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Boxing on the Canvas Again?

by Harry Otty

The original intention for my minimal contribution to this month's WAIL was to provide an overview of the past year in British boxing and to highlight the quality of the match ups that we have been privileged to see over the last twelve months.

However, it is difficult to promote a sport and to reminisce about what have been some hard and damaging fights while a stricken former world champion battles for his life, let alone his career, in the hospital where he has just had a blood clot removed from his brain.

Paul Ingle’s twelve round loss to Mbuelo Bothile at the Sheffield arena on Saturday night has a way of snapping one’s mind back to the brutal and dangerous reality that is professional boxing. Fond memories of Neary and Ward, Dunne and Schwer, Ayeres and Rigby domestically and Morales V Barrera on the international scene pale into insignificance when you think of what the ultimate price for such brutality in the name of sport and entertainment can be.

Paul Ingle has fought his last battle in the ring. Dreams of a mega money rematch with Naseem Hamed shattered by the fists of yet another proud and tough fighter. In recent fights Ingle had lost to Naseem Hamed, (KO 11), beaten Manuel Medina over 12 punishing rounds and also beat Junior Jones in another hard fight – coming off the floor to do so. It may be the old chestnut of ‘one hard fight too many’ for the Sheffield fighter. This though, is the risk of our sport with the savagery and sudden finality of the knockout attracting many fans – casual and hardcore alike. On the same bill, the world title aspirations of Richie Woodhall, Neil Sinclair and Esham Pickering were blown away in similar dramatic fashion.

Challenger Richie Woodhall was on his feet at the end of his WBO super middleweight title fight against Welsh champion Joe Calzaghe. Yet another hard fought scrap between two domestic boxers with yet another title at stake. Indeed, the British game has been blessed (?) of late to see such competitive matches, but what is the ultimate long-term price for such bravery and grim determination? Would losing fighters be more fortunate, from a health point of view, if contests were over with the swiftness that is one, or possibly two, text-book perfect shots. The kind of punches that tell your legs that the fight is over regardless of what your mind, heart or spirit think.

We all know that the sport is dangerous and brutal at times and nobody is trying to fool anyone else on that score. It is difficult to defend boxing in the face of the predictable knee-jerk reaction of the sports abolitionists to this latest tragedy. We can argue the game is as safe as it can be made or that the fighters themselves know and accept the risks, but is that really enough? I suppose it has to be, otherwise we as fans could not and should not find it acceptable as legitimate entertainment.

It is a shame that this tragedy happened at all, but it seems a bigger shame that it happened when British boxing in particular seemed to be on the up. Newspaper coverage of the sport was at an all-time low, (it wont be for the next week or so, you can be sure of that), and television seemed to have taken up the slack left by the printed word. The only exposure for young fighters now is on television and to be in the public eye they have to be fighting. A strange paradox indeed. It would seem that, in Britain at least, the press has let the fans and the fighters down.

We have web-sites that have filled the void left by the press and if you want up-to-date information or history on your favourite sport you only have to log on to the Cyber Boxing Zone and many similar purveyors of punch-for-pay articles and reports. My own area of interest is boxing from a historical point of view. The sport somehow seems more glamorous, comfortable and safer with the benefits that the passage of time brings. People and events of the past cannot let us down because we know the stories and there are very few surprises left for us.

Saturday’s events in Sheffield are today’s history though and in time to come the tragedy of Paul Ingle will no doubt be easier to review. Just as Eubank V Watson II, Benn V McClellan, Wenton V Stone, Docherty V Murray, Winters V Wright and Devakov V Oliver – all in the past decade – will sit a little easier with us, the boxing fans. I hope for our own sake and the sake of the sport that we do not become too comfortable or complacent.

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