The global sport of boxing has been rocked in recent weeks after the death of two professional fighters. The Argentinian junior welterweight Hugo Alfredo Santillan tragically died from injuries suffered during his fight against Uruguay’s Eduardo Javier Abreu in the Buenos Aires, becoming the second fatality in four days after Russia’s Maxim Dadashev passed away following injuries suffered in his last fight in Maryland.
Dadashev’s death was confirmed on Tuesday. The 28-year-old had been hospitalised with bleeding on the brain after his IBF light-welterweight fight against Subriel Matias was stopped at the end of the 11th round. In the case of Santillan, the 23-year-old collapsed in the ring on Saturday shortly after his WBC Latino Silver lightweight bout with Eduardo Javier Abreu ended in a draw. He was taken to hospital and underwent emergency surgery but died on Thursday.
“Rest in Peace, Hugo Santillan,” the World Boxing Council said in a tweet.
The news has come at a hard time for the international boxing community with high profile drug scandals tarnishing the sport. The news of these tragedies is unwanted but not surprising as they shed light on the harrowing fact that fighters risk everything entering the ring.
The notion of death has loomed over the prize ring throughout history: from its recorded origins as a popular spectator sport in ancient Greece and Rome through to the present day.
These deaths aren’t isolated incidents sadly. Ring magazine reported 22 deaths in 1953 – with many coming in high-profile world championship bouts. Jimmy Doyle died of brain injuries after being knocked out by Sugar Ray Robinson in a welterweight title fight. The same story with Benny Paret after a loss to Emile Griffith a decade and a half later in a fight for the 147lb title. Also, Davey Moore died after collapsing in his dressing room following a loss to Sugar Ramos for the featherweight championship.
It was only after the death of the South Korean lightweight Duk-Koo Kim, following a 1982 fight with Ray Mancini, that the boxing world demanded change. These changes included the reduction of the number of rounds in championship fights from 15 to 12.
But can more be done to protect fighters?
Boxing is always going to be a dangerous sport for fighters and there isn’t a lot more that can be done within the ring to better protect two people that are hitting each other. Each country has different regulations but within Britain, fighters must have doctors at ringside and they will be checked over both before, after and if needed during the fight to.
The reform may have to come in terms of better protecting the welfare of a fighter’s family and those closest to them. As of now, insurance companies do not underwrite life insurance policies for fighters because of the inherent danger of their trade. So this means that the families of fighters will have to pay for their medical and funeral expenses especially if they aren’t a well-known fighter with huge earnings.
The news over the past week has been met by shock from those outside the boxing world. But for those within it is an all too familiar story and one that highlights the risk and littles protection boxers and those closest to them receive. Perhaps the solution and next reform of boxing lie with the sport’s power brokers by coming together to organize a long-overdue health and pension plan for fighters and those who have hung up their gloves?