IT IS easy to compare boxing to other sports and bemoan the chaos we’re forced to endure, but in doing so, we must also compare other sports to boxing and highlight their inability to compete when it comes to drop-of-the-hat excitement and drama. In that regard, boxing – when fights are matched correctly – stands alone as the most intoxicating sport in existence.
No other sport rivals ours in that regard, not five-set rally-fests at Wimbledon nor World Cup Finals that are decided by a penalty shootout after one side had staged a comeback in open play. Certainly, a last-minute goal or a dramatic race for the finishing line on the running track are thrilling moments but nothing triggers sudden intoxication like a one-punch decider in a prize ring. Particularly when that conclusive blow is delivered against the run of play, like it was in Nottingham on Saturday night when Mauricio Lara let fly with a left hook that sent Leigh Wood down in a heap.
What those moments can also conjure is a sense of disbelief. From the start of the third round, we had seen Wood gain control and, as the seventh came to a close, our minds had been conditioned to who was bossing matters for in excess of 15 minutes. When that pattern switches so swiftly, it jars our senses to such an extent it is often hard to compute. Perhaps that’s why several onlookers felt that Wood, with a little under 10 seconds remaining in the round, should have been allowed to fight on. Without question, even if one started out as a neutral, as the bout progressed it was difficult to not be swept up in the Leigh Wood story – a domestic nearly man turned formidable world beater in the space of three years – and therefore be urging him to victory in a bout he was not widely expected to win.
Perhaps some observers had money on Wood winning. Perhaps others had merely just tipped him to win amongst friends or in open forums. Even just the latter – that desire to be proved right – can sway how we view a fight and then react when a sudden ending occurs. Others who disagreed with the decision of Wood’s trainer, Ben Davison, to throw the towel after referee Michael Alexander had indicated the contest could continue, were boxers like Carl Froch and Tony Bellew. Yet we should know that they’re made of different stuff to the rest of us. That horrible notion of ‘going out on your shield’ was bandied around in the aftermath.
What nobody can know, however, is whether Wood was in any state to continue. His legs were disobeying him mere seconds before Davison made his call. It’s true that they’d stopped dancing by the time referee Michael Alexander completed his eight-count, but Wood had also stopped moving at that point, his legs were locked, perhaps instinctively. Whether they were in any state to carry him to a safe escape, nobody can possibly know. It’s also true that Wood had enough about him to lift his hands to his chin, but if he could have then used them as an effective defensive tool when Lara attacked, not a single person can be sure. What we do know is that he was tagged clean and hard when he had all of his wits about him just moments before. We also know that Davison made his call after standing on the ring apron and looking at a fighter he knows far better than you, me, the referee, and anyone suggesting the coach got it wrong. Another thing we know, for absolute sure and most importantly of all, is that Davison’s call did not come too late.
It’s a shame that as a consequence of those doubting Davison’s judgement, he now seems to be too. Yet an instinctive and honest call to save a fighter, should never be criticised, whether made in the spur of the moment or not. Without question, he made the right call for the right reasons. That he’s now facing trial by social media might lead him to – should the same situation occur again – make the wrong call in the future.
In my almost eight years as the editor of Boxing News, there have been several occasions when I sit at my computer attempting to find the right words while wracked with guilt for supporting this brutal sport when a fighter is killed or seriously injured. Now, let’s not go all hyperbolic here; chances are that Wood would have been okay even if the bout had continued. Again, however, nobody knows for sure. Boxing is the most exciting of all sports because it is also the most dangerous. Any act that lessens that danger should be applauded.
Let’s also not forget about the long-term effects of boxing. As an industry, we often try a little too hard to do so. It’s easier to justify that way. Wood may well have been okay on the night if the bout had continued, he may even have won, but once his brain had taken that blow in round seven it would have been susceptible to further damage. He came through hell against Michael Conlan not so long ago. Afterwards he could not remember being dropped heavily in the opening round until he was shown a replay of exactly that happening. That’s because his brain suffered damage. Who knows what he’d have remembered if Lara had teed off and landed again on his jaw last weekend.
Thankfully, Wood doesn’t need to worry about that. He can dust himself off and look to the future. So too can the sport, which showed yet again why it stands alone as the most exhilarating of them all.
IN ANOTHER example of boxing reaching the parts that other sports can’t reach, 33-year-old Kirk Stevens, with an unremarkable record of 1-3, was a late-call up for a knockout tournament in Solihull on Saturday night and emerged £4,000 richer after beating three unbeaten boxers to take the crown (see page 26).
“If the Cinderella Man and Rocky Balboa could have a kid, it would be Kirk Stevens,” enthused Jon Pegg, the organiser of the event alongside Tommy Owens.
“Even I was writing off Kirk,” Pegg told BN. “He did it by sheer will, not skill. He only knew about it on Thursday morning but he didn’t think twice about entering despite being the only boxer of the eight to not have an unbeaten record.
“I wanted unbeaten boxers because I wanted to make sure they were all hungry. Sometimes in these competitions, when you have someone who has a lot of experience, they know how to nick a win, but I wanted this to be fair.”
Matchmaker and trainer Pegg, one of the best at what he does in the country, is keen to see more evenly matched bouts throughout the sport.
Stevens has only been a professional for a year, turning over to earn some extra money for his family. Consequently he was forced to be the away fighter and not get bogged down with the arduous job of trying to sell tickets.
“He’ll be rewarded with a spot in the home corner on a show,” Pegg explained. “Better than that, he will always remember the night he really went for it and always be able to tell his friends and family how he once beat three unbeaten boxers in one night.”