The ending to last Saturday’s British middleweight contest between Nick Blackwell and Chris Eubank Jr serves as a painful reminder of the risks fighters take every time they step in a ring. At 25 years old, Blackwell should be entering his prime years as a prize-fighter. Instead, he lies in an induced coma facing the stark reality that even if he recovers fully, he will probably never box again.
To retain his Lonsdale title, Blackwell was prepared to endure levels of physical and psychological attrition only fighters can relate to. Despite his subsequent injury, Blackwell’s performance showcased some of the best things about not only boxing, but the human spirit as round after round, he displayed courage and blood-spitting defiance in the face of his opponent’s ruthless aggression.
There would have been no embarrassment had he succumbed to Eubank’s pressure earlier in the fight, however, Blackwell is cut from a different cloth; you won’t find the word quit in his vocabulary. The fight’s action swung back and forth between Eubank’s calculated aggression against Blackwell’s iron will; these were gladiatorial scenes unfolding as neither fighter was prepared to lie down in pursuit of glory and the British title.
This week has understandably seen attention turn to the sport’s safety and the staunchest of critics will see this as further evidence for an outright ban.
As tragic as the outcome of that bout was, it prompted an improvement in medical care and protection for boxers that has moved on considerably over the last quarter of a century for the benefit of the sport. Today’s boxers are much better safeguarded in this respect, and it showed on Saturday. Within seconds of Blackwell collapsing the doctors and paramedics were at his side with oxygen.
The pre-fight build up had been a heated affair dominated by fierce rhetoric and old stories of sparring. As the fight drew closer, the prospect of an all-out war with neither combatant prepared to take a backward step seemed increasingly inevitable.
Soon after the first bell rang, it was apparent that the two fighters, at least regarding skill, were on different levels. That didn’t deter the champion. Blackwell’s determination and Eubank’s blistering combinations brought the crowd to their feet.
In the early rounds, when Eubank landed, Blackwell did his best to return fire, stalking his challenger and visibly hurting Eubank at least once, however, it soon became clear that the son with the famous fighting name was the one in control.
As the rounds progressed, it was the champion’s apparent resilience rather than the shots he was landing that caught the attention. Eubank’s punches looked hurtful, hitting their target with increasing frequency, and by the mid-point of the fight, it was clear it was going in only one direction. Even so, Blackwell continued to invite his challenger on. It was obvious that neither his corner or the referee, Victor Loughlin, would call an end to the battle.
In the end, it came down to the ringside physician, to wave the fight off in the tenth round due to Blackwell being unable to see out of his completely closed left eye. With hindsight, attention has focussed on whether the fight should have been stopped earlier.
Eubank’s corner certainly seemed to think so, as Eubank’s father urged his son to take his foot off the gas and aim his attacks away from Blackwell’s head in favour of the body. In the end, it was a fight that showed both the best and worst of what boxing can offer.
So very sadly, the sport he has dedicated his life to has dealt Nick Blackwell the harshest of hands. As he lies in his hospital bed, the thoughts of the boxing community and the wider public and this writer are with him and his family. Though we wish him a full and speedy recovery, it seems the post-mortem of the fight itself and continued question marks over the safety of boxing will rumble on.