Boxing has a reputation for truth.
It has a reputation for honesty.
This is built on the idea that, in a ring, there can be no hiding spaces; or so the storyline goes.
Recently though dishonesty in boxing – the use of PEDS, the way things are recorded on Boxrec and the way things are scored by judges – have seriously challenged how the exertions that keep things real have slipped when the obviously phoney are right in front of our eyes.
Of course, these have been raised as issues before and for those who spend their time going on and on about the good old days, the fact is that they had similar issues… they had similar demons… they had similar detractors trying to derail the “truth of the four corners.” There aint nothing new here.
Let us start with Performance Enhancing Drugs… PEDS…
Of course, in the latest fixation on failing tests, Frank Warren is banging the truth drum because his nemesis Eddie Hearn is being castigated for not being honest with Oscar Rivas’ team. This was when there was an issue about a Dillian Whyte UKAD test in the Rivas/Whyte fight. But if you ask Ricky Burns about how honest Warren is, you get a different picture of the moral high ground that Warren has the right to claim.
And then there are the judges; supposed to be faithful and true to the spirit of the sport. They judge honestly and with objectivity at their hands; or so the story goes. And yet if anyone is criticised in the sport more than anyone it is the judges. Unless of course it is the referee. But then again, most referees double as judges and most judges…
The professional game though has some way to go to beat the amateurs. In the year we nearly lost the Olympics to boxing due to corruption at the heart of governing body, AIBA. Take a moment to consider the enormity of that…
In fact let’s take a moment to run through some of the recent issues.
In 2014, at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow one of the big news items was the success of the Northern Irish boxing team. They got 9 medals – NINE – 2 Gold, 2 Silver and 5 Bronze! Now let’s have a wee rollcall – Paddy Barnes, Connor Coyle, Steven Donnelly, Sean Duffy, Joe Fitzpatrick, Sean McGlinchy, Alanna Audley Murphy and Michaela Walsh. The eagle eyed will have spotted there are only eight names… But let me return to the ninth in a moment.
The man in charge of that success, John Conlan, whose son was one of the successful boxers, gave his philosophy at the time in an interview, “Our principles are self belief, sacrifice, discipline and honesty and every one of our boxers has shown them. These are the attributes of world class athletes. I did expect us to be successful here. To me we are one of the best nations in the world in boxing and the Commonwealth Games is a good stage for boxers from Northern Ireland to show off their skills.”
“Our principles are… honesty” Honest toil was being rewarded as Conlan elaborated because the organisation which employed Conlan operated may well have been competitive when it came to funding but it suffered far less for the sport than the boxers as he explained to the Belfast Telegraph, “They have had to sacrifice their jobs and their families. Who is paying the bills when they are here? Nobody. Stevie Ward, so unlucky to lose his opening fight, gave up his job to focus on the Games and other boys have put everything else in their lives on hold to put their heart and soul into it. Somebody has to show real commitment to boxing because you can’t keep asking these boys to turn up with nothing behind them otherwise youngsters interested in boxing will play football instead.”
The man whose name was missed from the list – Michael Conlan – got one of those Golds.
Let us fast forward 2 years…
The Olympics 2016 and Rio and the images that flashed across the world as Michael Conlan was robbed of the opportunity of a medal which his sacrifice clearly deserved. It was one of many decisions at that Olympics that made little sense; unless it was all about corruption. The ultimate price is being paid as AIBA are not running Olympic boxing in Tokyo 2020.
Referees and judging may be one element of supposed or accusatory dishonesty but sins by omission such as hiding things from health professional can simply be – fatal.
Investigations are currently underway in Russia over the death of 28 year old Maxim Dadashev and God forbid they find something in their searches to suggest some form of foul play. The Russian Boxing Federation has warned, however, through their Secretary General, Umar Kremlev that there was “some kind of violation”, adding in a statement: “We lost Maxim Dadashev. He was our young prospect… This happens in any sport. I think some human factors intervened, there was some kind of violation.”
His trainer, Buddy McGirt, most recently telling Sergey Kovalev that if he did not start putting some shots together against Anthony Yarde he was pulling him out, weeks after the Dadashev tragedy, had said afterwards he “could not convince” his fighter to stop, but opted to throw in the towel when he saw him “getting hit with more and more clean shots as the fight went on”.
Boxers being too brave for their own good is an age old problem. It was the same week in which 23 year old Hugo Santillan of Argentina also died after being in a ring. That week was not a good one for pugilism.
Again, let us hope there was no foul play or anything likely to have put the boxer in any kind of danger; unlike a story too close to home, here in Scotland.
I don’t think there has been a story like it.
Young Mike Towell went in to fight in a British title eliminator with a young family having supported him throughout his career. He went in, lost and then lost his life.
The riches and the sacrifice of boxing are well researched and publicised. Towell’s death was, apparently, occasioned by a brain injury. Around three weeks before, according to a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) into his death, he had suffered a brain bleed which may have contributed to that night’s events.
Much was made of his process in the medical treatment he had not sought prior to the fight which, had he done so, could have saved his life. It would have cost him the fight and it would have been postponed or cancelled. It may have cost him his career and his livelihood but loved ones know that any sacrifice is not worth it; acceptable sacrifices might be OK.
Towell had sailed through medicals, not brought to the staff who looked at him, his troubles with headaches which included a visit to hospital due to the pain he was feeling days before the fight.
He was less than honest, but he also asked for a CT scan and was told that he was “not eligible for it”.
The riches of the sport, the trappings of fame, the opportunity to be a hero for even a day, all of these have costs associated. For Towell it was the ultimate pay day and not in a good way. 24 hours after collapsing we started the grief process.
The referees, the judges, the officials, the medical staff, trainers, corner people, and the boxers themselves are self regulating in so many ways. It would be very difficult to remove that completely without a major overhaul of the system that might cost as much as a fighter’s purse in a small hall show at the top of the bill. However, many in the game claim it would cost Millions.
Is that the cost of monitoring honesty?
Bob Arum has spoken of the need for testing to be paid for by the sport but with so many regulations attached to so many bodies that govern their part of the sweet science, how could that work?
There are suggestions that the very first fighter killed in the ring by someone on PEDs could lead to a murder conviction. Perhaps that would change the focus? According to the legal fraternity, that won’t happen. Sports have self governing in place so there is not a locus for the legal bodies to act. So, what will effect change? Who knows but one thing is for sure, non boxing people are watching, and they don’t like what they see.