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Rolling with the punches.

I have written a few times about the want to see sport at its very best. Last week's article was focused upon the need for football teams to be entertaining as well as successful.

My very first piece was on the want to see elite athletes competing against each other at the top of their game. I think that what I and probably many others love most in sport is the objective being achieved in a skillful way such as Chris Gayle scoring 50 runs off 12 balls, Jenson Button winning the 2011 Canadian GP from last place or any goal scored by Guardiola's Barcelona. Some of you may be able to recall great pieces of play in sports without the objective being achieved; they just don't quite rank in that epic category.

I have always been a big fan of boxing. Growing up, Muhammed Ali was renowned in our household as the greatest sportsman of all time and I know that is an opinion shared by many. My dad had, probably still has, video tapes of Ali's greatest fights that we watched on more than one occasion. I remember trawling through video after video online for his fights, interviews, quotes and basically anything else I could find where he appeared. He epitomised what it is to not just be the best in your craft but also to be entertaining with it, his battles with Michael Parkinson almost as entertaining as his battles with Joe Frazier.

In the week where two boxers tragically died from head injuries sustained in their fights, it's with a twinge of sadness that my Ali memories came flooding back. Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1984, three years after his retirement from boxing and he passed away from complications of the disease on June 3, 2016 at the age of 74. Sadly, I was not alive pre 1984 and my generation didn't get to see the man at his very best outside of the ring. The world didn't have a great man for as long as it should have.

Russian boxer Maxim Dadashev, 28, and Argentine Hugo Santillan, 23, won't be going down as the greatest sportsmen of all time but they were still young men with families and they were still people who others sorely needed in their world.

My main worry is that the boxing federations haven't got their chins on their chest and shuffling awkwardly about the fact two deaths of this nature can happen 35 years after boxing's biggest star began to fade so prematurely.

Peter McCabe is the CEO of Headway, a brain injury charity, and it is his opinion that boxing should be banned outright. Whilst I don't agree with this, it is hard to disagree with some of the points that he made. "So long as the ultimate objective of boxing is to render your opponent senseless by repeated blows to the head, then boxing will remain a dangerous activity," said McCabe. "Maxim's trainer, Buddy McGirt, said after the fight that he seemed OK and that he was ready but it's the sport that we're in. He added that it just takes one punch."

I would go one further on what makes boxing epic is to see both fighters land repeated blows to each other's skull before one produces a knockout blow. The knockout is boxing's 'beautiful' moment; the part which will be replayed over and over with an audience giving the collective "ooooooh."

I will always be a boxing fan and the idea that as a sport it would cease to exist pains me. I have found that boxing as a sport has always appealed to a wide variety of people and there is some amazing work done by trainers in gyms, particularly in less affluent areas of the world.

You only have to look up the backstory of some of history's best known boxers to see a pattern emerging. However, I do think that it is time for professional boxers to wear headgear as in the amateur game. There are very few sports in which elite and grassroots athletes do not wear the same protective gear so it is strange to me that this has not already occurred.

Yes, boxing will lose some of its aesthetics and epic knockouts as they will be harder to come by. The sweat spraying off a man's face as he receives a well-timed uppercut will not be as visible but it must stop putting that before the safety of its athletes.

Nobody should have to make a choice between doing what they love and their own safety. Yet, this is the position that I believe the boxing federations are putting their athletes in.

[c] Copyright 2019

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Publication:Gulf Weekly
Date:Jul 30, 2019
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