Plane Crashes, Boxing, and Lessons Learned

Last year was the safest year on record for commercial air travel. Airlines recorded zero accident deaths in commercial jets in 2017. President Donald Trump celebrated this achievement in a tweet posted on Jan. 2: “Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation. Good news — it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!”

What the President missed is that there actually haven’t been any deaths on a U.S. passenger airline in nearly nine years and this has been due, in very large part, to lessons learned from earlier crashes.

As just one of many examples, a fire started behind the bathrooms of Air Canada Flight 797 while it was flying over Kentucky in 1983. The pilot made an emergency landing but only half the passengers escaped. Thereafter, the FAA made it a requirement that all aircraft bathrooms were to be equipped with smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.


Willie Classen (16-6-2) was knocked through the ropes 12 seconds into the tenth round of his fateful fight with Wilford Scypion (12-0) at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 23, 1979. The fight itself has seldom been seen since there are no YouTube videos of it, but I lived and worked in the New York City area at the time and watched it on MSG Network television along with hundreds of thousands of other horrified witnesses.

“He’s hurt, he’s hurt, John. They oughtta stop the fight…He’s a sitting duck right now, any kind of a good punch will do it…”—prospect Davey Vasquez, helping announcer John Condon call the fight.

The fact that no ambulance was parked in the wings of Madison Square Garden and that it reportedly took 30 minutes to flag down an ambulance in the street and take Classen to a hospital, where he died of a brain hemorrhage five days later, has been the grist for many a shocking (and gruesome) story.

Classen’s death was not in vain. Two significant court cases followed.  One led to a requirement for ambulances at fight venues, and the other established the precedent that a ringside doctor’s failure to stop a fight on medical grounds could subject him to charges of malpractice.

Michael Watson

Known as “The Force,” England’s Michael Watson fought a greatly anticipated rematch with Chris Eubank in September 1991 and was on his way to stopping Eubank when he was suddenly hit with a brutal uppercut. He fell back and hit the back of his head against the ropes. He received no oxygen and waited almost 30 minutes before receiving treatment in a hospital. This resulted in a coma and six brain operations. Another fighter had left the ring an invalid.

Unlike the seedy Erlanger, Kentucky venue where Greg Page had been victimized, this was a high-profile affair but the same lax conditions existed. Later, the High Court ruled that the “British Boxing Board of Control (BBBoC) was responsible for medical provision at a fight and that administering oxygen and resuscitation on site would have made a considerable difference to Watson’s outcome.” Watson won damages of almost £1 million, but sadly the BBBoC was only able to pay £400,000.

Greg Page

Greg’s fateful fight with Dale Crowe in March 2001 left the former champion paralyzed on his left side and confined to a wheelchair. Reportedly there was no emergency oxygen and no stretcher at ringside and the doctor at ringside may have lacked a license from the State Athletic Commission to act as a ringside physician. It also took an ambulance 22 minutes to get to the venue, when one should have been there in the event of an emergency, along with a paramedic who also was missing.

Much later the establishment of a new authority, the Kentucky Boxing and Wrestling Authority (replacing the Kentucky Athletic Commission in charge the night that Greg was critically injured) introduced new regulations. An ambulance, EMTs and resuscitation equipment were made mandatory at all state sanctioned boxing matches. Additionally, the new regulations required HIV and hepatitis testing, as well as the establishment of a medical review board to advise the KWBA on medical matters.

As in the case of Willie Classen, lessons were learned.


Fast forward to 2013.

“Oh, jeez, my head.”– Magomed Abdusalamov

Magomed “Mago” Abdusalamov suffered horrific injuries in a 2013 10-round bout against Mike Perez at Madison Square Garden. In addition to broken bones in his face and hand, he suffered internal bleeding –in his brain. Neither of the two ambulances at the Garden took the man to the hospital because his team wasn’t made aware of them. He went by cab. At the hospital, he suffered a stroke while in a medically induced coma.

The Magomedov incident triggered the New York State Athletic Commission into upgrading its medical protocols. This is why the start of many rounds in New York fights are now held up while doctors examine a fighter to make positively certain he is fit to go. Translators are now made available to non-English speaking fighters and their handlers to make certain they understand what medical services are available to them, if needed. But for Mago, it’s too late. He survived, but requires around the clock care.

Perhaps someday, the record of ring fatalities and/or boxers being battered into invalids will, like the airline industry, become zero.


Ted Sares is one of the oldest power lifters in the world and is a four-time winner of the EPF’s Grand Master championship. He is now making a comeback after a severe injury. He also is a member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame.

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