Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Boxing: Boxers face a tough health battle

This you will not believe. To repel John Caldwell's title challenge at the King's Hall all those years ago, Freddie Gilroy subjected himself to the mental, and physical, torture of shedding 60 lbs (over four stone) in weight.

This you will not believe. To repel John Caldwell's title challenge at the King's Hall all those years ago, Freddie Gilroy subjected himself to the mental, and physical, torture of shedding 60 lbs (over four stone) in weight.

Ulster's double British and Empire champion had ballooned to a portly 12st 9lbs after paying an overweight forfeit prior to a mid-summer Wembley fight, but miraculously cheated the scales by weighing only 8st 4lbs 11ozs on the day of a Caldwell classic he won in nine blistering rounds.

"I lived on steak, fish and a mountain of salads for two murderous months," confessed Gilroy in a week in which two of sport's leading physicians expressed concern about what they felt was a greater threat to young boxers than a punch on the chin - dehydration brought on by strict dieting and low fluid intake for long spells before a contest.

"In no way does this lead to a happy or healthy lifestyle," writes Belfast doctor, Sean Donnelly, in a paper club trainers should read, and digest.

"Most athletes in training carry water bottles, yet you rarely, if ever, see one in a boxer's gym-bag. And this is where he errs badly. Even a five per cent decrease in fluid consumption during strenuous exercise can reduce muscle capacity by up to 30 per cent."

Dr Donnelly continues: "While severe dehydration may result in collapse, a seizure, or brain damage, mild dehydration can slow a fighter's reflexes or stamina, and seriously affect his, or her, energy count.

"No under 16-year-old boxer should be allowed to risk his health, and future, by eating or drinking less in the interest of weight-making.

"It could stunt his growth, damage vital organs, or cause mental problems.... totally unacceptable, in my book."

Now secretary of amateur boxing's European Medical Commission, Sean Donnelly has been 30 years in the sport, all of that time in an unpaid capacity.

"We try hard to think positively, and help kids achieve something," he adds.

"But I was less than enchanted to hear of a schoolteacher's anxiety over the pale, drawn look of two pupils in her class, both boxers, and their poor concentration and attention-span.

"Were they denying themselves food and fluids, the body's energy source? It was up to their coach, or trainer, to find out and take appropriate action, and soon!"

Margaret Goodman agrees entirely. Best remembered as the ringside physician who wisely decided that Wayne McCullough was shipping too much punishment in his last big fight, Margaret's 'Fight Doctor' column in The Ring has elevated her to celebrity status and never fails to set tongues wagging. No sooner does a new face join a club than the coach begins to assess the weight at which he will box, she says, and it's naïve to think that a boy may gain a competitive edge from a low body-weight.

"Food equals energy, and without enough food our bodies will not perform," writes Goodman.

"All organ systems are affected. Dizziness, fatigue, muscle cramp, and loss of snap and co-ordination - they are some of the most common symptoms."

Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson were among the first all-time greats to employ their own private nutritionists, and I can't recall either champion having to fight to make weight, or looking dehydrated.

Or Freddie Gilroy, for that matter, except on one isolated occasion in Brussels.

This was in a fight for the vacant European title, and Pierre Cossemyns, whom he had previously knocked out in the King's Hall, stopped him in nine. Once Britain's most exciting fighter, Gilroy had to work his butt off to make bantamweight, but he never took risks.

Freddie knew the dangers of fluid loss, and drank water until it ran out of his ears. He was 26 when he retired from the ring, 28 times a winner in 31 pro fights.

SHANE Mosley on the slide? You've got to be kidding after that repeat win over Fernando Vargas in Las Vegas.

If Mosley might have been lucky to avoid defeat five months ago - Vargas was ahead on points before suffering a nasty eye injury - the 34-year-old, three-weight world champion left nothing to chance this time, and won on a sixth-round knock-out.

Shane's wife has been pleading with him to quit while on top, but Jack, his dad and now trainer again, could have the last word about that!

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