The Final Knockout


I need your help – something’s playing on my mind. It’s about a sport I have enjoyed for many years and have taught to scores of amateurs and professionals. I am referring to the noble art. To pugilism. Also known as boxing.

One autumn day, way back, when James Callaghan was Prime Minister, the year that Manchester United won the cup for the fourth time[1] and beer cost 34p a pint – I’m referring to 1977 of course – I walked into my university sports hall and a fellow came over and said, “’Ere, we’re looking for someone your size. Ever tried boxing, mate?”

BEN-DHe led me to the ring where we sparred. Being a cunning cove, he made sure his blows just missed while allowing a few of my powder puff punches to penetrate his guard.

Afterwards he praised me for my natural ability, superb athleticism, lightning fast reactions. Perhaps he should have added gullibility to the list but the university was in search of a light-heavyweight that year…

BEN-CFrom that day, a love was born and I boxed seriously for many years. I found it a fascinating, challenging and rewarding sport. And I learned an interesting fact about myself: I am a complete coward. Not getting hit was my number one priority.

I also learned that being defensive forced my opponents to leave openings when they tried to hit me. Openings I’d then exploit…which, as it turns out, can be a pretty useful tactic in life.

Moving forward, a few weeks ago, a boxer named Nick Blackwell suffered a bleed on the brain after a British title fight against Chris Eubank Jr., and he was placed in a medically induced coma, which fortunately he has come out of. You may remember that in 1991, Michael Watson fought Eubank Snr. and suffered a similar injury, rendering him blind and wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life.

shark-674867_1920So how dangerous is boxing? The Journal of Combative Sport[2] estimates that between 1890 and 2007, there have been 1,216 deaths in boxing, which is an average of 10 per year…anyone who didn’t sleep through my shark attack post this past March 24th may notice this is exactly the same annual fatality average.

But this number doesn’t include the thousands who have suffered debilitating injuries…just think of the tragic health challenges that Muhammad Ali currently faces today. Fact One: hard punches to the head kill brain cells. But there’s also Fact Two – so do dozens of things including stress, dehydration, paint fumes, food additives and smoking[3].

boxing-gloves-free imagesWhy do people box? There are two main reasons: one is they enjoy the sport. Another is that for less resourced members of society, it may offer a way to independence. In some cases, it can lead to great riches. Floyd “Money” Mayweather is apparently worth $650 million.[4]

So, my question is: should boxing be banned?

After all, don’t we live in a civilized society, in which men (and increasingly, women) should find other – safer – ways to take exercise, to compete? Or – be it motor-racing, off-piste skiing or piranha tickling – if someone is prepared to take the risk, is it right for someone else to try and stop them?

The pro-boxing lobby inevitably points to the sport as being character-building. That it turns lives around. Crime, drug and alcohol abuse can end when young people, via boxing, find purpose, discipline and goals. I’ve certainly met young men with criminal records who never put a foot wrong after they’d stepped in the ring.

What about other sports? Just how safe are they?

ping-pong-2-1416494-638x405-1Well, 37 people lost their lives in the 2002 US ski season. Between 1997 and 2006, 7 people died playing table tennis in Germany[5]. And over 100 deaths occur annually in the US from horse riding[6]. Do we hear people clamoring to have these sports banned?

There is, however, another aspect to the argument: Only in boxing do you intend to hurt, incapacitate, render an opponent unconscious. Many people say this moral dimension makes its continuation unacceptable. But others argue fighting is part of human nature. Ban it and it will only move underground, where there will be less regulation and more injuries, more deaths.

boxing-gloves-and-dumbells-1-1531474-640x480So on the one hand, boxing can be enjoyable, character-building and crime-reducing. It can give at-risk youth a shot at economic independence. On the other hand, it is morally indefensible because it causes serious injuries and even death.

Here’s where I need your help. What I hope to have done is present two sides of an argument that I have been turning over in my mind for years. But I’d like to know what you think:

Should boxing be banned? Or should this sport be allowed to continue?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you.

boxing-gloves-free images

4 thoughts on “The Final Knockout

  1. Well, i’d guess I’d have to say banned, on the basis that the intent is to knockout. But a lot of sports are based on combat – all field sports included. Chess too. Maybe the answer is more regulation and just counting points scored by hits. Then it would be more like fencing for example where the goal is just to touch the other player.


    • Yes, but I fear that professional boxing is a multi-million dollar sport and if you took away the knockout, ticket sales would collapse. Unfortunately, knockouts do seem to drive excitement and attendance. Without economic incentive, the sport would likely become as popular as fencing, ie not very. We need to somehow create a points system that still attracts the crowds, but of course that’s a great challenge.


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