Boxing in many ways is a sport that one central question is asked in just about every variation that one could think of. A question that begins with “What If.” Although there are numerous ways that the “What If’s” can be asked in reference to the sport, when it comes in the days preceding an anticipated rematch, the “What If’s” are relatively simple and most of the time stir conversation.
In the case of the rematch between longtime Heavyweight contenders Alexander Povetkin and Dillian Whyte, there were three “What If’s” that people asked. What if Whyte, who suffered a brutal one punch knockout at the hands of Povetkin last August was climbing back into the ring with Povetkin too soon? What if Povetkin, a boxer/puncher who has never been regarded as a power puncher first and foremost could show that he could produce a similar performance as the first encounter, could he do it again? Perhaps more importantly for Povetkin who dealt with a severe bout of the COVID-19 virus causing him to be hospitalized, which caused a postponement of this rematch for months however, what if, he was not fully recovered?
All the “What If’s” culminated in the rematch taking place on March 27th at the Europa Point Sports Complex in Gibraltar. Normally when discussing a fight that this observer previewed beforehand In the days leading up to the bout, I will try to briefly touch upon some of the key elements, which I mentioned could become a factor when the fight takes place. In this case, this would not be necessary, but the question of “What if Povetkin was fully recovered from COVID-19?,” went through my mind repeatedly as I watched this fight.
From the opening bell, Povetkin seemed lethargic. The lateral and head movement that Povetkin is known for was not there for him in this fight. While under many circumstances particularly when discussing a fighter that is nearing forty-two years old as Povetkin is, it is logical to think that the absence of movement and reaction time is an indication of advancing age. Although there were some who felt that Povetkin was in decline prior to the first fight with Whyte, what stood out more to me that leads me to believe that there is more to it than a fighter in decline is Povetkin frequently had trouble with his balance and it appeared that his equilibrium was compromised in some way.
Some might feel differently because there were occasions throughout the rematch where Povetkin was able to stand up to some of Whyte’s power punches. There were also times however where perhaps because of apparent trouble with his equilibrium that Povetkin did not have punch resistance. While Povetkin did try to battle through these difficulties and did land some offense during the bout, he could not keep Whyte off of him or have any success in disrupting his rhythm. In the fourth round, Whyte staggered Povetkin with a flush right hand that he had been able to land frequently throughout the bout, this sent Povetkin stumbling into the ropes, which also happened more than occasionally due to both balance and apparent equilibrium problems.A follow up barrage highlighted by a left hook to the head sent Povetkin down. Although Povetkin showed his mettle by trying to get up, he staggered into the ropes and this prompted the fight to be stopped.
Even though the story that emerged from this fight was the physical condition of Alexander Povetkin, Dillian Whyte simply did what he needed to do in this rematch and bottom line was able to avenge his loss to Povetkin in their first encounter. Although an obvious question will be who will Whyte fight next and the question regarding Povetkin’s condition does not take away from Whyte’s performance, the question I have asked myself in the days since this rematch took place is whether or not the subject of advanced medical screening needs to be discussed.
It is important for this observer as I have done over the past two decades that I have covered Boxing and by extension combat sports when similar situations have emerged to state for the reader that I am not a medical expert and I do not want to venture into an area that I do not have the expertise or qualifications to offer in depth analysis. As the COVID-19 global epidemic has continued however, there does remain elements of the unknown. Elements such as how long this crisis will last before the world can return to a semblance of normalcy that was experienced prior to COVID-19 , but also and more importantly, what could the long-term effects be for those who unfortunately are stricken with this virus who are able to survive it.
While there have been those both in sport and out who have not experienced major problems related to the virus, others like Povetkin have dealt with more severe cases and in his case, had to be hospitalized. The question of what can be done going forward is not one that I can answer and I would assume that those who are medical experts might say that there is not enough information at present time to know what the long-term impacts on one’s health might be after being infected by COVID-19.
After watching someone like Alexander Povetkin, who has been an athlete for many years and one who has been one of the top contenders in his division for much of the last decade struggle as much as he did with his equilibrium and lacking the reflexes one needs to compete in sports, if this is not a case of a fighter getting old in one fight, further medical screening should at minimum be considered. Although much like anything when it comes to licensing of fighters things might be viewed on a case by case basis, with much still unknown about the COVID-19 virus, perhaps athletic commissions around the world should consider whether a fighter should be granted a license to compete in a relatively short period after battling the COVID-19 virus and more specifically, those who have had severe cases as Povetkin did.
While obviously one cannot generalize something like this and say that one fighter’s case will be exactly like another fighter’s, if Povetkin’s difficulties in his rematch with Dillian Whyte was not due to his age and decline and had more to do with the impacts of having to battle COVID-19, if there is no further screenings from a medical standpoint, which might include a period of inactivity for fighters before being allowed to re-enter competition, Boxing and by extension all combat sports may be entering a dangerous slippery slope that may have consequences,
For Boxing, a sport with no shortage of flaws, criticism, and unfortunately tragedies throughout its history, it is best to get out in front of something that could be a significant issue going forward before it becomes the latest in a long list of things that leaves the sport open to ridicule. If the powers that be in Boxing, which in this case starts with the athletic commissions and regulatory boards around the world that regulate the sport were to turn a blind eye to this and it turns out that Alexander Povetkin is not the only fighter who after suffering from COVID-19 deals with long-term effects that serve as an indication that perhaps they should have not been allowed to compete, such criticism/ridicule will be hard to argue against.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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