Seconds out, round two of my life...

Spencer Oliver's boxing career was ended by a punch that almost killed him. Now the future is in his hands once more. By Ken Jones

FIRST, there was the relief on the faces of Spencer Oliver's manager Jess Harding and his girlfriend Louise. The stricken fighter was puzzled. "It's all right," he heard Harding say, "you've had an accident."

He was knocked out when defending the European super-bantamweight championship at the Royal Albert Hall three weeks ago, and Oliver's life hung in the balance for 48 hours, the bulletins - "critical but stable" - ominous after a blood clot was removed from his brain.

Survival was one thing, quality of life another, Oliver's injury carrying also the fear of permanent disablement.

The American, Gerald McLellan, is blind, deaf and paralysed as the result of a brutal contest against Nigel Benn; Michael Watson, who came near to death after losing to Chris Eubank, is confined to a wheelchair. "God only knows how, but I got away with it," Oliver said last week.

We were sitting in the grounds of the West Lodge Park hotel not far from Oliver's home in Barnet, and it was about four o'clock in the afternoon. He had on a tracksuit and training shoes, and every now and again he reached for a cold drink.

I was watching Oliver. I was watching him sit there beneath an umbrella, a smile on his face, and I had it all figured out for myself.

This is a young guy, I was thinking to myself, who knows he is lucky to be alive but finds it difficult to accept that, at 23, he will never fight again.

Oliver remembers nothing of what happened between going to his corner for a routine defence against the Ukranian challenger, Sergei Devakov, and regaining consciousness in hospital. "It's all a blank," he said. "When I opened my eyes and saw Jess (Harding) looking down at me I thought I was coming around from a knock-out. An accident, a coma? I couldn't take it in and I still think I'm going to wake up and discover that it's only a bad dream."

Reaching to touch lightly a long, crescent-shaped scar that crosses from temple to earlobe on the right side of his shaven skull, Oliver marvelled at the neurosurgical skills that brought him back from oblivion.

"After what I've been through, knowing that others weren't so lucky, well, just to be here talking and walking around is a miracle. I can never be grateful enough," he added. Chuckling at the surgeon's story of being half-way through a curry when the emergency arose - "I ruined his dinner", - Oliver is nevertheless reluctant to watch a video of the contest.

"I know only what Jess and my trainer have told me. That I was knocked down near the end of the first round, hurt again in the sixth and counted out in the 10th. Everything before the fight is clear enough, warming up in the dressing-room, making an entrance, going to the ring and when I think about it now, not feeling as sharp as usual."

Four days before the fight, and not in a brash way, Oliver announced that he expected to win well within the championship distance of 12 rounds.

"Yeah, I know," he reflected. "Devakov hadn't done anything to make us think that he might be a difficult opponent. Busy, but not a banger." Oliver shrugged and shook his head. "I've been told that the real Spencer Oliver didn't show up, that it wasn't really me in there. Perhaps I took him too lightly."

Forty hours before we spoke, holding the sport blameless, Oliver watched boxing on television. "Just the thought made me nervous, but it was something I had to do," he said. Coming so soon after his release from hospital, Oliver didn't know whether he would find the experience disturbing. "I felt a bit strange but it didn't affect me in a bad way," he said, "so that's another step back isn't it?" Not though to that mysterious thrill he found in the ring. "Now it's about altering direction," I said. Oliver knew what I meant. "I need to work out what I'm going to do with my life," he added, "but for the time being I've got to take things easy."

Just six years old when he took up the hardest sport, Oliver couldn't wait for the opportunity to box competitively that came with his 11th birthday. He went on to win 75 of 85 amateur contests and had four amateur titles when he made his professional debut in February 1995.

By last year his fame was spreading, and he had acquired celebrity friends, the likes of actor Sean Bean and the East 17 singer, Tony Harvey. Just 10 days before he was carried carefully from the ring to a waiting ambulance, friends and family (he and Louise have a two-year-old son, Kane) distraught with anxiety, Oliver made a big impression when voted Young Fighter of the Year at the British boxing writers' dinner. Seeing and hearing Oliver for the the first time, guests from other sports were impressed by his manner. "Nice kid, the sort you want to do well," the football coach, Dave Sexton, said.

If Oliver's percussive style suggested that he would not have a long career great hopes were held out for him. Devakov had no record to speak of and negotiations were under way for a world title challenge. "Everything seemed to be going so well," Oliver said.

Passing by, a man spoke out to Oliver. "Good luck in whatever you do," he said. Oliver replied politely. "That's it," he then said. "Whatever I do. Well, I'd like to stay involved in boxing, train fighters, do some commentary work." The boxing club his family runs in Finchley, north London - his father has a furniture store in nearby Barnet - will help him pick up the pieces.

The drama of Oliver's plight raised again the question of how much can be done to prevent fighters risking the perils of dehydration, and consequent weakening, when attempting to make the statutory weight in their division.

It is unlikely that Oliver was entirely comfortable at the super-bantamweight limit of 8st 10lb but he insists that it wasn't a serious problem. Oliver counts himself fortunate. "I'm not bitter. Fighters know the dangers. How could I fail to think about Bradley Stone and James Murray dying from boxing injuries? But you never think about it happening to you," he said. So why do they do it, what impels them towards the ring? I was looking again at Oliver, his boyish face, the marks of his profession. "Look," he said, "I was proud of my title and I've got a lot to thank boxing for. It taught me discipline, showed me the world."

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

    BC2

    £50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

    SAP Data Migration Consultant

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

    Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

    £300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice