I spent part of Sunday morning watching a re-run of the Tyson Fury v Deontay Wilder prize fight, originally shown on BT Sport Box Office for a trifling £25. I paid bugger all, having found a long since removed recording on You Tube. And what a fight it was. As with all great fights it was both grotesque and compelling. The sweet science shouldn’t be a term accurately describe a fight between one bloke weighing the best part of 18 stone and the other nearly 20, yet in a way it was. At 6’9″, Fury appears to be a wonderfully technically boxer, although Wilder is a concussive big hitter and little else. I couldn’t take my eyes of it, yet I knew what I was watching was life-changing to both participants and not in a good way.
You do not have to have to have been trained in the subject of acquired brain injury, as I have, to understand that the punches that ended with both fighters on the canvas at various stages of the contest were causing permanent damage. Unlike many parts of the body, the brain won’t repair itself as it bounces around inside someone’s skull. And in boxing, the aim, whatever else anyone ever tells you, is to render the opponent unconscious. On two occasions, Fury went down to powerful blows, Wilder took many more and appeared to be a human punch bag from the middle rounds onwards. If this was a rugby match, each fighter would have had numerous head injury assessments, so many that the fight may have lasted all night, but in boxing the referee allows a fight to go on until one man is so hopelessly battered that he can no longer defend himself, always assuming he knows where he is and what he’s doing. Wilder didn’t seem to be aware of either.
For all the grotesque controlled violence, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. From what I have learned, Wilder hits as hard as any boxer in history and when Fury crashed to the floor, you could believe it. But what I remembered most of all was Wilder’s dazed expression, long before Fury finally nailed him in the 11th round. He had to be concussed long before then, yet still he was taking ferocious punches from a 20 stone man.
Today I read that Wilder has no intention of retiring, something he really should consider doing. He’s 35 now and whilst the last thing a fighter loses is his punch power, everything else starts to slow down, including reflexes and the ability to take punches. Will he end up like the legion of ex-fighters who fought far too long and now stumble unsteadily, slurring their words as they go along? Even the greatest fighters like Muhammad Ali suffered horrendous brain damage from fighting and particularly from fighting for far too long. You would not wish Wilder to experience many more nights than he went through with Fury.
Fury will fight on for the glory but mainly the money. I’d guess he already enough money with which to retire. The only question in his mind will be this: how much is enough?
I won’t pay for his next fight because I don’t pay for pay per view events and, quite honestly, I don’t care that much about boxing. But if it’s easily available, I’ll doubtless try to pretend that neither combatant could possibly suffer long term damage or even death.
I admire the man and woman who gets into the ring to fight. I couldn’t do it because I don’t have the strength and I don’t have the bottle. And more than that I’d like to preserve as much as my brain as possible for later in life. When you get hit on the head for a living there’s the potential for a lot of bad things to happen.