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Following Nick Blackwell’s recent scare – where he was left in a coma after a bruising encounter with Chris Eubank Jr – there have been calls for alterations to boxing’s rules, to prevent further incidents and safeguard professional fighters.
Here is a look at past boxers whose health deteriorated due to – what is speculated to be – their participation in the sport.
This list is far from exhaustive, as many fighters have retired from the sport with compromised states of well-being.
Sugar Ray Robinson
Sugar Ray Robinson is regarded by many as the greatest pound-for-pound boxer ever, but given that he fought 200 professional fights, it was not entirely unusual that he succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease – a malady often associated with the sport – as he entered his sixth decade.
Robinson died during April of 1989. During his career, he held both the welterweight and middleweight championships, and ended with a record of 173-19-6.
Muhammad Ali is the one fighter who transcends the entire sport of boxing. A three-time world champion, Ali fought ferocious wars with Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sonny Liston and Ken Norton – among others. His three fights against Frazier are known as the pyramids of boxing.
Realistically, Ali should have retired in October 1975, after he conquered Foreman in Zaire, but he stayed on five years too long and suffered the ill effects of Parkinson’s disease – a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement – later in life.
Ali finished his career with a record of 56-5.
By the time Quarry was 16, he had fought a total of 105 amateur bouts. During his professional career, he was never knocked out in any of his 66 fights, even though he weighed less than 200 pounds, and as a heavyweight was almost always smaller than his opponents. He also fought the best, including world champions Floyd Patterson, Jimmy Ellis, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali.
A 1983 CT scan of Quarry’s brain highlighted evidence of brain atrophy, which was generally perceived to have been pre-symptomatic of dementia pugilistica – a common progressive type of brain disease experienced by fighters.
Quarry continued to fight professionally, but by the time he reached his late 40s his mental decline became so severe he was unable to feed or dress himself and had to be cared for by relatives.
His early career start, combined with an unwavering knock-out resiliency, undoubtedly contributed to his premature death in 1999 at just 53 years of age. He ended his career with a record of 53-9-4.
Manny Pacquiao’s esteemed trainer Freddie Roach openly admits that he stayed on in the Sport of Kings much too long.
Roach had a gung-ho approach in the ring, in which he would openly absorb barrages of punches from his opponents. Like Ali, he began exhibiting symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, but much earlier in his career.
Defying the advice of his trainer, Eddie Hutch, to quit the sport when his symptoms became more noticeable, he continued to fight until 1986, retiring at the young age of 26 with a professional record of 40-13.
In June 1991, British-born fighter Michael Watson suffered a serious brain injury during his fight against Chris Eubank Sr.
Medics faced a protracted battle to save his life, and he remained in a critical condition for some time. Watson underwent six operations to remove a blood clot and spent 40 days in a coma. He was lucky to escape with his life, and today he remains confined to a wheelchair. He finished his career with a record of 25-4-1.
Meldrick Taylor won championships at two different weight classes, but is most famous for his classic encounter with Julio Cesar Chavez during March of 1990. Taylor lost the contest in the most dubious of circumstances, as the referee stopped the fight with just two seconds remaining, even though Taylor rose to his feet before the full ten count.
In the years following this loss, Taylor’s career went on a downward trajectory, which was underscored by a diminished skill set inside the ring.
He retired in 2002 with a record of 38-8-1. Today, at only 49 years of age, Taylor displays symptoms associated with dementia pugilistica.
Tomas ‘The Hitman’ Hearns is widely known for his war with ‘Marvelous’ Martin Hagler during April 1985 – a fight remembered as the greatest three rounds in boxing.
Turning professional in 1977 at the age of 19, Hearns compiled seven world titles in five weight divisions, becoming the first man to win titles across four.
Today, Hearns’ words are slurred, and it’s believed that a long fight career contributed to him developing punch drunk syndrome – another term for dementia pugilistica.
His record stands at 61-5-1.
Two-time World Heavyweight Champion Riddick Bowe ended his career with a distinguished record of 43-1, but despite this he did not fulfill his potential and is not remembered as one of the all-time greatest heavyweights. A plethora of serious legal troubles outside the ring – he was sentenced to 17 months in prison for the kidnapping of his estranged wife and their five children in 1998 – along with a lack of discipline between fights greatly stifled his career.
Evidence submitted by Bowe’s doctor at his trial revealed that his patient’s actions were symptomatic of brain damage inflicted on his frontal lobes, which he claimed was a direct consequence of the punishment he absorbed in the ring.
Today, Bowe exhibits a notable speech disorder.