No safe place
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - October 19, 2019 - 12:00am

“Either he dies or I die.” – Duk Koo Kim before fighting Boom Boom Mancini, 1982

Professional boxing has lived with more tragedy than usual the past few months as at least four promising new lights of the sport were snuffed out so early. Though this is an accepted risk in the sport, it does not make the deaths any less horrific.

Super welterweight Patrick Day was the latest pugilistic casualty of 2019 after slipping into a coma when he was knocked out by Charles Conwell in the 10th round of their bout in Chicago over the weekend. The fight was on the undercard of the heavyweight clash between Oleksandr Usyk and Chazz Witherspoon. Conwell wrote to Day while he was in hospital, expressing remorse over the inescapable turn of events. Then ensued the outpouring of love for Day (17 wins, 4 losses, 1 draw), who had only been knocked out once before.

On July 23, Russian Maxim Dadashev died after his IBF super lightweight title eliminator in Maryland in the US four days earlier. He was 28. His trainer threw in the towel before the start of round 12. Dadashev’s widow, Elizaveta, may take legal action against the organizers for not verifying her husband’s medical records before the fight. Just two days after Dadashev’s demise, 23-year-old Argentinian super lightweight Hugo Santillan expired after a draw with Eduardo Abreu. Santillan collapsed in the ring immediately after the decision was announced. Surgery revealed a brain clot, kidney failure and heart stoppage.

Perhaps the most horrific of recent demises was the case of 21-year-old Bulgarian Boris Stanchov. In his illegal pro debut, Stanchov died of cardiac arrest in the fifth round against Ardit Murja in Albania on Sep. 21. The newcomer had used the license and medical records of his cousin to be able to fight.

In 1982, Korean Duk Koo Kim died after being knocked out in the 14th round of a savage battle with Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. He left behind a pregnant fiancée. In the aftermath, Kim’s mother committed suicide, as did referee Richard Green. Mancini himself gradually declined, blaming himself for Kim’s death. These events resulted in several rule changes in boxing, such as shortening bouts from 15 to 12 rounds, lengthening breaks between rounds, introducing the standing eight count and electrocardiograms for boxers, among others.

The Philippines is one of a few countries with very clear and very strict limits on how frequently a boxer may get into the ring. Younger Filipino boxers actually complain that they don’t want to wait at least 45 days to fight again. Little do they know that the rule, stringently enforced by the Games and Amusements Board (GAB), is saving their lives. In the provinces, where regulation is more difficult and where, ironically, they fight for peanuts, young pugs get up from a knockout, use somebody else’s name, and fight again the following week.

German medical research estimates that an average of 10 boxers have died from injuries associated with the sport every year since 1900. But in the 1920’s alone, over 260 boxers perished, including Filipino champions Pancho Villa, Dencio Cabanela and Clever Sencio. 

Other research suggests that the use of gloves actually increases the likelihood of internal injuries. It implies that uncovered fists will do more damage externally as the force of punches is directly dissipated on impact. Then again, bare knuckles would more likely cause blindness and more facial and hand damage.

There will be no end to these untimely deaths because boxing, by nature, puts two men in harm’s way. Reforms would only delay the inevitable. Even when a boxer has attained financial security many times over, he will not stop boxing because, well, he is a boxer. Getting hurt – and possibly dying – is part of the job,

And here is no safe place to hide in the ring.

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