By Ron Galarpe
01 Nov 2005
Note: PhilBoxing.com would like to welcome its newest columnist, long time Pacland mainstay and the Philippines' fast rising boxing writer, Ron Galarpe.
It is a week of remembering our dead, and maybe, it is just fitting to look back and be aware that after all, boxing is indeed a dangerous sport.
Just recently, alongside the Yukka Gejon fight in Japan, there was a Filipino named Ayon Naranjo who fought Venezuelan slugger Jorge Linares in a featherweight match. As reported, Naranjo complained of severe headache and stayed in a Japan hospital for a few days. A sigh of relief for all of us when we learned Naranjo is out of danger and is already home.
Last September, Leavander Johnson fought Jesus Chavez in Las Vegas underneath the Robbie Peden-Marco Antonio Barrera super featherweight unification bout. Johnson lost the crown when the referee halted the contest in the 1lth canto of the fight. A few minutes after the fight, as Johnson was approaching his dressing room, he fell down and became unconscious. To cut the story short, five days after his match with Chavez, Johnson was added to the list of ring fatalities since the time this dangerous sport of boxing was invented.
Triggered by the death of Leavander Johnson, the Nevada State Athletic Commission formed a committee to study recent injuries in the ring and will try to come out with ways to make the sport safer. This committee will see to it that the protocols and procedures in any boxing match reflect the best possible thinking regarding the safety of fighters while in the ring. Fact is, Johnson’s death was the sixth in Las Vegas since 1994. In the last four months, two boxers have died and two others had brain injuries.
CT Scan in the Philippines became mandatory
Last year in the Philippines, then GAB chairman Eduardo Villanueva was alarmed of the death of three Filipino boxers all happened within three months. Villanueva required a CT Scan test before boxers could go out fighting in the ring. However, due to the expensive application of a CT Scan, the test was limited only to boxers who are coming out from a recent knockout loss, or after a long layoff, or newcomers in the ring.
Available data on Ring deaths
An American source showed a global number of fatalities in the squared arena. From the year 1900 to current year, there were 1,141 ring deaths. Out of this number, 29 were Filipinos. The Philippines is sadly ranked number 7 of having the most number of casualties in the ring. Not surprisingly, America tops the list at 590 then came England, Australia, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, then the Philippines. There are 11 more countries ranked below our country.
Number of deaths by weight classification
The available data also showed that ring casualties had more numbers in the welterweight division by covering 20%, next is the lightweight division at 18%, followed by the featherweights at 16% then the heavyweights at 15%. The bantamweight and middleweight classes shares the 24% figure. The flyweight division, were most Filipino boxers campaign, is last at 7%.
Decrease on ring casualties
The only good news about these data is that since the year 1920s to 2000s, there was a considerable decrease of ring casualties. From those specific periods, ring deaths had an average decrease of 24%. This probably brought by the consciousness of boxing officials to make the sport more safe and the entry of the new technology like gloves that even though has the same weight as the thinner ones, are padded with thicker layers.
Usual cause of ring deaths
From a literal standpoint, the usual cause of a boxing death is a raptured blood vessel in the brain. However, Second Impact Syndrome has also claimed lives, as have heart conditions and heat injuries.
Mismatches also causes death
One of the worst practices of the sport is the tapping of patsies to be fed to top boxers to further pad their prospect’s record. A patsy is like a live meat ready to be fed to a crocodile who will chew him to death. Such mismatch is an automatic dangerous contest. There had been a number of ring deaths caused by these mismatches that can also be called “suicide”.
Most remembered ring deaths
The most celebrated boxing deaths were dictated by a known champion or happened during a championship fight.
Who could forget Duk-Koo Kim, the Korean lightweight who entered his WBA championship bout with Ray “boom boom” Mancini with one intention, one that he scribbled in his hotel room before the fight – ‘Kill or be killed’. After 12+ rounds of brutal give and take in an outdoor ring at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Mancini finally stopped Kim in the 14th round. Kim never regained consciousness and died five days later at the age of 23. Kim’s mother later committed suicide, the Korean Kim subsequently became a cult hero in his native Korea, where a movie, “Champion” was released about his life.
On May 6, 1995, Colombia’s Jimmy Garcia challenged for Gabriel Ruelas’ WBC super featherweight title. Garcia took blow after blow, round after round, but refused to go down. Finally, the bout was halted in the 11th round. Garcia died 13 days later. He was 23. Profoundly affected by Garcia’s death, Ruelas was stopped in his next fight with Azumah Nelson, and never again achieved his championship form.
Former Canadian champion Cleveland Denny died on July 1, 1980, at the age of 24. He was knocked out in ten rounds by Gaetan Hart on the Duran-Leonard I undercard in Montreal on June 20, 1980.
Davey Moore was featherweight champion of the world when he took on undefeated contender Ultiminio “Sugar” Ramos in Dodger Stadium on March 21, 1963. Ramos knocked Moore down in the 10th round, and Moore’s head crashed against the bottom rope. Moore rose, but the fight was halted after the round had ended. Moore seemed unaffected by the stoppage in the dressing room, but soon after, he complained of a headache and fell unconscious. He died four days later at the age of 29.
The Welsh, British, Commonwealth & European Bantamweight Champion, Johnny Owen traveled to Los Angeles to battle WBC bantamweight champion Lupe Pintor on September 19, 1980. Owen held his own for much of the fight, but after the ninth, Pintor took control, eventually stopping the Welshman in round 12. Owen was taken from the ring on a stretcher, where ignorant fans pelted him and his cornermen with bottles and debris. Owen fell into a coma and less than two months later, he died at the age of 24. Still a hero in his native land, Owen recently had a statue erected in his honor.
Probably, the most remembered Filipino who died in boxing was flyweight Andy Balaba who also came from General Santos City. This boxer could be the most talented Filipino who suffered ring death, though his record does not speak well of his talent, Balaba had the skills to compete and made a good account of himself against top prospects like Jun Resma and Siony Carupo, and then went on to upset former WBC light-flyweight titlist Netroi Sor Vorasingh of Thailand. Andy Balaba was beginning to show signs of promise when tragedy struck. He died in 1982 after a match in Korea where he lost via a 10th round knockout to Korean Hi Shup Sin. Balaba was 28.
Some may say an immediate death in the ring may all be better than carry it for the rest of your life. Muhammad Ali for instance has “Parkinson's desease”, his contemporaries Joe Frazier and George Foreman are normally living up to now. The great Wilfredo Benitez of Puerto Rico suffered impairment, while Tommy Hearns has reportedly also showed signs of “Parkinson’s desease”.
In the Philippines, former Philippine flyweight champion Pretty Boy Lucas seemed to be being sought now by his successful yet grueling career. Lucas’ head continues to drip blood and that he has no medication to apply for it but by only covering the hole with cotton just to stop the blood. We do not know what will be the eventual effect of that injury to Pretty Boy.
But boxing is a spectacle
Some pro-life activist would say that boxing is just as brutal as the “gladiator” spectacle during the Roman Empire. However, in the other side of the sport, boxing supported lives, became a noble source of income, an entertainment and a spectacle that can let us forget our worries in life. More than anything else, boxing could make a country unite just as Manny Pacquiao did for the Filipino nation. If boxing would be hard to stop, the governing bodies should make sure that all safety measures are strictly implemented and suited to the danger that the sport possesses.
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