Boxing: Boxers fighting a lonely battle: Ken Jones reflects on the injuries sustained in a title bout this week by Bradley Stone

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The Independent Online
IN THE instant it took to appreciate the extent of Bradley Stone's plight, the word 'game' became as bitter as a mouthful of bile.

Early on a bright morning in southern California the news carried an all too familiar chill. Another boxer traumatised, clinging to life. Hang around the sport long enough and you are sure to write something like this. Chances are you will write it more than once because the ring is a perilous place. The death of Johnny Owen. Michael Watson's sad impairment. And more, too many more.

Now we await the cries of rage and indignation that are sure to follow. They will show up on the editorial pages of newspapers, in medical journals and on television. They will bemoan the fate of fighters and beleaguer that slice of society that thrills to exhibitions of man's inhumanity to man. They will do everything except provide workable solutions for a breed beyond the comprehension of great thinkers who seldom descend into arenas like York Hall in Bethnal Green where Stone fought for the last time.

On the heels of the emptiness is frustration. It has its basis in the extensive tests that Stone underwent after being stopped in five rounds on 4 March, his first defeat in 19 professional contests, and a 28-day suspension. 'Stone was given a full medical,' the British Boxing Board's general secretary, John Morris, said, 'and examined again at the weigh-in. When the doctor checked him after the contest (for the British super-bantamweight title on Tuesday night) he appeared to have recovered fully.'

Stone had not. Soon a headache and nausea set off alarm bells. Another boxing tragedy.

Safety precautions, especially in Britain, have improved considerably, so apart from insisting that boxers spend 24 hours in hospital after being knocked out or stopped, what else can be done?

Perhaps the answer is nothing. Protective headgear, as adopted at amateur level, not only creates a blind spot but more seriously promotes a false sense of security. Gloves with thicker padding are dismissed on the worrying basis that they encourage fighters to stay on their feet longer, thereby inviting more sustained beatings.

'Maybe bare knuckles is the answer,' the famed trainer, Angelo Dundee, once said, and this was not facetiously speaking. 'A kid would get flattened and that would be it.' Imagine how that would go over with faint hearts and pacifists.

As for legislating the sport out of existence, a popular theme in some quarters, there is not an emptier dream anywhere.

Even if the law did dictate against boxing, men would find places to fight for prizes, the way they have done in the past. They would fight because it is in their nature, because it is as much a part of them as music was a part of Mozart and writing was a part of Dickens. And they would pay no more heed to the possibility of being hurt, maimed or even killed than Watson did when he went in with Chris Eubank and Bradley Stone with Richie Wenton.

When Owen, who slipped into a coma after losing to Lupe Pintor for the world bantamweight championship, was laid to rest on a hillside in Merthyr, another Welsh boxing hero, Eddie Thomas, said: 'When something like this happens you are bound to feel that boxing isn't worth a candle. But, and hard as it is to explain, you get drawn back.'

There is no comfort in the fact that boxing is not alone as a life- threatening pursuit, that pro rata there are more tragedies in other sports. The very purpose condemns it. At an inquest following the death of an opponent, the greatest of champions, Sugar Ray Robinson, was asked if he had intended to hurt the deceased. 'That, sir, is what I'm paid to do,' he replied.

I am spending some time with an ex-fighter, an old friend, Derek Palmer, who grew up in London alongside Henry Cooper. When I conveyed the news about Bradley Stone he winced. 'Leaves you cold,' he said.

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