Since Nick Blackwell was put into a medically-induced coma after his middleweight title fight with Chris Eubank Jr., the health risks of boxing have been back in the headlines.
Almost a week after taking a beating from Chris Eubank Jr. during the British middleweight title bout, boxer Nick Blackwell remains in a medically induced coma with a small bleed on the brain. His family is reportedly expecting him to come to in the next couple of days.
A bleed on brain is by no means a common injury in the sport, but this incident has got some asking how, in such a high-profile fight, something like this could have happened. The victor's father, Chris Eubank Sr., has stated that if he was refereeing he would have taken "the only decision a father could," by stopping the fight much sooner. The issue of same-day weigh-ins has also been raised, with promoter Kellie Maloney calling for it to be reintroduced, "so fighters can't cheat on the weight."
A similar case happened back in 1991, when Chris Eubank Sr. ended the career of Michael Watson in that year's super-middleweight title fight, putting Watson in a 40-day coma. This incident changed the sport and led to a host of new safety measures being introduced. So how is it that nearly 25 years later the same thing has happened again?
To find out, I spoke to Dr. Mike Loosemore from the Institute of Sport Exercise and Health, and doctor to the British Boxing team.Chris Eubank Sr. telling his son to aim for Nick Blackwell's body, rather than his head
VICE: Is what happened to Blackwell a typical injury in the sport?
Dr Mike Loosemore: It depends how you define "typical." It's a very rare injury—it happens very occasionally in many sports, including boxing.
Does this sort of thing tend to happen more in professional than amateur boxing?
It is more common in professional boxing than amateur—the professionals box more rounds and land more punches.
So the average blow to the head in an amateur boxing match, how much damage is that going to cause?
There's always a risk with any blow to the head, whether it's delivered by a boxing glove or a rugby player's knee. Any blow to the head always carries the risk of a problem. In reality, it's a very rare occurrence.
What measures have been taken in recent years to mitigate the kind of thing that happened to Blackwell last weekend?
The level of medical cover and the standard of medical care at ringside have generally been increased. So when this very unfortunate incident happened in the professional ranks, medically it was dealt with very well—the ringside doctors and paramedics knew what to do. There was obviously a plan in place, and the young man was taken to a local neurosurgical unit very rapidly, which gave him the best chance possible of having a good outcome from what is a very serious injury.
Is there any way of conditioning against this sort of thing in training?
Really, the fitter you are and the better condition you're in, the less likely it is that this will happen. Most injuries of this nature occur at the end of long, hard bouts, when people begin to get tired. So, obviously, the fitter you are, the better it is. But you can get caught with a sucker punch at any time, the same as you can get a knee to the head playing rugby.
Are injuries sustained in boxing similar those you'd see in rugby?
You'll see very similar injuries in rugby union and league, horse racing, cycling, ice-skating, ice hockey, Australian-rules football—anything where you have a chance of banging your head, really.
Do you think kids who box should wear padding up to a certain age?
Well, we do contact-free boxing up until eleven, and then you can start contact. The rounds are shorter, and lengthen as you progress to a senior, where the longest we do in the amateurs is three three-minute rounds. It's a common sense way of progressing.
Do you see many kids with significant injuries?
No, it's virtually unheard of in kids.
What could be done to further reduce the risks?
Well, the risk is low anyway—what do you do to make it any lower? To stop boxers getting head injuries, you need to match them properly, so they're boxing the right person. You need an experienced referee who knows what they're doing; you need a corner man or a coach who will pull the boxer if they're at all concerned about their welfare. And if something does go wrong, you need a well-trained medical setup at ringside with a clear pathway to get the stricken boxer to the hospital as quickly as possible. All these things are currently in place. Add to that annual medicals for the boxers, including brain scans and a host of other testing.
Do you think any of those things were lacking in the Eubank Jr. and Blackwell fight?
No, I think all those things were in place at the time—hindsight is a wonderful thing.
How would you evaluate the risk vs health benefits of boxing?
You always have to have risk-benefit discussions; I think that's really important. I'm involved in boxing because the benefits are massive. In amateur boxing, we reach a very difficult-to-reach group of young men and women who often never see a doctor, never get involved with any health advice, are often in communities that are isolated. It allows boxers from all different weights to get involved. The police say it reduces violence in some areas to a greater extent by building a boxing club than by building a police station—it has a profound effect on young people and can improve their behavior. It can allow them to progress by giving them self-esteem. To step into the ring you have to be brave.
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