Leavander Johnson has died of injuries sustained while defending his world lightweight title. That brings the boxing body count in Nevada alone to seven since 1982.
The promoter of the fatal fight hopes for a “medical advance” to stop the carnage. But what’s needed isn’t an advance in medicine, it’s a retreat in the rules, back to the bare-knuckle style of the 19th century.
As long as prizefighters wear boxing gloves, which protect the delicate bones of their hands so they can safely concuss one another’s brains, a few of them are going to die and a lot of them are going to suffer permanent neurological injury. The deaths are more newsworthy, but to my mind the injuries are more heartbreaking.
The contrast between the witty, agile Cassius Clay who struck down Sonny Liston and the brain-damaged stumblebum who is now Muhammed Ali is all the evidence anyone should need to conclude that a major reform is necessary.
And that reform couldn’t be simpler: take off the gloves. Then fighters will pound one another’s bodies for hours on end, as they did in the Gentleman Jim Corbett era. That might not be as exciting as watching shorter bouts decided by knockouts, but unlike contemporary prizefighting it would be a sport that a decent person who understood was happening could watch without disgust.