BOXING: Focus on boxers' welfare

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The Independent Online
The baffling thing for people who find boxing abhorrent and firmly believe that society would benefit from its extinction must be the active participation of men who are well equipped intellectually to succeed in other fields.

Following the calamity that overtook Gerald McClellan when counted out against Nigel Benn for the World Boxing Council super-middle-weight championship, an article notable for its clarity was quickly produced for these pages by the Welsh boxer, Nicky Piper, who went 11 rounds with Benn for the title 14 months ago. Piper is a member of Mensa and qualified in business studies.

Under Piper's chairmanship, the executive board of the fledgling Professional Boxers' Association also includes a lawyer, Pat Patasley, and a sales and marketing director, Kent Davis, who took up the sport at prep school. All three remain active in the professional ring.

Their undiminished enthusiasm for boxing is, I think, important. As with the death of Bradley Stone last year, McClellan's plight has simply strengthened their resolve to press for the best possible safeguards.

In the context of polarised opinion, some of it hysterical, Davis is more coherent than those abolitionists who never pass up a chance to parade their nobility. One of the most interesting things about the 29- year-old cruiserweight from Cheltenham is that he did not box professionally until two years ago, and after only one official bout as an amateur. The idea did not develop fully until a commercial venture prospered. "Until then, and although I'd always kept in good shape, there simply wasn't enough time to train properly for boxing," he said.

A trial bout against Piper convinced Welsh area officials of the British Boxing Board that Davis was competent in defence and therefore could be matched safely against opponents of a similar standard. Two victories have improved a record that stood at four defeats in five contests, and it is possible that he will now challenge for an area title.

"I didn't take up professional boxing with any exaggerated notions," he said. "Yes, an opportunity to prove my manliness had something to do with it, but there was also the realisation that to understand fighters fully and make a contribution to their welfare I would have to be one of them. As for keeping my boxing efforts in perspective, I only have to think about what one of our leading spokesmen, Barry Mc-Guigan, achieved in the sport."

Relations between the PBA and the Board are delicately poised, particularly in regard to medical safeguards. The Board could not be faulted in its handling of the emergency that resulted from McClellan's collapse at the London Arena, but it has yet to incorporate the presence of an anaesthetist as standard practice. The Board insist it has yet to see this and other proposals that the PBA claims to have put forward.

Both bodies should take into account and act upon the responsibility borne by corner men. On Saturday's undercard, Carl Jones was mercifully stopped in the seventh round when challenging for Mike McCallum's WBC light-heavyweight championship. Although it was obvious to everyone present that Jones had been systematically beaten up, losing every session, the decision evoked a disgraceful response in the Californian's trainer, who angrily demanded an explanation from the referee, Larry O'Connell. "The guy wasn't hurting us," he shouted.

The best trainers put the welfare of fighters above all other considerations. Terry Lawless, who had a number of world champions, and Eddie Thomas, who took Howard Winstone and Ken Buchanan to world titles, are good examples. However there are those who persuade their men to endure unnecessary punishment. Thus it is a responsibility of the Board to point out the need to protect boxers from themselves.

In the excitement of a contest, all trainers and seconds cannot be relied upon to take up the example set by Eddie Futch, who pulled Joe Frazier with only one round of 15 left in a punishing third encounter with Muhammad Ali. Ali himself was at the point of exhaustion, but Futch was unequivocal in judgement. "Joe had taken too much," he said, "and I kept thinking about his children and how much he loves them." Despite Frazier's protests, Futch cut the laces off his gloves.

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