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Tragedy raises greater boxing safety concerns

Credit: SNS Group
Credit: SNS Group
Credit: SNS Group

Mike Towell entered the ring to fight his opponent, Welshman Dale Evans, on the 29th September 2016. He was unbeaten in 12 fights with 8 knockouts under his belt, a hardy fighter who had title fights in his horizon.

Towell would suffer a knockout loss in the fifth round. 24 hours later, after being rushed to Queen Elizabeth University hospital, he would pass away due to the severe bleeding on his brain. He was 25 years old. The young Scotsman’s untimely passing again has raised questions on how the BBBC (British Boxing Board of control) can improve the safety procedures in place for its fighters.

Months prior to this tragedy, Nick Blackwell suffered bleeding on the skull after a defeat to Chris Eubank Jr. He is still barely recovering after being placed in a medically-induced coma for almost a week. BBBC secretary, Robert Smith, commented on Blackwell’s case; “Every boxer who gets into a boxing ring knows the risks. Nick Blackwell wanted to be a boxer…he knew the risks.” Mandatory anaesthetists were ringside on the night Mike Towell passed away, as they were for Blackwell’s fight. Fighters must go through rigorous medical checks and annual MRI scans just to attain their boxing licenses. Despite this, the cruel news came to light that Towell was actually complaining of migraines in the lead up to the fight that would trigger his fatal injuries.

Calls for boxing to be banned, a recurrence when these events occur, has been rightly quashed. Underground boxing only becomes more unrestrained and dangerous for fighters. The reality is that the fighters themselves, men who train for and earn a living in combat, may simply need more education on their own safety in the ring. Warning signs and cautionary attitudes, particularly to the complex nature of head injuries, seem to be aspects of a fighter’s psyche that don’t receive enough attention. Deaths in modern boxing are rare, and always shattering within the boxing community when they do occur. In the 21st century, Towell is the sixth boxer to have died in the ring or as a result of injuries sustained there. Since the Marquis of Queensbury rules were instated in 1884, roughly 500 boxers have lost their lives in the ring. Medical standards continue to improve, year on year. However, it is ultimately clear that the risks of boxing, as with any contact sport, must be rigorously pressed upon its competitors.

Mike Towell’s passing was a cruel reminder of the risks a fighter is taking upon going toe-to-toe with an opponent whose job is simply to inflict damage on them. Greg Menzies, a boxing coach in Towell’s native Dundee, recalled Towell’s grit and fight; “He always gave 100%, he was always coming forward, there was no going back with him. He was a wee tough nut, he was just all heart.” The harsh realities of boxing are part of what makes the sport a special case when it comes to education in conduct when injury is sustained. The tragedy of Towell’s death should trigger greater concern within a sport that is evidently still lacking in adequate protection for competitors. The hope remains for much-needed reforms in medical regulations to give fighters the support and knowledge they require each and every time they put on the gloves.

RIP Mike Towell.