After just 93 seconds of bizarre action Nicky Cook was carried off to retirement with his neck in a brace, his legs strapped to a stretcher and a look of pain on his face on Saturday night at the Echo Arena, Liverpool.
Cook, who is 31 and has been boxing for 20 years, was diagnosed with a prolapsed disc and will undergo more intensive tests before being allowed to fly home to his bar in Tenerife. The freak injury occurred after only five seconds when World Boxing Organisation super-featherweight champion Ricky Burns connected with a wayward left, which landed on the base of the spine, and Cook immediately twisted in pain and fell to the canvas.
There was confusion and jeers as Cook tried bravely on four separate occasions to continue before his father and trainer, Paul, threw in the towel to help persuade the referee that the pointless heroics needed to end. Cook was in agony as he slumped to the canvas one last time before the medics rushed to help him.
"Nicky had every type of medical before the fight," said Frank Warren, the fight's promoter. "He has trained properly and Sky even filmed him training – this was just a freak accident. I'm hearing all sorts of crap, but the truth is that he tried to fight on again and again when he was clearly suffering tremendous pain." Cook, like many fighters, has had back trouble before but there was no suggestion during his training camp in Tenerife or the week in Liverpool that he was not fit to fight.
As expected the chief supporting contest between lightweights John Murray and Kevin Mitchell developed quickly into a potential domestic fight of the year before a stunning end. Murray was unbeaten in 31 and Mitchell had not fought in 14 months since losing for the first time; the winner of the fight was guaranteed a world-championship opportunity and Mitchell was desperate for redemption after a dreadful year.
Murray took control of the early rounds, catching Mitchell and pushing him back at all times, but he was not moving his head; Mitchell was slowly finding the target with classic counters even when he lost rounds. The caution worked wonderfully and by round six Murray's face was swollen with bruising. In the eighth Mitchell dropped Murray with a sweet left hook and seconds later, as Murray stumbled, referee Richie Davies stopped the fight.