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Nick Blackwell's plight a nightmare reality jolt for boxing

By Steve Wellings

Published 29/03/2016

Pain game: Eye injury to Nick Blackwell before his hospitalisation
Pain game: Eye injury to Nick Blackwell before his hospitalisation

Nick Blackwell's brave effort on Saturday evening ended with the deposed British champion being placed into an induced coma.

Headlining live on Channel 5 against Chris Eubank Jr, Blackwell's injuries highlight the brutality that runs alongside the beauty of boxing.

Such incidents often lead to a period of introspection within the boxing community and voices from outside questioning the very existence of the sport.

Read more: Eubank Sr is praised for key in-fight intervention

Despite initially appearing lucid and able to stand in centre ring to receive the verdict, Blackwell was soon given oxygen and stretchered from the ring. Reports then indicated that he had suffered a bleed on the brain although no surgery was required.

Carl Frampton broke off from an Easter family holiday to reinforce the point that boxers literally put their lives on the line each time they enter the ring for the public's entertainment.

"Remember what happened to Nick Blackwell & others when you sit behind a keyboard giving abuse. All fighters, at all levels, deserve respect," tweeted Frampton.

The events will have brought back harrowing memories for Frampton's mentor and former world featherweight champion Barry McGuigan.

Nigerian Young Ali died after a fight with McGuigan back in 1982 and, in his autobiography, the Clones Cyclone wrote: "I still think of Young Ali every day, wondering about his wife and child. I knocked him out in the sixth round and he never recovered. It had a dramatic effect on me.

"I really didn't want to fight on but I did, and in my next fight I honestly pulled my punches. I had the guy in trouble and he was expecting me to finish him off but instead I hesitated and he nearly took my head off with a left hook.

" I realised I had to get the job done but I cried in the dressing room afterwards."

Belfast's former British champion and world title challenger Neil Sinclair boxed 41 times in a 15-year career and appreciates the dangers pugilists face each time they enter the ring. "It's every boxer's worst nightmare," he said. "I watched the fight and Blackwell was a very brave and game warrior who never took a backward step.

"Every now and again something like this happens in boxing unfortunately. He did take a lot of punches but at the time he would have only thought about winning, not that he was going to get hurt. That's for the referee and the corner to deal with."

Suggestions have since been made that experienced Scottish referee Victor Loughlin - who officiated Carl Frampton's 2014 win over Hugo Cazares - or Blackwell's trainer Gary Lockett should've withdrawn the fighter. The British Boxing Board of Control have defended the actions of both men, saying they were happy with the decisions made by all parties on the night. Sinclair believes that it's easy to point fingers in hindsight.

"It's a tough job because people will say a fight was stopped too early if that's the case," he said. "We can be wise after the event but who knows when the damage was done? It could've been early on.

"Blackwell was never seriously shaken during the fight and he was throwing back. Mercifully his eye went in the 10th round and it was stopped."

After the bout Chris Eubank Sr admitted that his mind flashed back to 1991 when opponent Michael Watson sustained severe injuries in their contest. Inadequate medical provision in the immediate aftermath forced major changes in British boxing resulting in the type of rapid response that Blackwell received on Saturday night.

The victor and new British champion Chris Eubank Jr will also be suffering, having administered the telling blows. The 26-year-old labelled his stricken opponent a "true fighter" and moderated his post-fight celebrations accordingly.

"Eubank Jr will have his dad, who went through a similar situation, so that family will know just how dangerous and tragic the sport can be," said Sinclair.

"Senior will be able to advise his son from experience and there'll be no celebrations until Blackwell's back on his feet again. Credit goes to the medical team and the British Board who are a lot better now. They've learned a lot of lessons from the past. Without all of that, boxing wouldn't be the sport that it is today.

"The boxing community fight each other but then come together when something happens. Hopefully in time Nick can recover and come back to live a normal, healthy life."

Double Commonwealth Games gold medallist Paddy Barnes acknowledges that boxers know the risks, but he doesn't think the potential to get hurt is a factor for any competitor.

"Things like this are such a rare occurrence. Every contact sport has an element of risk and you have to live with it in each of them," said Barnes.

"It is so rare that it is the last thing on your mind when you go into a ring. It's like when you drive a car, even if you just jump in to go to the shop there is a risk of crashing, but it doesn't put you off driving."

Barnes' close friend, world amateur bantamweight champion Michael Conlan, believes boxing is a relatively low-risk sport.

"There are more concussions and head injuries in rugby, but you don't hear as much about it," said Conlan.

"There are lots of safety precautions in boxing and other sports are just as risky. In rugby player get hit by heavy guys at 40 or 50mph."

Belfast Telegraph

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