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AJ’s coach under criticism for allowing boxer to fight with concussion
Earlier this summer, professional British boxer Anthony Joshua competed against Andy Ruiz Jnr, of Mexico, in a boxing match deemed to be one of the biggest of 2019. Ruiz went on to strip Joshua of numerous world champion titles, however Joshua’s defeat against the relatively unknown fighter from Mexico was, arguably, not the most shocking aspect of the fight.
In a post-fight comment to the BBC Joshua's coach, Rob McCracken, admitted that he let the heavyweight boxer continue to fight despite knowing he had suffered a concussion. McCracken told the BBC that he "knew he [Joshua] was concussed, and I'm trying to get him through a few more rounds".
"It’s a shocking admission but it’s highly unlikely that this is an isolated incident. Trainers have a duty of care to their boxers and it seems clear that Anthony Joshua’s trainer’s sole priority was winning that fight, not protecting the fighter from a potentially fatal injury.
“We know once you’ve had a concussion, any subsequent blow can exacerbate the damage. You are most at risk of having a particularly serious or fatal brain injury if the brain has already been damaged and a concussion has already been sustained.
“In that point, he was particularly vulnerable to a more serious injury. One wonders how many deaths in the ring over the years have resulted from a win-at-all-costs mentality. In every other major sport, concussion protocols state that once a concussion has been suspected, the player must be removed and not allowed to return.
“Every blow to the head delivered by a fit, strong, technically gifted boxer has the potential to cause a concussion. In addition, boxers are celebrated for their bravery when they just about manage to beat a standing eight-count – during which the referee is tasked with deciding whether or not they’re fit to continue.
“You are basically asking the referee to conduct an impromptu concussion assessment with all these people watching, in too short a period of time and when they are not qualified to do so. In such a fast-paced sport, where blows to the head are constant and there’s no time to draw breath and assess the damaged caused, it is hard to see how any effective concussion protocol can be adhered to."
Boxer’s health is ‘paramount’
However, in a recent statement issued via GB Boxing, McCracken has defended his original claims he knew Joshua was concussed and stressed that the health of boxers under his instruction is "paramount." He said:
"I am not a doctor and it may be that concussed is not the right term to have used but the health of all the boxers I work with is of paramount importance to me and I have always used my judgement and experience to do what is right for them."
He added that he had experienced this situation a ‘number of times’ throughout his professional career and there have been times in which a boxer has recovered from a particularly difficult round to go on and win the fight, but he has also pulled boxers out of fights as he knew it was not in their best interest to continue.
Joshua hit the canvas four times during the June fight and was beaten in the seventh round, after which his promoter Eddie Hearn insisted: "He was definitely slightly concussed."
McCracken has also pointed out the lack of any formal concussion protocol in professional boxing, and insisted it is necessary for the trainer to bank on their "experience" to recognise if a fighter is in trouble.
Surprisingly, the trainer has now been fully supported by Robert Smith, general secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control, who told the Guardian he saw nothing wrong with McCracken’s original comments.
It is distressing to see that the concussion protocols now followed in many other sports are not present in boxing.
There are significant risks in returning to any sport after sustaining a concussion. If another blow to the head is sustained which is almost certain in boxing then the brain does not have chance to recover from the initial concussion. The damage therefore can be exacerbated to the point that it can (on rare occasions) be fatal.
It is incumbent on those who are responsible for the safety boxers and sports persons in general to ensure that they are not exposed to such risks. In a sport such as boxing this is undoubtedly a difficult task but raising awareness of the issue can only assist in changing the current position.
Mark is a solicitor within our Personal Injury team. If you would like to speak to Mark, or any other member of our Personal Injury department, with regards to any aspect of this article, or indeed any other personal injury related matter, please contact us today. Call 0800 027 2557 or fill out a contact form at the side of this page. Alternatively, you can contact Mark directly here.