all-time high, and mass murder has become commonplace.

Compared to that sort of carnage, boxing is a relatively tame undertaking and, in the minds of those who love it, an honorable manner in which to express the dark side of our makeup. Moreover, that queasy feeling you get when it seems as though a fighter might be seriously hurt is the flip side of mankind's bellicose nature, the compassionate counterbalance that creates the yin-yang duality that binds life together.

The boxing ring can be seen as a mirror on which the full range of human emotions are reflected. It isn't always pretty to look at, but we keep coming back for more, eager to participate, if only vicariously, in a ritual as old as the human race and as timeless as a clenched fist. That's why boxing is still around and still welcome in many quarters, regardless of its frightening toll.
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johnnyblaze's Photo johnnyblaze 17 Jan 2013

Nice work, Nigel.
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rayajr's Photo rayajr 17 Jan 2013

Boxing isn't any worse than race car driving, I don't think. Tough way to make a living though. No question about that.
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Stxwolf's Photo Stxwolf 17 Jan 2013

 rayajr, on 17 January 2013 - 06:51 PM, said:

Boxing isn't any worse than race car driving, I don't think. Tough way to make a living though. No question about that.

Racing, football, coal mines, oil field, crab/fishing boats, cops, firefighters, soldiers and all other sorts of occupations are arguably just as dangerous - or moreso - than boxing.

Good article though
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ReggieJay's Photo ReggieJay 17 Jan 2013

There is little moral justification for outlawing the sport. Boxing does not harm society. In fact, the sport has helped American society discuss and progress over its history. Furthermore, while boxing injury is possible, the vast majority of fighters are aware of the general dangers in play. Crudely put, boxers know what they're getting into when they decide to box.

I'm, of course, all for improved medical standards/regulations/etc., but we as a people aren't barbaric simply because we still enjoy combat as entertainment. It goes beyond our animal instincts, IMO. It's more about human expression and choice.
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AntonioMartin's Photo AntonioMartin 18 Jan 2013

<p>I think in fact, we are all angels who become poisoned by evilness of this world. This has been the case since Adam and Eve, who were enticed to eat that stupid apple. The Bible&nbsp;basically says so. I mean even the people like Hitler had their madness triggered by one evil event they witnessed.&nbsp;Thats usually the case. Kind of like the victim becomes the victimator. So no, violence is not a trait of being human, but weakness to temptation to commit it is. &nbsp;</p>
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Racing, football, coal mines, oil field, crab/fishing boats, cops, firefighters, soldiers and all other sorts of occupations are arguably just as dangerous - or moreso - than boxing. Good article though
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<p>Add pilots to that. But those professions dont aim at hurting someone, whereas in boxing the winner is the one who can hurt the other better.</p>
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Sugar_Dean_Cuntly's Photo Sugar_Dean_Cuntly 18 Jan 2013

 AntonioMartin, on 18 January 2013 - 03:56 AM, said:

<p>I think in fact, we are all angels who become poisoned by evilness of this world. This has been the case since Adam and Eve, who were enticed to eat that stupid apple. The Bible&nbsp;basically says so. I mean even the people like Hitler had their madness triggered by one evil event they witnessed.&nbsp;Thats usually the case. Kind of like the victim becomes the victimator. So no, violence is not a trait of being human, but weakness to temptation to commit it is. &nbsp;</p>
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<p>Add pilots to that. But those professions dont aim at hurting someone, whereas in boxing the winner is the one who can hurt the other better.</p>
Twat
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AntonioMartin's Photo AntonioMartin 18 Jan 2013

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Twat
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<p>pussy ass</p>
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Danko's Photo Danko 18 Jan 2013

Ban boxing
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RickS's Photo RickS 18 Jan 2013

Check out this irony/coincidence from Fightnews today:

R.I.P. Isidro Perez

By Boxing Bob Newman
Former WBO Flyweight champ Isidro “Sid” Perez has sadly passed away at the age of 48. Perez had been reported missing since September 2012. He had not claimed his pension check according to his sister Reyna Perez Jimenez. His body was eventually located at the Forensic Medical Service in Mexico City. Perez unsuccessfully challenged Hall of Famer Jung Koo Chang for the WBC Light Flyweight title in 1987 and Jose DeJesus for the WBO version of the same title in 1989. Perez moved up to Flyweight and annexed the vacant WBO belt in Puerto Rico in 1990 via TKO12 over Angel Rosario. Perez fought six more times thereafter, splitting those fights in alternating fashion. Along the way, he defended his crown twice, both times against Alli Galvez via unanimous and split decisions respectively. He lost the title to Scot Pat Clinton in Glasgow in 1992 via split decision. Perez took five years off and came back with a win and a loss in 1997, retiring for good with a record of 57-9-3, 41 KOs. Fightnews would like to extend it’s condolences to Perez’ family.
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Spike's Photo Spike 19 Jan 2013

 Stxwolf, on 17 January 2013 - 06:54 PM, said:

Racing, football, coal mines, oil field, crab/fishing boats, cops, firefighters, soldiers and all other sorts of occupations are arguably just as dangerous - or moreso - than boxing.

Good article though
i love boxing also but lets not get it twisted, the difference between boxing and the other things on your list is that  the main goal of boxing is to hit your opponent in the head, the other things re dangerous but most of the danger is caused by accidents , getting hit in boxing is not an accident.
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Spike's Photo Spike 19 Jan 2013

 rayajr, on 17 January 2013 - 06:51 PM, said:

Boxing isn't any worse than race car driving, I don't think. Tough way to make a living though. No question about that.
sure it is, its not only about the deaths, what about the condition of many fighters once their careers are over, dont know much about race car drivers but i think most of the retired ones are doing great.
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Stxwolf's Photo Stxwolf 19 Jan 2013

 Spike, on 19 January 2013 - 04:36 PM, said:

i love boxing also but lets not get it twisted, the difference between boxing and the other things on your list is that  the main goal of boxing is to hit your opponent in the head, the other things re dangerous but most of the danger is caused by accidents , getting hit in boxing is not an accident.

The object in boxing, however, is not to kill your opponent. As the deaths are not intentional, aren't they also considered "accidents?"
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Spike's Photo Spike 19 Jan 2013

 Stxwolf, on 19 January 2013 - 04:56 PM, said:

The object in boxing, however, is not to kill your opponent. As the deaths are not intentional, aren't they also considered "accidents?"
its not the same thing , of course the deaths are not intentional but you dont accidentally hit someone in the head in a fight, and im not just talking about deaths im talking about all the other damages boxing causes many fighters.
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AntonioMartin's Photo AntonioMartin 19 Jan 2013

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Check out this irony/coincidence from Fightnews today: R.I.P. Isidro Perez By Boxing Bob Newman Former WBO Flyweight champ Isidro &ldquo;Sid&rdquo; Perez has sadly passed away at the age of 48. Perez had been reported missing since September 2012. He had not claimed his pension check according to his sister Reyna Perez Jimenez. His body was eventually located at the Forensic Medical Service in Mexico City. Perez unsuccessfully challenged Hall of Famer Jung Koo Chang for the WBC Light Flyweight title in 1987 and Jose DeJesus for the WBO version of the same title in 1989. Perez moved up to Flyweight and annexed the vacant WBO belt in Puerto Rico in 1990 via TKO12 over Angel Rosario. Perez fought six more times thereafter, splitting those fights in alternating fashion. Along the way, he defended his crown twice, both times against Alli Galvez via unanimous and split decisions respectively. He lost the title to Scot Pat Clinton in Glasgow in 1992 via split decision. Perez took five years off and came back with a win and a loss in 1997, retiring for good with a record of 57-9-3, 41 KOs. Fightnews would like to extend it&rsquo;s condolences to Perez&rsquo; family.
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<p>RIP Campeon</p>
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