The Truth Behind What’s Really Killing Our Fighters

Poor Defensive Skills Are Putting Today's Fighters in Tremendous Danger

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | As a fight fan, it was hard to watch heavyweight knockout artist, Magomed Abdusalamov, take flush shot after flush shot from Mike Perez last Saturday night at the Madison Square Garden Theater in New York.

It was hard to imagine that one could take so many clean, hard punches to the head without suffering some sort of damage.

Sadly, hours after the bout, Abdusalamov would find himself in the intensive care unit of St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in a medically-induced coma to prevent further injury from a small blood clot on the brain.

In the wake of this tragedy, and just about two weeks after the death of featherweight, Frankie Leal, fans and media wonder aloud about things that could be done to keep fighters as safe as possible in the cruelest of all sports.

Plenty can be done at the commission level, where fighter health is evaluated and officials are trained to stop fights before situations become critical. Responsibility also falls on promoters and managers, who continue to book mismatches involving their clients against professional fall guys, already suffering through varying stages of neurological damage.

But ultimately, boxing is, by design, a dangerous sport and even under the best of circumstances, tragedy happens.

On these dark days for the sport, it's easy to point fingers at the officials. Many times, the officials do drop the ball and make poor decisions in what turns out to be life and death situations. But there's another reason our fighters may be in greater danger than ever before.

When it's all said and done, offense don't mean nothing if the defense is not there to offset what he does to you. Or what he tries to do to you. - Bernard Hopkins

What if Abdusalamov had been able to roll with Perez's heavy punches? What if he had shown the slightest hint of effective head movement? What if he had some other solution than to take a punch to give a punch?

Boxing's continued devaluation of technically sound, defense-strong fighting has created a situation where world class fighters, even those with successful amateur careers, are sorely lacking in basic, fundamental defensive skills.

Boxing is like jazz. The better it is, the less people appreciate it. --George Foreman

In an effort to appeal to the short attention spans of UFC-educated casual fight fans, the business guys are pushing their fighters into a style of face-first fighting that may be short-term exciting, but is long-term deadly for both the athletes and the sport.

Just ask Guillermo Rigondeaux, the Cuban star who was almost run off of HBO because of a brilliant one-sided schooling of Nonito Donaire, if skill and guile are still valued in today's game. Ask Floyd Mayweather, Bernard Hopkins, or any other fighter labeled "boring" or "afraid."

Attack is only one half of the art of boxing. --Georges Carpentier

Combine this new caveman, all brawl attitude with the fact that there's a real shortage of world class trainers and the situation becomes truly deadly.

The job of a trainer is not only to wave off a fight when his guy is sustaining too much punishment. More importantly, a trainer is there to make sure that his fighter actually has the skills and strategy in place prior to a bout to avoid taking unnecessary punishment.

Many of today's trainers are dropping the ball when it comes to preparing their fighters for battle. Obviously, too little effort is being placed on teaching basic defensive technique these days. On the flip side, many fighters are needlessly putting themselves at risk because, for whatever the reason, they refuse to take the time to learn boxing fundamentals, considered essential knowledge for all serious pros back just a couple of decades ago.

I'm a boxer who believes that the object of the sport is to hit and not get hit...There's nothing cool about taking punishment. --Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

Again, there's nothing that will make boxing a completely safe sport, but steps can be taken to reduce the risk to sports' bravest athletes. The first step is teaching these warriors basic defense.

Would improved defense have saved the life and livelihood of Frankie Leal and Magomed Abdusalamov, specifically? Maybe, maybe not. But, in the long run, lives would be saved and heartbreak would be averted if fighters were properly trained in both sides of combat.

There is nothing that will hurt boxing more than a steady stream of dead and dying. Boxing's power brokers and the sport's fans need to wake up and reevaluate their own blood lust.

Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and is the author of Notes from the Boxing Underground. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and as Editor-in-Chief of The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing. For breaking news, additional analysis, and assorted crazy commentary, follow him on Facebook, @TheBoxingTribune or on Twitter, @BoxingBTBC.

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