WHEN you’re the editor of Boxing News, the biggest enemy is not the delicate egos of promoters, disgruntled fighters, or stress-inducing deadlines, it’s your own reflection. For those that value having a clean conscience – the kind that doesn’t hound you every time you look in the mirror – the boxing industry can be a challenging place to inhabit.
Championing boxing, particularly on a daily basis, is a gruelling task. Because, as former BN editor Claude Abrams recently pointed out, for every child who is ‘saved’ by the sport there is a middle-aged fighter leaving substantially more damaged than when they came in. Which makes it difficult when attempting to balance the good with the bad. On the one hand, the sport has brightened the dark path they would otherwise have taken and, on the other, it has created an equally difficult existence once their career is over. There is of course far more to it than that; there are genuine feel-good tales that need to be told and not every boxer will end up down on their luck.
Last Saturday, a few hours before Derek Chisora and Kubrat Pulev knocked lumps out of each other in a bout billed as ‘Total Carnage’, I was part of a team who completed a fire-walk in Portsmouth to raise money for Ringside Charitable Trust (RCT). For those who don’t know, RCT is a registered charity whose aim is to open a residential home for ex-boxers in need, something that should have been put in place years ago. It’s a charity run by honourable and caring people who are trying to do the right thing by the countless fighters who fall on hard times, whether that be financially or through ill-health caused by boxing.
It was a wonderful event organised by Andrew Fairley that has so far raised over £7,000 for the cause. Among the 20+ who completed the fire-walk included RCT founder Dave Harris, Jane Couch, Tony Oakey, Ross Minter and Jerome Wilson, an ex-boxer whose career was cut short by a brain injury suffered in battle. Also walking over the 632-degree coals were Abrams and another former BN editor, Tris Dixon. Others, like Johnny Nelson, were there to offer support. It was filmed by both Sky Sports and the BBC to provide some long-deserved exposure for the charity.
Yet RCT’s existence should suggest that something is wrong. Firstly because it is incomprehensible in 2022 that there is not already an effective aftercare system in place. More crucially, at least from the viewpoint of big name promoters and fighters who continue to ignore the charity’s existence, by admitting we need care homes for boxers we are also acknowledging that the sport is gravely unhealthy and, consciously or not, raising serious questions about boxing’s place in society. It’s understandable, though only to a degree, why a promoter who earns good money from staging fights then doesn’t want to part with any of it to help a charity that proves those fights are hazardous to health. Total Carnage? Brilliant. Brain Damage? Woeful.
The position of the superstar boxer – and several have been approached but not one will even wear an RCT badge on their shorts – is easier to comprehend. Very simply, a boxer does not want to be bogged down with thoughts of brain damage being a potential consequence of what they love to do. Furthermore, superstar boxers are carefully managed with only positive public relations in mind. Helping local businesses? Great PR. Admitting that the sport that made them so popular can cause brain damage? Not so much.
Yet the opposite is true. Whether a big-name fighter or promoter, ignoring the charity is horrific PR. The more that those in positions of power remain so blissfully oblivious the easier it becomes for outsiders to criticise and take action. The question being asked is this: If boxing cannot look after its own, why does such a dangerous sport exist at all?
That question is one I have asked myself more and more in recent years. It is why Boxing News has supported RCT from the very start. It is why I partook in the fire-walk at the weekend. While trying to explain the purpose of the day to my nine-year-old daughter, I asked myself another difficult question. Am I doing this to help the boxers or am I doing this to ease my own conscience? The answer, if I’m being completely honest, is both. It’s therefore perplexing why absolutely everyone involved in boxing is not trying to help RCT, too. We all know that boxing is a savage endeavour. We all know that, morally, it doesn’t always stack up. If we can at least guarantee help to those who fall foul of the system then we might be able to sleep at night. Better still, we can say we really care.
The industry remains far too shy about the issue. It can’t be a taboo subject anymore. If we were more open about the consequences of taking too many punches, if we were more careful with the amount of rounds that fighters sparred and, in turn, if we could educate every fighter then maybe the number of damaged ex-boxers would decrease in time. And when the worst happens, the help is there. This is not meant as a criticism, in any way, to the British Boxing Board of Control who continue to work miracles with limited staff and resources. But they cannot do everything.
In short, as an industry, we have to come together to face the problem head on. That has to be the message. But it isn’t. Since the charity was founded four years ago several top promoters and boxers who were happy to work with notorious Irishman Daniel Kinahan behind the scenes have barely given Dave Harris the time of day. Not one of them has publicly supported Tris Dixon’s book, Damaged. What a message that is.
People are starting to take notice, however. Yet those who need the most persuading are the fighters who might need the charity’s help one day. Evidence of such can be found in what David Haye had to say when talking before Chisora edged Pulev on points in yet another 12-round slugfest. After explaining that the notion of Chisora retiring is ‘crazy talk’ because he has annual brain scans, so therefore we don’t need to be concerned until one of them proves he’s damaged, Haye added: “Never tell another man what to do with his life. It is a free world. While he can sell out arenas and wants to do that, then people should just tune in and enjoy the fight. Don’t worry about anything, let fighters fight. When they’re ready to retire, they’re ready to retire.”
It was a relief to see Chisora, a kind and gentle family man outside the ring, emerge unscathed from another humdinger. It is of course his right to carry on fighting. So we try and do what Haye tells us to do. Let fighters fight. When they’re ready to retire, they’re ready to retire. Don’t worry about it. Just enjoy it.
It’s not as easy as that anymore. At least not for those of us who have seen the bleak tomorrows of supposedly healthy fighters. For those of us who know there is nothing in place to help them if and when that darkness comes. For those of us with a conscience.