Fighting memories of death

The last time Drew Docherty fought, his opponent died. Tonight he goes back into the ring for the first time. James Reed talks to other boxers who have gone through the same experience

James Reed
Saturday 20 January 1996 01:02

Men who kill in the ring never forget. They never forget the final punches that led to a fellow boxer's collapse or the final words they spoke to their opponent before he disappeared and collapsed. The one thing that they are never allowed to forget is that they were in the opposite corner when so-and-so fought for the last time.

Tonight in Mansfield Drew Docherty will fight for the first time since his encounter with Jim Murray last October. Murray collapsed and was counted out with just 34 seconds of the final round left but 24 hours later he was dead. Docherty, now 30, considered his options carefully before deciding, like other boxers before him, to get back in the ring. He challenges Puerto Rico's World Boxing Organisation bantamweight champion Daniel Jiminez.

Docherty's recent comments have an eerie familiarity about them. They are the same as other men have uttered as they have approached their inevitable return to the ring after tragic encounters. Docherty insists that he thinks of Murray every day and there are other boxers like Barry McGuigan and Alan Minter who have never stopped thinking about the men they met who subsequently died.

"I don't look at it like I killed a man. To me I was just out there getting a living and he was just out there trying to get a living. It was a right hard fight and going into the 12th both my eyes were closed and I had trouble seeing but I just tapped him and he went down," Minter, the former undisputed world middleweight champion, said.

In 1978 Minter won the European middleweight championship by stopping the Italian Angelo Jacopucci in round 12. After the fight the boxers met at a restaurant and shook hands, embraced and had a few drinks. Later that night Minter left the restaurant and remembers seeing Jacopucci. "He was leaning over a bridge spewing up, but I thought he'd just had too much to drink," Minter said.

The following morning Minter found out the Italian was in a coma and shortly afterwards he died. "I was gutted. I couldn't even speak. But there is one thing and I'm not bragging, but I wanted Jacopucci's children to be able to say that their dad lost to a champion and not just some mug," said Minter who won the world title 18 months later.

In 1982 young Irish fighter McGuigan was on his way to a world title when he met Young Ali in central London. McGuigan, now a commentator, remembers the harrowing night. "The venue was silent, there were just hundreds of men drinking coffee and watching when we got in the ring. When I hit him on the bridge of the nose I saw his eyes go," McGuigan said.

Ali died two days later from a massive blood clot. McGuigan is still suffering. Three years later McGuigan won the world title when he outpointed Eusebio Pedroza over 15 rounds. The celebrations after the fight were terrific but Barry was crying: "I dedicate this fight to the young lad who died when we fought in 1982," wept the newly crowned world champion. It was a gut-wrenching moment.

"I really didn't want to box again, I felt so guilty. It was so hard for me because it had been me who'd thrown the punch. So, of course, it was my fault," McGuigan said.

The British super-bantamweight champion Richie Wenton is still blaming himself for the death of Bradley Stone after their title fight in April 1994. "Who else is to blame? It was me hitting him, nobody else just me," Wenton said.

In Wenton's first fight after beating Stone he finally turned away and was stopped. "I kept seeing Bradley's face and I couldn't take it," he said at the time. However he has since defended his British title and two weeks ago contacted Docherty to encourage the Glasgow-based boxer to continue. "I told him to remember that time is a great healer," Wenton said.

Docherty knows that tonight's fight will not be easy. Jiminez is a champion of quality, but it is obvious that the Puerto Rican is only part of the problem: it is clear that the memory of Murray will be with Docherty when he walks from the changing-room to the ring this evening.

Three cautionary tales: Living with the echoes of a nightmare

'I really didn't want to box again. It was so hard for me because it was me who'd thrown the punch. It was my fault'

Barry McGuigan

'I was just out there getting a living and he was just out there trying to get a living... I was gutted. I couldn't even speak'

Alan Minter

'Who else is to blame? It was me hitting him, nobody else just me... I kept seeing Bradley's face and I couldn't take it' Richie Wenton

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