Thankfully, my concern regarding Saturday night's boxing never materialised. The ringside crowd showed themselves able to appreciate boxing without allowing emotions to override their common sense. However, this blog is about the boxers and their safety rather than the actions of the crowd.
We will never know how the fight would have developed had David Haye's Achilles tendon not decided that Saturday night was a good time to give up. Haye has apparently been in surgery and his recovery will be dominated with thoughts of what might have been. For his part, it is not Tony Bellew's fault that Haye was incapacitated. Bellew can only fight what is put in front of him and the middle of a fight is rarely a time to suddenly feel sympathy for an opponent. Variation does exist in how boxing is managed but the rules according to the WBF appear to indicate that an injury occurring before round four would lead to a "no decision" whereas injuries after round four result in technical knock outs. This basically means that go past round four, get injured and you lose.
The quandary that exists here is one that I have blogged on before; when should fights be stopped? Haye's bravery is not open to question. He, and his team will have a professional pride to put on a good show and, ultimately, want to win. The injury occurred in the sixth round of a scheduled twelve and the towel was thrown in during round eleven meaning David Haye fought for five rounds with an apparently ruptured Achilles. Whilst not a head or facial injury, the injury in question was clearly affecting Haye's ability to defend himself and will pose the inevitable question as to whether the fight should have been stopped earlier.
My understanding is that only a referee can stop a fight and that the throwing in of a towel is merely a notification to the official that the corner does not wish their fighter to continue. The referee may also seek the advice of the ringside physicians in making decisions. It would have been an unwise decision for Phil Edwards to ignore the towel in these circumstances but referees have ignored towels in the past. The decision taken by Haye's cornerman Shane McGuigan would have been a very difficult one for him to make. He will have worked intensely with his boxer for months in preparation for the big moment. Like other trainers before him, he has to use his intuition in making a decision that is right in the long term for his boxer.
Similar to the those in the corner, the referee is also in a difficult position. Phil Edwards would have been acutely aware that David Haye was restricted by injury and was struggling. However, Haye was still punching and was only officially knocked down once in the fight. Haye was able to defend himself, just not very well and took punishment that he was unlikely to have taken without the injury. Certain parallels can be drawn with Nick Blackwell where the referee was in a similar position. The injury (in that case to the eye) was obvious but the boxer was continuing to be competitive.
The fact that a fight is regarded as "big" should not influence decisions and it is unfortunate that what are perceived to be premature stoppages are not well received. What appears to muddy the waters here is that a leg injury rather than a head, face or arm injury was restricting the boxer. Vigilance regarding head injuries is known to be particularly important and there will be increased vigilance now over eye injuries that affect the boxer's vision. Arm injuries are rare but if the boxer is unable to raise their arms in front of their face then they are in no position to defend themselves. The uninitiated may be of the belief that legs are not important in boxing but the contrary is true and the legs are vital for both attack and defence plus the searing pain that Haye will no doubt have felt will further have acted as a distraction.
There is nothing to say that David Haye may not in the twelfth round have produced a magic punch that would have left us talking about the greatest comeback since Lazarus. He never got the chance because of an unfortunate injury and the compassion of his corner. It does pose the question as to whether injured boxers should be permitted to continue if that injury is affecting their mobility to such a degree but it is a very difficult decision to make. In my view, McGuigan got it about right in not allowing the last round to take place.
The last word should be left to the boxers. The talking before the fight did not show boxing in a good light but post fight, it was different. The embrace and the support of one boxer in helping the other to his chair was good to see. Similarly, Haye's refusal to blame the injury for his defeat was remarkable. What the future holds for both will need some careful reflection but this fight will not be forgotten in a hurry. Achilles was a warrior in Homer's Iliad, one suspects he did not expect his name would arise in relation to warriors thousands of years later.