Does Blackwell's Injury Prove It's Time For Boxing To Change?

Nick Blackwell remains in a coma after Saturday night's fight with Chris Eubank Jr. Instead of placing blame, we should be asking whether boxing can do more to prevent accidents like this from happening.
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Nick Blackwell remains in a coma after Saturday night's fight with Chris Eubank Jr. Instead of placing blame, we should be asking whether boxing can do more to prevent accidents like this from happening.

Boxing is a sport of split seconds and extremes. In light of Nick Blackwell's admittance to hospital after his fight with Chris Eubank Jr, the usual questions have been thrown up about the moral aspects of the sport and in particular the individuals who are supposed to guide the safety of the fighters within those dangerous 36 minutes.

The finger of blame in certain quarters has been pointed in the direction of referee Victor Loughlin and Blackwell's trainer Gary Lockett. In a one sided contest in which Eubank Jr pretty much won every round, their actions in not saving Blackwell from the barrage of punches he received towards the later rounds may seem wrong in retrospect. Unfortunately the sport of boxing doesn't have the benefit of hindsight. In the heat of a contest, dominance does not signify a finishing line and certainly not when the boxer on the receiving end is still answering back. If that was the case boxing matches would be reduced to second guessing. As much as the wave of sympathy for Nick Blackwell's condition has been unanimous amongst boxing fans, make no mistake, most watch the sport for the violence and are pretty quick in their disdain when they don't get their full share of the action.

Of all that occurred in the ring on Saturday night, perhaps the most talked about incident is what happened between rounds. In particular from Chris Eubank Snr, whose vocal actions in his son's corner at the end of the eighth round seemed to have been leaped on by those looking for a scapegoat for those sad scenes at the end of the fight. To reiterate what he said in full: 'If the referee doesn't stop the fight I don't know what to tell you, but I will tell you this: one if he doesn't stop it and we keep on beating him like this, he is getting hurt; two, if it goes to the decision, why didn't the referee stop the fight, I don't get why?'

There have been two reactions to those comments, from the suggestion that he was seriously concerned about Blackwell's wellbeing to the idea that he was psychologically confirming the idea of dominance his son had in the fight. Certainly at no point did he urge Eubank Jr to ease off on his opponent as some have suggested. The truth actually lies probably between the two. Eubank Snr is savvy but there's no doubt the spectre of that infamous night with Michael Watson still hangs on him. He talks constantly about fighters putting their lives on the line almost in every press conference he appears in. As much of a pantomime figure as he can be, you can almost see his face tighten as he does so. Those aren't the actions of a bullshit figure either. That's someone who's lived in a tragic moment in the sport and someone who also understands the hypocrisy of it as well as anybody.

Perhaps then, in light of what occurred on Saturday night and in a fight game that historically and literally has blood on its hands, it's time for change. Just as other audience driven sports have had to embrace technology as a third arm, maybe the time has come for boxing to follow suit.

The necessity for change in a sport that's hardly moved in the last century could be well overdue. Just like Grand Prix changed its rules after the Senna tragedy, is boxing so stuck in romantic traditionalism and plain arrogance that it continues to put fighters' health at risk and not follow suit? Could the sport not live with subtle changes such as a second referee casting an influence via video link, or even extended round breaks every three to administer health checks on the fighters involved, to at least cut down on the risks involved?

Purists of course (and I'm one of them) will hate this. Boxing seems one of the last sports to hold out against the PR friendly media culture that seems to be wiping out characters and competitiveness like line drawings. Somehow it still seems less corporate and the most adrenalin based pastime there is and maybe as football goes ever more commercial, the last working class sport to draw a direct line from its audience to its roots. It's a thin line however between championing that ethic and ignoring the potential pit falls and injuries that always hang over it. Try saying that the sport shouldn't consider change to anyone whose friend or family member has been seriously injured in the ring.

Another fight on Saturday night, much more dangerous in principle, was Kell Brook's mismatched defence against an inferior opponent in Kevin Bizier in Sheffield. Brook after all is a world class welterweight, who through no fault of his own is being forced to dispatch fighters who don't really belong in the same ring with him. He is also having to do that job as viciously as possible in order to maintain his reputation in a sport where momentum and performance is everything.

The sight of a stricken Bizier flailing around the ring like a vine in a storm wind as Brook took pot shots at him was in many ways another indictment of the dangers of boxing. The fact that it ended mercifully early certainly shouldn't deflect away from the idea that the fight game is not a perfect one. Often matches are uneven and when they are there is the serious potential despite the rabid appetite from a worldwide audience of boxers putting their lives on the line.

Mercifully the spectre of tragedy looms relatively low in boxing but it will always have the potential to show its head. When it does it's important to remember boxers in the light of respect their profession deserves. It's also extremely important that the sport goes on. For virtually every fighter throughout the world and working for a better life - it's the only thing they know.