Action Replay: Counted Out
No other sport would tolerate the fatality rate of boxing. We begin with two notorious examples. In 1963 Davey Moore died after a fight, and Bob Dylan wrote a song ‘Who Killed Davey Moore?’, in which everyone involved, from opponent to manager to gambler to the crowd, denies their culpability. In 1982, Kim Deuk-koo went into a coma after the referee stopped his fight in the fourteenth round, and died four days later. Various changes were made to boxing afterwards: the maximum number of rounds was reduced to twelve, and far more extensive pre-fight medicals were introduced.
In October last year Franky Leal died in Mexico after being knocked out. Boxing writer Mike Gallego noted that Leal had been knocked out more than once before and should probably have stopped (or been made to stop) boxing: ‘But Leal soldiered on because that’s what fighters do. Especially poor fighters who spend their life as what can generously be described as a B-side fighter, or what sometimes more accurately can be called cannon fodder’ (uppercutting.kinja.com/boxing-is-a-goddamned-tragedy-1450455925).
Fights with less tragic endings can also result in controversy. In Manchester on 23 November, super-middleweight champion Carl Froch beat George Groves after the referee stopped the contest. Many of those watching claimed that Groves was well enough to continue, and that Froch himself could well have been stopped earlier in the bout when he was taking a lot of punishment.
Gallego, quoted above, went on to say, ‘Franky Leal is dead because boxing fans and the boxing industry are hypocrites’ (he included himself in this). The audience, whether live or on TV, certainly like to see boxers raining blows on each other, and will criticise referees who stop fights ‘too early’, as in the Froch-Groves case. Further, they often dismiss a boxer who retires from a fight as a ‘quitter’.
But it is the promoters, the managers and the broadcasters who do very nicely out of boxing, its violence and its suffering. Any number of ex-professional fighters end up with little to show financially and having to carry on fighting long after they should have retired. But you rarely see an impoverished or punch-drunk promoter.