Friday, August 30, 2019

Can Boxing Safety Standards Improve?

It is perhaps a question that is as old as the sport itself. How can safety in Boxing improve? Last week here at The Boxing Truth® readers saw a column penned by yours truly that discussed the resurgence and one might argue rapid expansion of the sport in Bareknuckle form. While the intent of the column did discuss the benefits of the expansion for athletes across all combat sports disciplines, it focused more on the hurdles the Bareknuckle form of the sport could face with regard to licensing and regulation as various Bareknuckle Boxing promotions look to expand their ability to stage cards in more states here in the United States as well as internationally. Obstacles that primarily revolve around the safety of the fighters competing.

Over the course of the column, readers saw me reference two recent tragedies that have hit the sport of Boxing where two Jr. Welterweight fighters suffered severe injuries in two separate fights that unfortunately resulted in both fighters dying from their injuries days apart from each other. The two fighters were Maxim Dadashev and Hugo Santillan. As often happens when circumstances like the unfortunate deaths of these two men occur, there is often a great deal of discussion, debate, and calls for bans of the sport. Although such discussion and hysteria in its negative form are certainly understandable under the circumstances, this observer resisted discussing the topic at length both in written form and publicly beyond joining others in the Boxing community in extending my condolences to the families and camps of both fighters.

Some might ask why I have waited until now to share my thoughts on the tragedies that took place one month ago. First, I want to give a little personal perspective as to how I became aware of the circumstances surrounding Maxim Dadashev’s injuries. As anyone who covers sports for both their passion and their vocation can relate to, covering Boxing for yours truly is a full-time year-round practice. The evening of Dadashev’s bout against Subriel Matias on July 23rd, was a rare occasion where yours truly did not cover a card. I only became aware of the circumstances when like any fan, I turned on the broadcast of the fight that was televised by ESPN+ here in the United States. Unfortunately, at the moment of my turning the broadcast on, the fight, which was on the undercard of a Lightweight bout between unbeaten contenders Teofimo Lopez and Masayoshi Nakatoni, had been stopped. I did however, see the immediate aftermath of the stoppage and like virtually everyone else in the sport, I kept a close eye on the reports that followed in the days following the bout and Dadashev’s collapsing and being rushed to the hospital immediately after he attempted to leave the ring.

If anyone reading this column is wondering why I would go into that much detail regarding how I became aware of the tragic circumstances of Maxim Dadashev, it is simply because I want the reader to know that The Boxing Truth® is more than a name and an outlet owned and operated by yours truly, it is also about being honest with the reader at all times. Though I did attempt to watch the full fight in the days that followed with the expectation that I would at minimum be asked for my thoughts regarding the fight and the stoppage, particularly after the news of Dadashev’s passing became public, I was unable to access it due to the decision of ESPN to remove the fight from its ESPN+ platform.

Although some might be critical of that decision, as I said on social media shortly after I found out the fight had been removed, though it does not in any way change what happened, it is understandable under the circumstances why a network would not want a tragic event to remain available for viewing on their platform. While the tragedy surrounding the twenty-eight year old Maxim Dadashev received significant attention due largely to the platform where the fatal injuries he suffered had aired, twenty-two year old Hugo Santillan died in the days following his fight against Eduardo Abreu.

As was the case with the Maxim Dadashev bout, I did not have the benefit of being able to view any footage from that fight either. Instead of focusing on each bout and what may have been missed opportunities to stop both fights before the fatal injuries were sustained as I cannot adequately comment on bouts I have not seen with my own eyes, this column is about what can be done to improve safety going forward.

It is important for me to state that I am not a medical expert and anything I say going forward will be strictly my point of view as to what I believe might help improve things not just for Boxing, but for all combat sports in the future. The first thing I have thought about frequently over the last month could be the implementation of a mandatory recovery time between fights for both fighters.

This may go against the old adage of the more active a fighter is, the better prepared they are for big opportunities and the better their odds of being in fighting condition. Even though I am normally an old-school Boxing purist, how many times have we seen fights where either a fighter suffers a knockout and is back in the ring in a relatively short period of time, or a fight where two combatants each sustain punishment throughout the bout? Perhaps a mandatory three to six month recovery period would ensure that fighters have the best possible opportunity to allow their bodies to heal. This should be a universal standard in my view especially in cases where a fighter suffers a concussion or other forms of head trauma.

The second idea that has come to mind may be difficult to implement simply because there is no universal standard in terms of licensing and regulation. Keeping in mind my previous statement of not being a medical expert, I would not be against the idea of further neurological screening for fighters prior to a commission or regulatory board licensing a fighter to compete.  As someone who is viewing things from the outside, I feel this may spot potential warning signs particularly in regard to fighters who have suffered concussions in the past as to the risk of possible brain injuries like the ones Dadashev and Santillan suffered.

Although I have heard some fans suggest over the last month that a way to improve safety standards significantly would be to once again reduce round distances and perhaps reduce the length of rounds, I am not ready at the present time to form an opinion on those suggestions because I believe that there is more that could be and should be done to improve things in regard to both medical concerns and the decisions of whether or not to license a fighter to compete. A major issue with what I am suggesting here is there is no universal standard for regulation and licensing. What I mean by this is if a fighter were to be denied a license by a state athletic commission, it would not necessarily prevent a fighter from seeking licensing in another state or country with a less reputable athletic commission. This flaw, which I believe would be corrected by the introduction of an international regulatory board of control to oversee Boxing and other combat sports opens not only the sports, but also any athletic commission up for potential scrutiny if in the event a tragedy were to occur.

While it is important to say again that I am not a medical expert, the reader whether they be a fan, a fighter, a commissioner, a medical doctor, or someone else who is involved in the sport of Boxing and combat sports as a whole should view this column and my ideas as suggestions. Unfortunately, until there is a universal regulatory and licensing standard put in place, which one would hope would include as thorough medical testing/screening as is available, it will be up to the individual state athletic commissions and international regulatory boards to implement changes.

The bottom line is any athlete who competes in Boxing and all other combat sports deserves to know that the commission licensing them has put them through as thorough a testing/screening protocol as possible. Even though changes may not completely eliminate the dangers/risks that come with combat sports, at least changes and putting more extensive protocols in place will allow regulators to be as prepared as possible.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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