Boxing would be well served to have a policy in place to deal with damage suffered in the gym, in sparring. (Hogan)
The Greek dramatist Aeschylus (525-456 BC) wrote, “The first casualty of war is truth.”
Boxing is war. And while the essence of ring combat is truth, a lot of what goes on behind the scenes is neither honorable nor honest. With that in mind, there’s an issue relating to the September 8th fight in Oakland between Andre Ward and Chad Dawson that should be explored.
Ward entered the fight with an unblemished 25-and-0 record. By virtue of his “super six” tournament conquests, he was widely recognized as super-middleweight champion of the world. Dawson sported a 30-and-1 ledger and was the #1 light-heavyweight in boxing.
Prior to the bout, rumors circulated that Dawson had been knocked down and badly hurt by Edison Miranda in a sparring session. Team Dawson denied the rumors. Walter Kane (Chad’s attorney) says that, to his knowledge, no one from the California State Athletic Commission asked anyone in the Dawson camp about them. Dawson underwent the usual pro forma pre-fight medical examination, but that’s all.
In the fight itself, Chad looked tentative and weak. He’d been knocked down twice before in his career; by Eric Harding in 2006 and Tomasz Adamek a year later. Each time, he’d gotten up and won a unanimous decision by a comfortable margin.
Ward knocked Dawson down in the third, fourth, and tenth rounds en route to a tenth-round stoppage. Andre is a superb fighter, but he’s not a knockout puncher. In Ward’s previous eight outings, the only opponent he’d KO’d was Shelby Pudwell (who was knocked out by John Duddy in one round). In the entire “Super Six” tournament, Andre didn’t knock an opponent down.
After Ward-Dawson, the rumors multiplied. Miguel Diaz told BoxingScene.com that, in the ninth round of a ten-round sparring session, “Miranda executed something that I'd been telling him to do the whole workout - left, right hand, left hook - and he knocked him [Dawson] down. It was devastating for me because I don't want to see something like that, but it happened. He was hurt. He tried to get up. He went down again and got up. I screamed to Rafael Garcia [Dawson’s assistant trainer], 'Come and help him.'"
On September 14th, Diaz told this writer that Dawson was knocked down by Miranda, fell on his face, tried to get up, and pitched face-first into the ring ropes.
On September 19th, John Scully (Dawson’s trainer) added fuel to the fire when he sent out a mass email that read, “Just a note for future reference: If before a big fight - or ANY fight, really - it doesn't matter if my boxer has gotten hit by a tractor trailer three days ago, been dropped seven times in sparring, lost 42 pounds in the steam room over the course of one week, and just GOT dropped to his knees in the gym five minutes before you ask . . . I'm still telling you he feels great. What else can a fighter or his trainer be expected to say?”
So what really happened?
This past week, I spoke with Kane, Scully, and Dawson. They all told me the same thing.
“I got knocked down,” Chad acknowledged. “But it was a flash knockdown. I wasn’t hurt. I got back up right away and finished the rest of the sparring session. Stuff like that happens all the time in boxing. The only reason we didn’t talk about it was, I knew people would make a big deal out of it and it wasn’t a big deal.”
Scully elaborated on that theme, saying, “Chad was sparring ten rounds that day. He got hit with a left hook in the ninth round. He went down. He got up. He was fine. He finished the round and then he finished the next round, so he sparred all ten rounds, which was what we planned for the day.”
“There’s some self-serving talk in what Miguel Diaz is saying,” Scully added. “That might be why he’s exaggerating the way he is. If you read what Miguel said, it was Miranda hit Chad with a combination that Miguel was telling him to throw. Do you really think that we would have allowed Chad to finish the round and then spar another round after that if he’d been hurt like Miguel says?”
“I wasn’t in the gym,” Kane told me. “But I heard the rumors and I asked about them. I believe what Chad and Scully are saying.”
I believe Chad and Scully too.
But that raises another issue. Suppose Dawson had been dazed or, worse, concussed? What would have been the proper course of action to follow?
The issue might be defused insofar as Chad is concerned. But it’s still out there for incidents involving other fighters in the future.
We live in the real world. Boxing is about making money. The bigger the fight, the more money will be lost if a fight is cancelled because a fighter has suffered a debilitating blow to the head in training.
Here, the thoughts of Dr. Margaret Goodman (former chief ringside physician and chairperson of the medical advisory board for the Nevada State Athletic Commission) are instructive.
“You don’t have to be knocked unconscious to suffer a concussion,” Dr. Goodman says. “That’s one reason a ring doctor evaluates each fighter immediately after every fight. There’s only one thing to do if a fighter is dazed in the gym. You take him to an emergency room or a comparable facility with similarly skilled doctors to be evaluated immediately. And you keep him there for a while after he has been examined so he can be observed by trained professionals.”
“There are no studies that I’m aware of on this point,” Dr. Goodman continues. “But my educated guess is that, more often than not when a fighter dies in a fight, it comes after he was hurt in the gym. If someone suffers a concussion, even a minor concussion, and is hit in the head again a week or two afterward, the damage can be additive, permanent, and even life-threatening. If a fighter is knocked out in a fight, he isn’t allowed to take punishment to the head for at least forty-five days. You can’t have a different safety standard for a fighter who suffers head trauma in the gym. And you certainly can’t have a bunch of lay people in the fighter’s camp saying, ‘It’s okay; he can still fight.’ That’s a recipe for disaster.”
For those who think that Dr. Goodman is overly cautious and overly protective of fighters, the thoughts of Freddie Roach are equally instructive. Asked what he’d do if one of his fighters suffered a debilitating blow to the head while preparing for a megafight, Roach answered, “The trainer’s job is to protect his fighter. You report something like that to the proper authorities. If you don’t, that’s how fighters get killed.”
All of this leads to one last issue: If Dawson wasn’t thrown off his game by head trauma suffered in sparring, why was he so outclassed by Ward? Is Andre that good?
John Scully thinks he knows the answer.
“After the fight, Chad was a gracious loser,” Scully says. “He told everyone that Ward is a great champion and the better man won. I respect Chad for that, but I want to tell you something. And this isn’t an excuse, because when someone tells the truth, it isn’t an excuse.”
“Chad is a light-heavyweight,” Scully continues. “Chad has fought for years at 175 pounds. And to get this fight, he had to go down to 168. Chad had trouble making weight, a lot of trouble. The weight didn’t come off like he thought it would. Making weight weakened him badly. He had to lose something like nine pounds the last two days. That’s why he looked the way he did in the fight. It wasn’t about being hurt in the gym because that didn’t happen. When a fighter goes down to a weight division lower than the one he’s been fighting in for years, he’s not the same fighter. Look at Chris Byrd against Shaun George. Byrd went from heavyweight to 175 pounds for that fight, and Shaun knocked him all over the place before he knocked Byrd out. Byrd beat Vitali Klitschko, David Tua, and Evander Holyfield. None of those guys even knocked him down. And no disrespect to Shaun George; are you telling me that he hits harder than those guys hit? Andre Ward is good. But it was the weight, man. It was the weight.”
As for Dawson, he won’t talk about the weight other than to say, “I don’t expect to fight at 168 pounds again. I’ll be back at 175 and I expect to be successful.”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book (And the New: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) was published recently by the University of Arkansas Press.