Boxing has seen a lot of tragic deaths recently. In fact, there have been 4 in 2019 alone. That is a record in the sport and double compared to 2018. The most recent death was boxer Patrick Day who suffered a brutal hit that ultimately caused traumatic brain damage. Following that fight, many people have called to make the sport of boxing safer. Hosts Sharp and Shapiro had Terence Howard trainer Red Spikes join the show on October 7th, 2019 to discuss the increased number of deaths and boxing overall.
“so Red why is this happening? This is another tragic story. This is the third boxer that we have had to cover that has lost his life fairly recently. What is going on in your sport?”
“It’s a variety of things. I don’t know specifically about these last 3 this year. I’m not accusing anybody of anything because you’re getting punched in the head. These kinds of things are liable to happen regardless of any kind of illegal substances that are being taken or anything like that. One thing I do know is that steroids is a prevalent part of the sport. I am not saying that of anyone in the past few months, but I just think that when you’re dealing with a sport that people can cause fatal causalities that it should have more stringent a process of testing for steroid usage.”
Boxing is an inherently violent sport. When boxers step into the ring they are fully aware of the risks they are taking. Punches to the head area can cause injuries in the short term and long term. With that being said, steroids make the sport so much more dangerous. Even though Red would go on to deny that any of these incidents happened because of steroids it was also the first thing he mentioned. This indicates to me that he either knows steroids were involved or has heard something in the boxing community. Within the interview, he mentions countless times that boxers are not being tested properly and I think that is because who knows the names of people who are cheating. Since he is a trainer for one of the best boxers in the world, he can’t go around accusing people of taking steroids, so I understand why he is so politically correct.
Red went on to say,
“People are also not being properly hydrated and not maintaining their diet. The brain needs water to function. When you’re cutting weight and not doing it properly then you’re doing yourself a disservice.”
It is interesting to hear this side of the situation from a trainer’s perspective. He has seen firsthand the effects of extreme dieting and I would imagine it could impact a fighter’s health when he steps into a ring. A dehydrated body must affect the brain. I would imagine a weakened brain state would not recover as well from head shots as a healthy body would. Regulations in this area could really help the profession. Even if it saved one life it would be worth it.
Red commented on when he believes the life threatening injured occurred and when the Patrick Day fight should have ended:
“What I did see that he had gotten knocked down a couple times. The final knockdown which was the fatal situation. You know, people take a prolonged beating for a certain amount of rounds and that’s what usually causes these brain injuries.
I think the Patrick Day fight was a mixture of sustained injuries and a fatal blow. The second to last punch landed on the back of Day’s head that I believe caused serios damage. The left hook that ended up killing Day really solidified that brain injury past repair. I believe he suffered a concussion in round 8 that should have ended the fight. If you let round 10 play out the ref should have intervened when Conwell landed that hit to the back of Day’s head. Day’s hands dropped and he could not even defend himself at that point. That is really a split-second decision that I can’t fault the referee for not acting upon.”
Shapiro plays devil’s advocate,
“I want boxers to be protected just like I want players in the NFL to be protected. However, we’ve heard what has transpired over the past 10 years with this concussion protocol in the NFL. We’ve changed the rules because of that. A lot of people are saying it has “wussified” the NFL. It has changed the league forever and it’s just a different league now than it was in the past. Is it saving lives? Probably. Are they protecting players? Absolutely, but there is a lot of angry people. Not just fans but players. Are you afraid in any sense that because of these tragic deaths, that this could change boxing? That it could anger some fans and change some rules?”
“It very well could. I’ve seen some more stoppages. A ref just stopping a fight without giving him a chance. Things are liable to happen in the ring with or without steroids. It’s not the steroids that are killing people in the ring there’s a lot more to it. I really don’t know. It could be better when it comes to people and their weight and how much weight they’re putting on. There are a lot of things people do to cut 30/40 pounds. Then after the weigh in they have a 30 pounds weight advantage.”
Judgement calls in boxing are the hardest to make mostly because it could be the difference between life and death. Even in mixed martial arts, submissions are easier to call versus a fatal knockout punch that can happens within the blink of an eye. A referee’s intuition has to be supported even if it ends a fight prematurely. Had the Mayweather and McGregor fight not been stopped early I really think he could have died. Overwhelming advantageous wins such as Mayweather’s are too common. Patrick Day’s fight could have been called early, but I believe 95% of refs do not stop that fight. Just like when Red talked about diet, the blurred line between weight classes must also be looked at. People are not naturally meant to drop 30 pounds in a short amount of time and in ring performances are indicative of that in many cases. These small rule changes could save a lot of lives in boxing without facing scrutiny from fans.
Red is asked whether Terence Crawford has ever complained to him about a boxer he believes to be on steroids:
“No. we haven’t accused anyone of doing anything. Granted, when you’re a world champion you can put these things in a contract. We’re clean. We’re under VADA (a stringent drug testing program for boxing). We can be tested 24/7 365 days a year. There are a lot of rumors and things about fighters and I don’t want to get into that. It’s very real.”
My translation of this statement is yes. He would never call out another fighter and get caught up in a public relations nightmare. He is a trainer for the top athletes of the sport he has to know about what goes on within boxing. It’s clear to me that this is a bigger problem than the world knows about, but he also understands no one would believe him if he came out about it. He can’t focus his time to capturing evidence about the sport and also train Terence Crawford at the same time.
“In your estimation, in your experience, what percentage of professional fighters are juicing?”
“I can’t give you a right answer on that one. I would say it’s more than what is getting caught. I can be confident in saying that there is more out there than you think. It needs to be a universal thing. There needs to be kind of one law when it comes to steroids across the board.”
I could not agree more than with Red’s statement. Fighting is the most underdeveloped sport in terms of rules. Fighters are constantly caught using steroids and rarely punished. More often than not, we don’t find out about steroids until after the fight had concluded. It is clear to me that boxing and the UFC know who is using steroids. They place a higher importance on revenues and worry about the consequences later. That becomes a much bigger problem when you consider that performance enhancing drugs in these sports cause deaths. I don’t know how much boxing related deaths have happened because of steroids but I would imagine it is more than half.
Red talks about what he thinks it will take to finally get some change in boxing:
“It needs to be something seriously changed in the sport of boxing when comes to that and that starts from the top. I’m a mere peasant in comparison to this sport. I can sit here and tweet about it. Write about it. I can say and do whatever I want about it. Until someone from the top levels of the game starts to make decisions and things like that then you’ll see change.”
Jose Conseco changed the game of baseball forever with his book. We have already heard countless stories of steroid abuse in boxing, but nothing has really happened about it. Until someone like Mayweather, Pacquiao, Wilder, or Fury comes out and gives people the truth about the sport nothing will be done about it. It all just comes down to money. Top officials will never tell us the truth.
“Do you think that if there was less rounds in boxing that these deaths wouldn’t occur?”
“I don’t think that’s fair to say. In the 1970’s/60’s and early 80’s there were 15 round bouts and they cut them down to 12 so what can you do?”
I see nothing wrong with reducing the number of rounds again. There are diminishing returns the longer a boxing match goes on. As fit as these athletes are, double digit rounds are too taxing a person’s body. The longer the fight is the more risk there is for serious injury. The product overall becomes better with less rounds. Fighters won’t be reserving their energy for rounds 11 and 12 and we will probably see more interesting conclusions to fights. Let’s make boxing more exciting and safer this way.