Noble art or just barbaric battering?

Saturday, 21 October 1995

When two men get into a ring and deliberately and systematically pummel each other for 12 rounds, why are we surprised when they kill each other?

I FLEW into the UK on a magnificent unseasonably warm autumn Sunday at around the time that they finally disconnected Scottish bantamweight champion James Murray from the life-support machine.

He was floored by Drew Docherty at the end of the 12th and final round of his challenge for the British title on Friday night in Glasgow. His thoughtlessness in collapsing from a blood clot upset the crowd who proceeded to hurl chairs and beer bottles into the ring, presumably to induce him to get up.

If you like carnage, this was one to see.

As one reporter put it: "Within minutes of the first bottle being thrown, bare-chested men, oblivious to anything but their macho pursuits, daubed blood from face and head wounds across their exposed fat bellies. The violence was spontaneous."

Unfortunately, Murray missed it. The paramedics who rushed forward to assist him were too busy protecting their own skulls from the helpful bombardment to be able to administer the oxygen that might have kept him alive.

Fortunately, the fight was held in Glasgow's relatively posh four star Hospitality Inn. Who knows what might have been thrown had the fight been held in less affluent surroundings?

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The fallout was somewhat predictable. The British Medical Association once again called for boxing to be banned, as has been done in Norway and Sweden. This was followed by pitiful bleating from the sports press that if boxing were to be banned, it would simply be driven underground, and more people would die.

An interesting comment, because since the Marquis of bloody Queensberry Rules were introduced in 1884, more than 500 boxers have been killed around the world. That's in the region of five boxers per year. Some of these were from our ranks, like Brian Baronet, Patrick Diniso and Clive Skwebe.

And that's just those who have died. There are many many more who have suffered permanent brain damage which shows up as slurred speech, memory loss, impotence or paralysis.

Should boxing be banned?

This is an interesting question, since we are in the process of shaping the constitutional future of our country, and this is one of those areas where the rights of the individual clash with the wishes of the larger society.

I see boxing as being almost exactly like prostitution. One person allows another person to repeatedly abuse his body until a climax of a sort is reached, or they run out of time. Others pay for the privilege of watching.

Sometimes, the participants get killed. Whores die from AIDS, and boxers die from brain damage (although even that distinction is fading with the ever increasing number of HIV-positive boxers).

But from the point of view of protecting the rights of the individual, I have to support prostitution and boxing, because no society should have the right to dictate to any adult person what he (or she) can or cannot do to his body.

But unlike prostitution, where the participants are almost uniformly aware that their profession endangers their lives, boxers are constantly deluded by promoters and the press into believing that their "sport" is safe.

The problem is with boxing gloves.

Before the Marquis of Queensberry, fighters hammered each other in bare-knuckle bouts that left shattered bones, bloodied faces, and no doubt whatsoever as to the extent of the damage that was being caused.

Boxing gloves changed that. By cushioning the superficial effects of the blow, they allowed the damage to be transmitted to the interior out of sight of squeamish patrons.

But the damage is very real. Torturers in this country and others have known this, which is why they use protective wet towels when hitting their victims. No marks. Lots of internal injuries ...

And this is particularly true in the case of the brain.

It will resonate like a tuning fork if struck, killing individual cells each time, and on each side that it hits the protective confines of the skull. Like a rubber mallet, a boxing glove does not damage the exterior, transmitting almost all the energy inside.

We've evolved as a species. We are stronger and faster than ever before, but our brains are as delicate as ever. The figures for boxing deaths will get worse, not better.

Take the gloves off now!

Let's see the shattered bones and faces pounded to pulp, blood and flesh splattering off the side of the ring inconveniencing the spectators.

And then let's see who dares call this a sport.