So you’re excited by the Jeff Horn fight in Las Vegas last weekend, and now want him to fight Anthony Mundine before the end of the year?
I’m not. And I don’t. Because I now get what previously escaped me.
While I used to adore boxing and publicly celebrated it as the ultimate test of courage, skill, and will-to-win against all odds, providing the most compelling spectacle of all sports, I now recognise it for what it is: a barbaric sport where the ultimate aim of the game is to hit your opponent so hard in the head, so often, you will batter him into unconsciousness, don’t mind the brain damage.
None of the latter conclusion lessens the courage and skill displayed by Horn in Las Vegas on Saturday where I am told he gave a good account of himself against one of the best boxers in the world, Terence Crawford, before succumbing to, yes, the brain damage, of greater or lesser degree, that comes with every concussion. Horn wasn’t knocked out cold, but likely only because the referee stepped in to stop it before that happened.
As it was memorably put to me by a brain health expert on a journalistic trip I took to America for Channel Seven’s Sunday Night program several years ago, “your brain is a bowl of Jell-O, floating around in a bucket of bones.” And it is simply not meant to regularly rattle against the side of your skull. If it does, there are consequences, and all too often serious consequences.
Do you boxing supporters get that? This bloke Horn, a former primary school teacher, and now happy family man, was repeatedly hit so hard in the head on the weekend – that the short and long-term health of his brain was placed at risk – and yet you still want him to go on with it. You still want him back out there, fighting the 43-year-old Anthony Mundine, who has himself been getting hit in the head by hard men for the better part of two decades, while the crowd roars.
You still love that spectacle, and don’t care about the damage done?
And just where will you be, one or two decades from now, when the carnival is long over for them, and it is they and their families who must carry the consequences? You’ll still be at the carnival, as the next generation batters each other's brains? If so, I am hoping it will be in a much smaller tent as people continue to turn away.
And yes, to preempt your remarks which I know from experience are coming, it is true, I was involved in the sport of rugby, which also has an issue with concussion. Critics delight in pointing out that I was knocked out while playing against France in the First Test in 1990, at the Sydney Football Stadium, and played on.
There are a couple of key differences here.
First, in rugby, and indeed all of the football codes – not to mention nearly all of the contact sports – concussion is the unwanted byproduct of the contact, and not the highest attainment of the sport in the first place. The best example of the contrast can be seen in the person of Sonny Bill Williams, who is a superstar in all of rugby union, rugby league and boxing.
In pugilism, if he unleashes a shot that sinks his opponent to the canvas with rattled brains, he is the hero to beat them all, carried from the ring in triumph. In both rugby union and rugby league, if unleashes a high shot, a high-tackle above the shoulders, and even risks knocking his opponent out in that manner, he is sent from the field in disgrace.
Do I want boxing banned?
No. Outright banning simply drives it underground where it can no longer be controlled.
But I do say this.
All of us who have supported boxing over the years, watching it, writing about it, paying money to see it both live and on television, have some ownership of the devastation that results. Of the three boxers I deeply admired over the years, one died in deplorable circumstances, and the other two are struggling badly.
No one loved Muhammad Ali more than me, and yet we all saw the state he finished in, courtesy of spending 20 years being repeatedly hit in the head by some of the hardest, most skilled men on the planet. (Extraordinarily, there are still people who deny the link. Yes, they say, he did get his brains rattled for all those years, but no, the fact that he was slurring his words and shaking, even before his boxing career was over, is just a coincidence. No, really.)
The other two who immediately come to mind are Australian boxers from two decades ago, Jeff Harding and Grahame "Spike" Cheney, both glorified by me and my kind for their remarkable ability to “take punishment”, and still come out swinging. I won’t go into it, for the sake of their privacy, but there is no doubt the punishment they took way back then is responsible for the myriad problems they face now, and it is tragic.
So, no. I want no part of a Horn-Mundine fight, or any boxing match for that matter.
I admire both men for their courage and skill. I wish them and their families well. But what I most wish is that they retire, and, in an ever more enlightened age, their sport continues to wither.