When UK middleweight Nick Blackwell sadly suffered a bleed on the brain during his British title fight with Chris Eubank Jr, it prompted the anti-boxing brigade to come out in full voice against the sport, with some labeling boxing “barbaric” with others even calling for a ban on the sport.
Having met a number of professional fighters over the last few years, after last weekend’s tragic accident it got me thinking about the main risks and rewards that these brave human beings must often weigh up before they take ultimately a huge risk in many aspects, before deciding to become a fighter and indeed stepping into a ring.
From my experience of speaking and getting to know fighters over the last few years, the below are some of the main risk vs reward factors I came to a conclusion with, starting firstly with risks.
Without doubt the main risk that any person takes when stepping between the ropes and making the decision to become a fighter, at any level, has to be their health.
The health monitoring and policing within professional boxing has improved incredibly over the past twenty years or so, with stringent medical procedures, staff and ambulances in place ringside at professionally sanctioned bouts across the globe.
But there is still a big chance of injury, both minor, medium and in rare cases – severe.
Fighters are not like you or I, mere mortals, in that they don’t fear getting physically hurt through injury, but injury nonetheless is a constant threat when being a professional boxer.
If a fighter gets hit too much during their career they can also sadly end up with slurred speech in some cases, also referred to as “punch drunk”, or even worst in some unfortunate situations.
No Guarantee Of Success
The main misconception I’ve found since starting to work in boxing these last few years, is that pretty much a lot of the general public think that most professional fighters go on to make a lot of money.
This is perhaps in part somewhat to the extensive marketing of the sport’s main pay per view fighters, such as Floyd Mayweather in recent years, who is not shy to share with the world how much money he has made.
But this is far from the truth.
Probably only 10% of all professional boxers worldwide I would estimate earn enough money during their fighting careers to retire on.
It really is a sport where you have to be on of the very best to make it worthwhile long-term.
Probably one of the most special things I’ve observed in human beings (period) on my time on this Earth, is the almost super human sacrifice and dedication that professional boxers make and put themselves through regularly.
Many fighters will go into a training camp for a period of somewhere between 6 to 10 weeks prior to a scheduled fight, where they essentially live a monk-like existence.
Weeks and months on end away from their families, kids and close friends, all for the entertainment of the general public and ultimately for a shot at ‘making it’ as a top fighter.
This type of work ethic and devotion to their crafts easily separates them from the majority of society’s idea of what a hard working person is.
Working in an office Monday to Friday 9-5 is simply worlds apart from what pro fighters go through.
Touching on entertaining fans, it’s kind of a crazy concept when you think about it for a minute, in terms of what a fighter most force himself or herself to do.
Train for months on end living like a hermit, get into a ring half naked and risk your health on television and / or in front a packed area – full of strangers (mixed in with some supporters).
All this and then you could get knocked out or beaten badly over the duration of a fight, publicly mind you.
I’ve heard fighters describe losing a fight as one of the most devastating things you could experience in life – complete despair, anguish and torment for weeks and sometimes months after the defeat has taken place.
Famed UK boxing Ricky Hatton spoke at length of how he directly related his serious depression problems after his career because of his defeats in the ring to Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
The bigger the risk the bigger the reward is a phrase that carries some merit in pro boxing and it must be said, that the positive carrots dangling for prize fighters who make it to the top as world champions, can often be immense.
Show me a person who thinks they get paid enough money and I’ll show you a liar. Everyone thinks they deserve more money, no matter what job they are in or salary they receive.
Boxers out of any other profession, perhaps deserve their money more than anyone I can think of. It’s arguably one of the hardest ways to make a living imaginable, when you really boil it down.
Accordingly, the compensation on offer for some of the top fighters who ultimately become pay per view stars can be vast.
Floyd Mayweather for example, became one of the richest sportsmen of all time for his modern day endeavors in the sweet science.
Fame and celebrity status are probably things that some boxers would actually say that don’t interest them at all, but it can certainly be a rewarding by-product of their efforts.
Endorsements, sponsorship deals and other opportunities can follow suit for fighters who market themselves well on social media and elsewhere, provided they are entertaining in the ring with a fan friendly style, or at least keep winning and beating top competition on a consistent basis.
This fame can also lead to media opportunities after they retire, which can be a nice job for some fighters once they hang the gloves up.
A notable fighter that comes to mind in this regard is Sky Sports’ Johnny Nelson, who made the transition from being a world cruiserweight champion to broadcaster on TV as good as any fighter I can think of in recent memory.
Glory and Self-Fulfillment
One of the overriding things I hear fighters say to me is that they are in the game to be the best, one fighter put it to me one time:
“Its too hard a sport not to want to be number one.”
These are sentiments that I would have heard echoed from many a boxer. When you meet a real fighter, it’s almost enshrined into their DNA, being a fighter that is.
It’s who they are as a person, who they are on the inside.
For many prize fighters being a boxer was something they started doing as a young kid, and for years dreamed of ultimately becoming world champion and fulfilling a lifetime aspiration by doing so.
The glory of achieving this feeling for someone who has being chasing a dream from childhood right the way through to adulthood, must be an almost unbeatable feeling for those lucky enough to achieve it.
As I was thinking of the final reward on this list of being a pro fighter, another frequent vernal memory of conversations with boxers over the years brought up the word “buzz” for me.
Most boxers I’ve met genuinely love what they do, it’s not a job to them as such – more a part of life and who they are as people.
The feeling they get of doing a job that they love everyday, being surrounded by people in the gym feeling the same thing, results in great comradery and friendships formed with people within the sport.
The buzz of this coupled with the almost unquantifiable, intangible buzz of walking out in front of a packed arena and winning a bout, is often very hard for a fighter to find again once he or she retires.
But it’s a buzz that perhaps very few of us will ever be lucky enough to experience in our lifetimes.