By Lewis Calvert @BigWriteHook
The boxing community is yet again grieving for a fighter who has lost his life after suffering a brain injury in the ring. The tragic news that Patrick Day has died is the most recent in string of heart-breaking fatalities to have cast a depressing shadow over the sport of boxing, but I believe here is still hope for the future.
There is hope that out of this darkness shines a light on fighter safety, hope that fans will call for more action to protect them and hope that promoters and organisers are not only willing to listen, but willing to implement change. Because if they are, I have five suggestions that I hope could save the future of the sport and the lives of those who make us love it.
Disclaimer: I am not a neurological scientist, so there are many flaws to these arguments and alternative ideas I have missed out. My motive is only to protect fighters.
Reduce the round length from 3 minutes to 2 minutes 30 seconds
This is not all that drastic. After all, we are used to fighters “feeling each other out” for the first 30 seconds of a round and often we see them running for the last 30 seconds of a stanza, having done enough work earlier in the round to secure it on the judges’ score cards. I see this measure as a way for fighters to preserve energy, reduce punishment and speed up the inevitable points victory.
Increase the recovery time in-between rounds from 1 minute to 1 minute 30 seconds
This added 30 second respite has so many benefits: it allows the fighters to gather their senses and go out into the next round with renewed vigour which is great for the viewer, but it also gives medical staff more time to assess the boxer and (less importantly) it gives advertisers more time to target fans, which in turn could pay for the medical staff and increase the fighter’s earnings. Everybody wins!
Reduce the number of rounds from 12 to 10, but if there is a draw, have a deciding 11th round
Very rarely do we see a fight won or lost in the final two rounds, particularly when a fighter is behind on the scorecards. Those immediate examples that you’re thinking of, as exciting as they undoubtedly are, are the exception, not the rule.
What is far more common is a fighter ahead on the scorecards, dancing his way to a points victory or alternatively two sloppy fighters hugging it out through sheer exhaustion until they hear the final bell – which nobody wants to see.
We are however, sometimes left with the bitter taste of dissatisfaction when a fight is declared a draw. So, in order to add a bit more drama to the show, I propose a deciding 11th round, which is still less fighting time than the current 12.
These three timing measures have the safety and concern for the fighter at the forefront; although, I also think it would deliver a better product for the viewer. Just as we see the all action fights of the 3 x 3 minute rounds in the Olympics, I believe giving pro boxers reduced round times and increased recovery time would mean they would have the energy to throw more power punches to end a fight instantly, rather than the continuing with a prolonged concussive punishment and therein lies my fourth point.
Reduce the weight of boxing gloves from 10oz to 8oz
It seems odd to save fighters from serious brain injury, you make gloves even thinner to increase the chances of them being knocked out. This is however, one way to reduce prolonged, albeit softer, concussive blows to the head, which can cause bleeds on the brain. The theory is simple by knocking the fighter out in one punch, they don’t take further damage. Floyd Mayweather has called for boxing to move to 8oz gloves too.
Not only could it help apparently “feather fisted” fighters do more damage, the casual audience loves to see knockouts and it could improve the popularity of the sport by increasing KO’s. This could also be lowered as you go down the divisions.
Perhaps more controversially still is my fifth suggestion. It is not one I am screaming for and therefore I wouldn’t like to argue to the hilt for it as it could change the course and culture of boxing forever.
5 KO’s and you’re out!
This is strictly about KO’s to the head. We hear calls for David Price or Amir Khan to retire every time they get knocked out, but what if we took the power out of their hands? It would, I imagine, see a lot of cornermen retire their boxer during the fight if they were at risk of being KO’d. This would ensure the fighter lives to fight another day.
Obviously, the entire culture of boxing is based on not quitting and never giving up, but as we see in UFC, a loss or tapping out is not frowned upon at all and is certainly not the end of a fighter’s career.
I know on the one hand: I am suggestion several measures to increase knockouts and on the other I am saying your career is over if you are on the receiving end of 5 of them, but nothing could reduce brain injury more than not getting hit in the first place. It could also mean boxers are match more accordingly to avoid big hitters if they have been knocked out a few times before.
So there are my suggestions. I write this piece knowing full well that it is much easier to criticise than it is to offer solutions, but I offer my attempt (with limited research) as something to begin a discussion to bridge the gap between fighter safety and fan entertainment. I welcome all and any other suggestions…