With a blank face, Prichard Colon stares off into the distance while laying down in his bedroom at his suburban home in Orlando, Florida. Prichard is 24 years old, but cannot take care of himself, he can’t even speak or walk. Prichard’s parents have to give him round the clock care. Prichard is able to blink when asked to by his mother, but to expect much else would be a fruitless endeavor. A ghost of his former self, if one saw Prichard today, they would never know that at one point, Prichard was a rising Puerto Rican star in the boxing world. Up until the fateful night of October 17, 2015, Prichard was a young, hungry fighter, with an outstanding record of 16 wins, zero losses, with 13 of those victories coming by way of knock out. Not only was Prichard a talented pugilist, he had power too! With bilingual skills in English and Spanish and good looks to boot, Prichard was a boxing promoters dream come true! Prichard had “super star” written all over him, but on that October night back in 2015, everything changed. Prichard was fighting Terrel Williams, Williams was an undefeated fighter as well, who was looking to make a name for himself by taking out Prichard. Williams ended up being a tougher challenge than Prichard and his corner could handle. Over the course of the match, Prichard was constantly fighting on the back foot, struggling to avoid William’s accuracy with his right hand. The fight was filled with plenty of fouls as well, Prichard would get points deducted for throwing a low blow at Williams in round five, while Williams would be deducted points in round seven for punching Prichard in the back of the head. The fight would continue on until round nine. Williams was able to knock down Prichard twice in the ninth. At the end of the ninth round though, a mistake would be made. The fight was scheduled for 10 rounds, but Prichard’s corner mistakenly thought round nine was the last round. As soon as the Prichard’s corner heard what they thought was the final bell, they entered the ring, and began to cut Prichard’s gloves off. Prichard’s corner removing his gloves would lead to the referee disqualifying Prichard. It was a bizarre ending to the match, but if Prichard had come out for the tenth round, he very well may have died in the ring. After the fight, Prichard made his way back to his dressing room, where he would collapse with vomit running down his face. It was discovered that Prichard developed a severe brain bleed in his fight with Williams, forever putting him into a vegetative state. Lets go back to round seven, when Williams landed an illegal blow to the back of Prichard’s head though. Prichard would fall to his knees grabbing the back of his head. I have watched the match and counted, Prichard was roughly on the ground showing signs of pain for about 39 seconds. Then Prichard was given a few minutes to recover. In the time Prichard was recovering, a doctor examined him as the referee deducted points from Williams. All the while Prichard was still holding his head and showing signs of pain. Prichard continued to hold his head up until the referee motions for the fight to continue. There after, Prichard, with what looks to be a cloudy mind, begins taking more punishment from Williams, and would continue to take punishment for another two rounds. Prichard survived, but will live out his days bedridden, surrounded by posters and photos of his former self, when he was a rising star. Prichard’s parents are currently filing a lawsuit against the ring physicians for incompetence, and the co promoters for negligence. Prichard’s parents are hoping to receive 50 million in damages to help care for their son. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlKEHYvhd_0
Boxing has been around in one form or another for about as long as humans have recorded history. An ancient form of pugilism (fighting with your hands), was once done in Ancient Greece by competitors who wore nothing but leather wraps around their fists. Until the late 1800’s boxing was still performed without gloves, John L. Sullivan would go on to be the last bare knuckle champion, and become the first gloved one in 1882. Even as the sport of boxing began to evolve and add more rules to make it safer, it was still a brutal sport to take part in. Until the 1900’s there was no limit on the number of rounds in a match either. Eventually round limits would be added, with championship fights going the distance of 15 rounds. However, after the death of Duk Koo Kim in 1982 at the hands of Ray Mancini, the limit of championship rounds would be dropped down to 12. Currently, R. R. O. 1990 Reg. 52 GENERAL, under the Athletic Cotrol Act, there are the Unified Rules of Boxing. These are regulations that all the boxing commissions are to follow and enforce in their matches. These rules cover everything from round length, to how a winner is decided if the fight must end due to an accidental foul. There is something in the rules that bothers me though. The Unified Rules of Boxing state, “The referee is the sole arbiter of a bout, and is the only individual authorized to stop a contest.” This is one that bothers me a lot the more I think of it, but I’ll be sure to get to this rule shortly. Even with all these rules though, I still believe the boxing commissions are failing its fighters. It may seem redundant or even like an oxymoron, but I think boxing needs to be safer, and I think it can be done without sacrificing the entertainment value. The men and women that step into the ring for our entertainment deserve to be taken care of and protected by the commissions and promoters that they fight for.
Earlier, the tragic tale of Prichard Colon was discussed, while also touching on the death of Duk Koo Kim, these are far from the only victims of the violent theatre that is professional boxing though. After wars with the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, and Tommy Hearns, Wilfredo Benitez suffers from dementia pugilistica, or what Evelyn Nieves, of The New York Times calls, “The boxers disease.” Benitez is currently in his late 50’s, but has been living in a home for individuals with mental disorders since his late 30’s. Meldrick Taylor, Jerry Quarry, Sugar Ray Robinson, and even the most recognizable name, Muhammad Ali, all suffered or still currently suffer from mental ailments as well. Whether it’s punch drunkenness (dementia pugilistica), Parkinson’s disease, or some other form of brain damage. It is believed that all these fighters received their ailments from boxing. This is why I believe there can be more done to help protect these warriors.
Firstly, before I begin my proposal, I just want to give a disclaimer. The issues I am currently making this proposal argument for, would take far more than just 12 pages written by a college student to actually invoke change. Still, I wish at least shed some light on the issues at hand with the sport of boxing.
“The referee is the sole arbiter of a bout, and is the only individual authorized to stop a contest.” Remember that from earlier? That means that the referee is in complete control. It is up to the referee to determine when a fighter has had enough and stop a fight early if necessary, when to deduct points for foul hits, or even disqualify a boxer if necessary. It sounds simple enough, but I believe that this rule is too vague and leaves too much to discretion. If you showed three referees video with fight footage of one boxer committing a foul on the other, one referee might only deduct points, one may disqualify the committer of the foul, while the third may not do anything, simply letting the fight continue. For me, this is a no go. There needs to be uniform standards among all of boxing’s officials. Low blows? If three are committed, the guilty party is disqualified after being warned the first time. Punch to the back of the head? Disqualification.
Uniformity in how referees handle fouls isn’t my only concern though. A technical knockout, or TKO, occurs when the referee determines that one fighter has sustained too much damage and stops the fight for the fighter’s own safety. Again, this is another example of how leaving it to discretion can put fighters in danger. What one referee may think is too much damage sustained by a fighter. Another referee may think the losing fighter is doing just fine. Even though there are ringside doctors that give their opinion, only the referee has the power to stop the fight and doesn’t necessarily have to listen to the doctor’s opinion. I have two proposed ways to solve this.
Number one, a mercy rule. If it’s a 10 round fight, and the judges have one fighter winning by such a lead that it is impossible for his opponent to win by points it may be necessary to consider stopping the fight. Another way to add a mercy rule would be to go off of punch stats. Creating a red line to protect fighters. If one boxer absorbs a certain number or percentage of punches, even if he appears to be taking them well, maybe stopping the fight needs to be considered.
Number two, the referee shouldn’t be the only one to determine if a fight should be stopped or not. There needs to be a few people with this power, the referee, the ringside physician, the corners of each of the competitors, or the competitors themselves. If any of these people call the fight off then its over. While the wishes of the fighters, corner men, and ringside physicians are generally respected if any of them wants the fight stopped, I still think it needs to be made official and ensured.
Medically, there needs to universal medical standards across the U.S. for boxers. It should be required that fighters undergo CT scans before and after a fight. Before a fight as to prevent a fighter from worsening a condition he may not have known he had, and after as well to catch any injury they may have developed in their most recent match. Normally this is only required if a fighter is knocked out, but I think all should have to participate, even if the fighter won their match, they should go through a rigorous examination after. It’s crucial that the post fight examination happen immediately as well. Whether it is done by EMT personnel on seen at the competition, or done at a local hospital near the event. I can’t stress enough how important it is to examine these fighters immediately. The quicker possible damage can be discovered, the quicker it can be treated, improving the athletes chance to live and fight another day. I can tell you from personal experience that before matches, there is no required examination, and after, fighters are simply asked how they feel as a doctor shines a light in their eyes. This may be a costly expense, but could possibly save lives.
Lastly, there needs to be strict punishment if these rules are not followed as well. Whether it’s a suspension, or simply flat out termination. If a referee or ringside physician fails to do their job properly, someone could die. There cannot be gray areas, there needs to be solid lines of what is expected of these boxing officials.
In 2010, Yuri Foreman was defending his 154lb title against the always dangerous, Miguel Cotto. As if Foreman didn’t have enough on his plate already, he came into the match with an injured knee. Wearing a knee brace into the ring, Foreman almost looked like a victim in court trying to gain sympathy from the jury. While Foreman did his best to stay competitive with Cotto, he moved like a drunken pirate with a peg leg, as he awkwardly tried to avoid his menacing opponent. In the seventh round of the match, without a punch even landing, Foreman’s right knee gave out and he fell to the canvas. After this, it was obvious that Foreman stood no chance. He even collapsed a second time, trying to desperately escape Cotto, who could smell blood, and was going in for the kill. In the eighth round, Foreman’s corner had seen enough and threw in the towel. Both corners entered the ring, Cotto began to celebrate, and slowly the ring began to fill with the press, fighter entourages, and right officials. Referee Arthur Mercante would have none of this though. Mercante forced everyone out of the ring, refusing to acknowledge the act of surrender from Foreman’s corner. Allowing Foreman to fight until Cotto was finally awarded a TKO in round 9. Of course Foreman wanted to continue fighting, he’s a boxer and his job is to soldier on and look to go out on his shield. But Foreman’s corner knew better and intended to protect their fighter from himself. They know their fighter’s abilities and limits better than anyone and they wanted to stop the fight for his safety. Arthur Mercante put Foreman’s health at risk by allowing him to continue to take unnecessary punishment. Mercante never received any disciplinary measures for his actions, and was even praised by the ringside commentators of HBO for his “take charge” attitude. Foreman was lucky though, the punch that stopped him was a body shot, and the worse injury he sustained that night was to his knee. Not everyone is so lucky. Just talk to Magomed Abdusalamov’s family.
Magomed, or simply “Mago” as his family and friends call him, was involved in a brutal ten round heavyweight match against Mike Perez on November 2nd, 2013. According to Dan Barry, in his The New York Times piece, “A Fighter’s Hour of Need,” after Mago lost, he walked back to his dressing room with his team and complained of pain in his face. The medical officials there, stitched up his face, but after about 15 minutes, determined that Mago had no neurological damage. Mago’s coach sensed something was wrong though, and wanted to take his fighter to the hospital. Boxing inspector Matt Farrago had the responsibility of collecting a urine sample from Mago after the fight though, and insisted that Mago cannot leave until one is given. About an hour passed before Mago is finally able to leave the arena and head to a hospital. Mago collapsed as his brother and team helped walk him to a cab. Turns out, the entire time after the fight, Mago’s brain was bleeding and slowly swelling. Like Prichard Colon, Magomed too will be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life.
I can already hear the detractors though. “Danger is just apart of the sport!” Or maybe they will simply think I’m beating a dead horse by adding more rules and regulations. Look, I completely understand. Even though we as boxing fans can enjoy the more technical side of our sport, everyone loves a violent foray. One can still quench their thirst for blood and still consider the safety of the fighters though. I’m not saying that the fighters need to wear pillows on their fists, or that punches to the head should be illegal. The fighters should be free to assault their opponents with the objective of robbing them of their consciousness. It’s the policies around said assaulting that need a little tweaking though. Look at the Cotto vs Forman fight, how can one justify the referee ignoring the surrender from Foreman’s corner? Why is it that it took an hour for Magomed Abdusalamov to be released so that he could seek medical treatment at a hospital after his brutal ten round loss? I know that there will still be injuries, and there will still be deaths, but if any of these proposals can save even one life, then dammit, it’s worth it.
There is a problem on a greater scale that really makes my proposals hard to accomplish, and that’s the issue with multiple boxing commissions. They don’t call boxing the red light district of sports for nothing. There is no one authority that dictates or regulates the sport of boxing like the NBA or NFL for basketball and football. Because of this everything is boxing is negotiable, from the size of the prize money each fighter gets, to the size of the ring that the fight will be in, to even the kind of gloves that will be worn for each fight. Sure there are organizations like the WBC, IBF, WBO, and the WBA or as they are lovingly referred to by The Ring magazine, the “Alphabet Soup” organizations. Without a central authority though, all these organizations can have different rules and policies for a fight. Each state in the U.S. has its own athletic commission for boxing as well. Theoretically, this means that if you are barred from fighting in New York for medical reasons, if Iowa has lower medical standards, you could just go box in Hawkeye country. Earlier I gave a disclaimer how 10 to 12 pages wouldn’t be enough to solve the problems of boxing safety, this is the main reason why. Until all of the boxing commissions and authorities can get on the same page about the rules and regulations of boxing, we can’t even begin the discussion.
This whole paper I’ve discussed policy. Even though there are many things that boxing organizations could be doing better, there are things that we as boxing fans could be doing better as well. We need to grow as boxing fans and help change the culture that surrounds the sport. It’s seen as weak if a fighter is unable to continue a match without being knocked out or stopped. Watching a fighter dig deep and make a glorious comeback in a fight is probably the most overly romanticized scenario played out in boxing fiction (Just watch a Rocky movie). But not everyone can take punishment like Rocky Balboa. We can’t shame fighters, their teams, or anyone else for stopping a fight early. As much as we enjoy the brutality of the sport, people need to remember that the boxers are the ones taking the punishment, not the fans. We also need to remember that the men and women fighting for our viewing pleasure are human as well, they have families to go home to after their match, we cant expect them to put their life in unnecessary danger simply for the fans entertainment.
Boxing is an amazing sport that has been around for a long time. It has had some of the most colorful characters as well. Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, and Roberto Duran were all amazing fighters in their time and entertaining to watch. Currently, there are guys like Terence Crawford, Keith Thurman, Errol Spence and many, many others. Of course there was also The greatest of all time, Muhammad Ali, who wasn’t just a talented boxer, he was one of the most influential and recognizable people ever! As fans, lets do our part to ensure the safety of these warriors that we love watching so much.
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