Michael Norgrove was known as a crowd-pleasing boxer – his fights were regular “all-action humdingers”, former club mates recall.
With five straight wins since turning professional, the east Londoner’s sixth contest against rival Tom Bowen was set to be one of the centrepieces of a night of celebration at the historic south London venue The Ring, which was hosting its first competitive pro action since the Second World War.
But despite scoring a first-round knockdown against his opponent, Zambian-born Norgrove appeared unwell in the fifth. The fight was stopped and he was taken to hospital but he died nine days later, on Saturday, from a blood clot on the brain.
The 31-year-old, returning to the ring after a two-year lay-off, is the first British boxer to die following a bout since James Murray in 1995. The tragedy has reopened old divides over the safety of the sport.
Robert Smith, general secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control, defended the safety procedures in force before the contest: “We are one of the strictest authorities in the world. This is an acute injury, this can happen any time. He had his medicals done, he had his brain scans done. There was nothing there of any concern whatsoever, else he wouldn’t have been in the ring.”
The brain injury association Headway said his death was another example of the “brutal and dangerous nature of the sport” and called for it to be outlawed. Chief executive Peter McCabe said: “Every time a boxer gets into the ring, there is a significant risk that they may lose their life or sustain a devastating, life-changing brain injury.
“There are risks involved with all contact sports, but while other sports manage those risks by introducing laws to try to protect participants from blows to the head, the ultimate aim in boxing is to knock your opponent out by repeatedly and deliberately striking their heads. Until this sport is banned, more young lives will be tragically lost.”
The British Medical Association recently criticised the decision by UK Sport to increase public funding for the sport. Boxing is enjoying a revival in fortunes after Team GB won five Olympic medals last summer.
Tributes were paid to Norgrove, a former member of Repton Boxing Club. His close friend and fellow boxer Monica Harris said: “I saw him just before his fight and he had the biggest smile on his face, he looked so happy. That will stick with me forever.” She said she now planned to retire from boxing.
Deaths in the ring
1995 James Murray died after being knocked out by Drew Docherty. The Scottish bantamweight succumbed to brain injuries.
1994 Londoner Bradley Stone died from a blood clot on his brain after losing to Richie Wenton.
1986 Welterweight Steve Watt died of brain injuries after being defeated by Rocky Kelly in Fulham.
1980 Johnny Owen from Wales died six weeks after losing to Lupe Pintor in LA. He was knocked out and never regained consciousness.