Damage control: The deadly serious side to series of farcical fights in Australia

When Tim Tszyu and Dennis Hogan climb into the ring on Wednesday night, there is an implicit understanding that one or both could suffer serious injury, even death.

That is the deal boxers make when they sign up for the sport. That is the deal viewers make when they pay to have the event beamed into their homes, or take up their seats in the arena or a local pub or club. No euphemism like “the sweet science” can disguise the sport’s fundamental violence and risk.

Tim Tszyu demolished Bowyn Morgan, who needed to be saved from himself.Credit:Getty

We are all complicit in one way or another, even at arm’s length. Far more crucial to the process are those charged with the direct safety of the fighters; the matchmakers at the outset, the cornermen, trainers, doctor and referee. All have the power to halt a contest, or make sure it doesn’t go ahead in the first place.

Australian boxing needs to do far better when it comes to fighter welfare on the big stage. The Tszyu-Hogan bout in Newcastle gives the sport a chance to prove it can extend itself beyond some of the recent farcical and dangerous scenes we have witnessed of late.

Many involved with even the biggest local cards are enthusiasts and part-timers, at best, but that can’t excuse a run of lopsided mismatches, overdue stoppages or fighters taking unnecessary beatings. With the spotlight on Tszyu, a rising star on the world stage, the rest of the sport must rise to the occasion.

To be clear, it’s not the fault of the fighters in the ring. Tszyu pretty much spoke for everyone in the combat sport game when he said the risk was real and it wasn’t his job to nurse opponents through rounds, or be the one concerned about their welfare.

Jeff Horn’s bout with Tszyu should have been stopped earlier.Credit:Getty

“When I get into the ring, it’s kill or be killed. I have no sympathy at all for my opponents. After the fight, I’m a different person. When I’m in the ring, there is no sympathy at all,” Tszyu said.

“My job isn’t to babysit anyone, it’s to get them out of there as fast as possible.”

Things go wrong in boxing all the time. Sometimes the damage is immediate, sometimes it might take weeks or even years to manifest. All too often it could have been minimised, or blunted, or prevented, even if the sport is by nature one of attrition and physical struggle.

Fighters are almost always the worst judges of what should be allowed to transpire. Given the choice to return from their corner and walk back into a firestorm, rather than remain on the stool, they will invariably stumble back out and either hope for a miracle shot or face an honourable execution.

The notion of “giving up” is pure filth in boxing and those accused of doing so carry the stigma for the rest of their careers. The No Mas fight haunted the great Roberto Duran, even in the face of everything else he achieved in his Hall of Fame career.

And so it is usually left to those around the fighters to save them from themselves. They are athletes bursting with pride and courage. They always want to go out on their shield, regardless of the brutality of the beating they receive.

Horn, who famously rebounded from a ninth-round bruising to beat Manny Pacquiao, never relents on his own and his past few defeats have been shrouded in controversy. The latest, where he was easily handled by Tszyu, saw his trainer Glenn Rushton come under immense criticism for not putting an end to proceedings before Horn stayed in his corner after the eighth round.

Rushton thought Horn was capable of miracle comebacks after the Pacquiao affair but it resulted in the likeable former teacher being subjected to an assault he didn’t deserve.

Tszyu’s most recent outing against Bowyn Morgan in December was over in 114 seconds. Morgan was so far out of his depth that by the time he steadied himself from the first knockdown and tried to urge himself back into combat, he looked as if he would rather be any place in the world but Bankwest Stadium.

Michael Zerafa knocks out Anthony Mundine. Why was he even allowed to get back into the ring?Credit:Getty Images

The coup de grace was brutal. Tszyu simply walked up, unleashed an overhand right hand that crumpled Morgan to the canvas, and it was all over. Given the glazed look in Morgan’s eyes after the first knockdown, it came as no surprise the end arrived so swiftly.

Unfortunately, that is not the worst mismatch of recent times. That title belongs to Anthony Mundine, who has retired again after heavy losses to Horn and Michael Zerafa.

Mundine was dominated by Horn late in 2018 in Brisbane. On that evidence and given his age, he should never have been allowed to fight at the top level again. But there he was a few weeks ago, losing in similar fashion to Zerafa in a disgraceful affair in Bendigo.

Combat sports in Victoria operate under a regulated state government body, whose job it is to “promote safety, reduce the risk of malpractice and uphold industry integrity”. It did none of the above by allowing Mundine to be mugged for money and entertainment.

Hogan is a tough man, an Irish fighter of resilience and bravery who will try to power forward no matter how many times the accurate and clinical Tszyu will pick a way through his defences. He should not be underestimated, given the quality of fighter he has met in the past, but he fits the category of a boxer too tough for his own health.

Should that be the way it unfolds in Newcastle, let’s hope those around him are wise enough to see the writing on the wall, not wait until the inevitable happens and Hogan and the sport end up with another sizeable black eye. Or worse.

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