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."

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio talks during the press conference for the film

Film follows park rangers in the Congo

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    History Teacher

    £60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

    ** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

    £120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

    ** Cover Supervisors Urgently Required In Knowsley **

    £60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

    Java developer - (Intershop Enfinity)

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Java Developer...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album