Though thrilling, boxing is among the deadliest sports – not only are injuries a regular affair, death inside the ring or immediately after have also left many aghast
According to traditions, the Olympic Games began in 776 BC in Greece; boxing is one of the oldest events, being added in 688 BC. Ancient boxing had fewer rules than the modern sport. Boxers fought, without rounds, until one of them was knocked out or admitted defeat by raising one or two fingers. The spectators often attempted to intervene when the match became life-threatening for the boxer. Instead of gloves, ancient boxers wrapped leather thongs around their hands and wrists, which left their fingers free. A famous athlete of antiquity was Melanomas of Karia; he became famous for his many victories as a boxer. He was never injured and had never injured any of his opponents. Melanomas believed that to injure someone showed a lack of bravery. Spectators enjoyed watching as he defended himself against blows from his opponents without striking them. He eventually left his opponents so exhausted and frustrated that they could not hit him, and they would give up and admit defeat. The later Roman invention in 150 BC of the caestus – a boxing glove reinforced with iron and lead, transformed the Greek art of boxing into an inhuman and deadly contest. The persistence of boxing-related head injuries, despite new protective measures and regulations, spawns criticism of the continued practice of organised amateur and professional matches.
In boxing, the main objective is to hit your opponent as directly and as hard as you can in the head, rendering them unconscious. The punch that knocks a boxer down so fast they can't stand up within 10 seconds is what the crowds are baying for. It's what pulls the crowds in and sees massive ticket prices for ringside seats in the hope of the glorious climax of a man being knocked out.
Last month, two professional boxers, Hugo Alfredo "Dinamita" Santillan and Maxim Dadashev, suffered death due to head injuries sustained during their respective matches. Santillan, a super lightweight, was fighting against Uruguay's Eduardo Javier Abreu in Buenos Aires. According to reports, his nose started to bleed in the fourth round but he finished the fight. However, as the result of the bout – a draw – was announced, he fainted and was taken to hospital. It was discovered that he had developed a clot on the brain.
On the other hand, Maxim Dadashev had never lost a professional boxing match when he entered the ring against Subriel Matías. Matías and Dadashev's fight was so brutal that it was stopped by Buddy McGirt (Dadashev's trainer) after the 11th round when he felt his fighter had taken too much damage. Dadashev shook his head when McGirt told him he was stopping the fight. After losing the bout, Dadashev collapsed and started vomiting on the way back to the locker room and left the arena on a stretcher. After being in comma for a few days, he breathed his last on July 23.
"He did everything right in training, no problems, no nothing. My mind is like really running crazy, right now. Like what could I have done differently? But at the end of the day, everything was fine (in training). He seemed okay, he was ready, but it's the sport that we're in. It just takes one punch, man," said his trainer. McGritt's statement further throws light on the fact that one punch was enough to kill a man despite undergoing rigorous training sessions.
But these were not the only incidents in the last 12 months. In November, Christian Daghio, a 49-year-old Italian fighter, died after a knockout loss in Bangkok. Another professional boxer, Scott Westgarth, also died of his injuries after winning a match in England on February 2018.
The legend, Muhammad Ali, himself lived with Parkinson's disease for three decades before his death at the age of 74, and many have wondered whether Ali's boxing career caused him to develop the neurological disorder. After Ali's death, there have been discussions of Ali suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) – a brain disease found in athletes who have experienced repeated blows to the head.
What happens when boxers are knocked unconscious? A professional boxer's punch can come at speeds of about 40-50 kilometres per hour. A study by the American Academy of Neurology states that "A neurochemical reaction begins in the brain cells that cause cell death. The more cells that die, the fewer brain tissue you have … It may explain why people who suffer from head injuries are never quite the same afterward."
Even though certain body injuries can take the fight out of a fighter permanently, head injuries have always remained the darkest sector of the boxing world. These types of injuries have been studied for decades. The exact number of permanent injuries and death appears to be unknown, but there's no denying that people have died from hits to the head.
One injury just about every boxer has probably faced is a concussion and a loss of consciousness. You don't have to pass out to have a concussion, but it is common in the boxing world; we understand that as a "knockout" and a match is won.
Anyone can recover from a concussion whether they were knocked unconscious or not. However, your brain will be more sensitive to damage afterward. Many boxers get back into fighting before their brains can fully heal, exposing the barely protected brain to more injury that can cause deterioration over the years.
Head injuries happen when a boxer gets hit in the head. Your brain sits in a pool of protective fluid inside your skull, but doesn't actually touch any of your skull bones.
When a boxer gets hit in the head, the brain smacks against the hard skull, causing bruising and damage. If the hit is severe enough it can cause the person to go unconscious for a brief period of time. This is a concussion, or as it's more popularly known in boxing, a knockout.
Only some concussions actually make you go unconscious. Even if they are less severe and the fighter keeps boxing through the head injury, the brain is still getting hurt. These injuries don't totally heal, either. They keep getting worse and the brain deteriorates over time.
As a boxer with CTE grows older, their brain will decline much faster than someone who didn't have many head injuries and is also prone to various other neurological disorder.
AN OBVIOUS SOLUTION
Fouls in boxing consist of hitting below the belt, holding, tripping, kicking, head butting, wrestling, biting, spitting on, or pushing your opponent.
If we reversed the rules – to make a punch to the head a foul and a punch below the belt (aimed at the cods or testicles), a scoring shot, the brain injury problem would be resolved.
Everyone playing a body-contact sport has experienced the instantly sickening feeling being hit, kneed or bumped in their "orchestra stalls". A blow to the head can cause concussion, brain injury and occasionally death. But a blow to the groin, while instantly and nauseatingly painful, may occasionally cause minor trauma that needs surgical correction, and infertility. Yet, it is extremely unlikely to cause major trauma or death. Besides, fighters need to learn more about the risks of concussion, especially during training, to protect against brain injury.
With two professional bouts marred by high-profile head injuries in the past two months, neurologist Dr. Charles Bernick (Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Las Vegas) said that combat sports could never be made completely safe. There is no question you can institute policy changes that can reduce the risk of serious injury from head trauma. But as long as people get hit in the head, there is no way to eliminate the risk of concussion.
According to the expert, developing means to detect brain injury early, determining what factors put an individual at higher risk of long-term neurological injury can also play a vital role in combatting head injuries often leading to deaths.
Boxing is indeed a very unforgiving and brutal sport!
Frankie Campbell VS Max Baer
On August 25, 1930, Frankie took on the infamous Max Baer. Campbell knocked down Baer in the 2nd round leaving Baer enraged. In the 5th round, Baer hit is fellow boxer so hard that it knocked his brain from his skull.
Benny Paret VS Emile Griffith
On March 24, 1962, Griffith hit Paret 29 times in a row including 18 punches in six seconds. This sent Paret into comma for 10 days after which he died.
Davey Moore VS Sugar Ramos
Davey Moore was an experienced fighter with an impressive 59-7-1 record and 30 knock outs. The boxer was killed after his neck and brain stem suffered damage during the bout against Sugar Ramos in 1963.
Becky Zerlentes VS Heather Schmitz
Becky Zerlentes died in 2005 and is believed to be the first woman to die in a sanctioned bout. Despite wearing protective headgear, Heather Schmitz's punch made her unconscious. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.
Ed Sanders VS Willie James
Ed Sanders was an Olympic boxing champion who won the gold medal in the 1952 games. Sanders died on December 12, 1954, after going 11 rounds with Willie James. Doctors stated that Sanders enhanced a previous head injury during the fight.
Leavander Johnson VS Jesús Chávez
On September 17, 2005, Johnson fought Chávez to defend his IBF crown. The fight was stopped in the 11th round after Johnson received a series of punches. He was placed in a drug-induced coma, and eventually died five days later as the result of his injuries on his brain.