THE BLOG

The Spectre Of Brain Injury Haunts Boxing

21/11/2016 12:27

It was with great sadness that we learned that, after his defeat to George Grove, German based Kazakh boxer Eduard Gutknecht had been rushed to hospital. Media reports suggest that he has had surgery on a bleed on the brain and is in a critical but stable condition. Whilst we await more official news, all in boxing wish him well.

This the third such occasion in a relatively short period of time when a boxer has suffered a brain injury following a fight in a British ring. This includes one tragic death and there will be the inevitable call for the sport's banishment. One might argue that boxing in Britain is as safe as anywhere in the world so the question needs to be put, what else can be done?

Parallels can be drawn between Nick Blackwell versus Chris Eubank Jr and Eduard Gutknecht versus George Groves' fights, not least that they were televised nationally and took place in the same location. As they were televised, the conduct of the fight can be put under greater scrutiny. In both fights, one fighter appeared to get on top in the later rounds and land a number of successful punches. However, the other fighter actually continued to throw punches and defend themselves which makes the decision of the referee to stop the fight very difficult. There is a similar issue with the corner team who have the ability to pull their fighter out but if they see their man is still active then there will be considerable reluctance.
Referee Howard Foster was subjected to considerable abuse for his decision to stop Carl Froch's contest with George Groves. Whilst the stoppage to most observers did seem premature, Howard Foster can only act on what he sees and his instinct to protect fighters. Referees are not party to endless replays and that should not be forgotten.

If stopping the fight is difficult as the fighters still appear active then another parallel can be drawn around eye injuries. Both Eduard Gutknecht and Nick Blackwell suffered eye injuries and, in the case of the latter, it was that the caused the fight to be ended. The closing up of an eye will affect vision and a boxer's ability to defend themselves. Perhaps greater vigilance over eye injuries may be a way forward in improving safety.

Further parallels can be drawn on the fact that fights were at similar weights and continued to the later rounds. Whilst heavyweights are likely to hit harder, a look at history suggests that it is actually lower weights that come with a greater risk. It will seem by some to go against the spirit of boxing but it could be suggested that, in a twelve round contest, the judge's score are looked at after round 10 and if there is a significant points difference that cannot be equalized then the the fight is stopped there and then.

That suggestion is not going to be popular as it potentially denies punters two rounds and prevents the movie style battered boxer producing a last second left hook to knock out their previously dominant opponent but the concern has got to be with the fighters. Having this rule would not have helped Nick Blackwell but may have helped Gutknecht.

There will be those that say that boxing can be made safer by banning it. That is perfectly true but it does not understand the bigger picture (my earlier blog highlights my defense of the sport). Hindsight is a fabulous phenomenon but learning is important. Greater vigilance one vision affecting eye injuries and the stopping of fights on points two rounds early are merely suggestions as to how boxing could learn.

Our thoughts in the meantime are with Eduard Gutknecht.

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