We Need to Talk About Quitting in Boxing

Let's broach the topic

Following Kell Brook’s devastating loss to Errol Spence last May, where he surrendered his IBF title to the talented Texan, I signed onto Twitter to read the thoughts of fellow boxing fans on what had just unfolded. What I saw were many unsavory comments, distinctly opposed to my own.

In my eyes, Brook and Spence went tit for tat for eleven grueling and closely contested rounds. After suffering from a serious eye injury (his second in consecutive fights), mid-way through the fight, Brook’s chances of retaining his cherished title were diminishing – and although he staged a rousing final onslaught in the tenth round, he finally succumbed to his adversary in the following round. The striking image of the fallen champion resting on one knee, gently prodding his badly swollen eye, whilst the referee counted him out of the contest was sad to watch, but insult was about to follow the injury.

As I scrolled through Twitter, the abuse targeted at Brook was unjustly disrespectful. Labeled a quitter and coward, ironically by those who would shrink before attempting to say it to his face. Those Twitter trolls revel in the guaranteed safety they have from behind their laptop as they continue an assault – albeit a verbal one – on a warrior that had just laid his life on the line in the name of entertainment. In their view the precarious eye injury endured by the ‘Special One’s’ was not brutal enough, they bayed for guts, gore, and a savage ending to satisfy their blood-lust, no matter the cost to his health. I can understand the need for clear and definitive endings to fights, but Brook was already a broken and beaten man. He should have been commended for his efforts in the ring, along with taking the responsibility for his own long-term health.

I recently read two tremendous books, written by revered authors Tris Dixon and Donald McRae. Both works have incredibly poignant moments in them that made me consider the risks boxers take every time they lace up their gloves, climb in the ring and trade punches. Dixon’s ‘The Road to Nowhere’ is a story of the author’s fascinating travels through America where he meets numerous boxing heroes of the past. Men that were former champions, hall-of-famers and widely respected during their pomp, such as Matthew Saad Muhammad. He fought ferociously under the bright lights of some of the most famous arenas and his numerous bloody wars thrilled crowds around America. Yet nine years after his last bout, he attended Madison Square Garden to watch Bernard Hopkins take on Felix Trinidad and was forgotten. Unable to attain ringside tickets to sit alongside other former greats, the rich and the famous, he bought a ticket and sat anonymously in the highest, darkest part of the arena, far away from the bright lights he was once so familiar with. Worse still was the dissipation of his wealth coupled with the deterioration of his health and at the relatively young age of 59 years old, Muhammad died homeless, penniless and helpless.

Similarly in McRae’s epic, ‘Dark Trade’, was Michael Watson’s story of a seemingly certain grasp for glory, that ultimately left him empty-handed. Watson, a quality technician, was on the cusp of winning a life-changing world title having out-boxed and knocked down his nemesis, Chris Eubank. The champion, however, rose and in one final, desperate attempt to cling onto his title, threw an uppercut that dramatically swung the momentum of the contest his way. The opportunistic Eubank, quickly ended the battle and almost the life of Watson, who spent forty days in a coma having incurred a blood clot on his brain. Thankfully, Watson won his fight for life, but his tussle with Eubank permanently damaged his health and ended a career so painfully close to reaching the big time.

The real-life, tragic tales in these books illustrate what can happen in this punishing sport and cruel business. At the pinnacle of a boxer’s career they can be blessed with a fan-base the size of an army, but when the journey ends, these once extraordinary warriors sometimes have nowhere to turn to for support when they need it the most. Despite giving their lives in elevating the sport that we love, the sport fails to look after them. With no universal governing body to take responsibility in supporting retired fighters, it is no surprise that so many of them fall on hard times once their careers end.

Boxing as a sport does not protect its former stars and nor will the fans, so when battered boxers like Kell Brook choose to wisely concede defeat for concern of their well-being, who is anybody to disagree? For the fans, there is always another great fight to look forward to. However, for fighters, they have one life to live and shouldn’t have to unnecessarily risk their futures – least of all, for the trolls that don’t care about it.

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