Ban would see 'return of prize-fighting'

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MAKING boxing illegal will only send it underground, a former bareknuckle fighter warned yesterday, writes Ray Mgadzah.

For seven years, smashed jaws, broken ribs and swollen black eyes were an occupational hazard for Dave, 27. He took part in bareknuckle prize fights in grubby venues, behind closed doors, and in unlicensed boxing bouts across the country. Dave believes a ban introduced in the aftermath of the death of Scottish bantamweight James Murray would encourage even more men to become involved in bareknuckle fights.

"Bareknuckle fights are scary. To find them, it's always by word of mouth," Dave said. "I've seen hard-core boxing fans turn round at a bareknuckle fight and say 'This is terrible'. It's the ultimate in fighting, a throwback to a more violent society."

Bareknuckle fighting and unlicensed boxing outside the British Boxing Board of Control stewardship appeal to many young men because they offer cash in hand for a few minutes of lethal ring work.

Unlicensed boxing also attracts hundreds of spectators. Although it is not illegal, local authorities and police often oppose and prevent bouts, citing factors such as fire hazards. The very best fighters command four-figure match fees.

Dr Robyn Jones, a lecturer in sports science at Brunel University, who has undertaken research into unlicensed boxing, agrees an immediate ban would drive it to its more vicious outer fringes. "If they outlaw boxing now, it will end up underground," Dr Jones said. "In the past, the emphasis was on skill rather than on hitting people. That the sport has become more violent is a reflection of our society."