The Pugilist

Lebedev vs Jones underscores boxing’s ugly side

The Pugilist

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Take a long, hard look at the images above.

Then, although I know how tempting it is to skip straight to the comments section, please try to bear with me and read the full story before passing judgement, judgement which I will be particularly eager to check out later.

When penning these opinion pieces on the sweet science, I always make a note of skimming the aforementioned feedback section.

Though most reader rebuttals are painfully negative with zero interest in debating the issues in a constructive manner, I have always made sure as a writer to keep tabs on what you guys think.

No matter how much of it is narrow-minded, fickle or just plain stupid, there are always comments to be found which offer decent food for thought ahead of the next blog and help the author to gauge his/her audience.

I’ll be the first to admit that one type of comment I always skip over automatically is the whole ‘boxing is barbaric, it should be banned’ generalisation.

Look: boxers know what they are getting in to when they begin this particular sporting path. Almost all of them get a rush from competitive combat and wish to pursue a career.

Those who are good do very well from it. Those who aren’t so good, have their runs, make as much as they can and get out early enough to safely seek a living elsewhere.

It is of course right to have concern for the well-being of anyone who puts their bodies on the line for our entertainment, especially as there have been unfortunate exceptions to the rule.

But, this concern is the responsibility of the boxing bigwigs, in deciding who is or is not fit to possess a licence to box. It’s the concern of each fighter’s dedicated team, who monitor their progress for months on end in meticulously-plotted training camps. It’s the concern of the referees on fight night, who should be protecting both men in addition to enforcing the rules.

This brings me to the WBA cruiserweight title fight on Friday between Denis Lebedev and Guillermo Jones.

The duel, between a 41-year-old champion in recess for pulling out of an unacceptable number of title defences (Jones) and his interim replacement/mandatory challenger semi-renowned for wiping the floor with faded names (Lebedev), was not the most inspiring on paper.

But as you can see, it ended up being neither another Jones withdrawal, nor a Lebedev mercy-kill.

It was instead an incredibly brutal, undoubtedly exciting, knock-down drag-out war – one few were expecting from this particular encounter.

As a massive fan of such kinds of fights – Ioka v Yaegashi and both Alvarado v Rios bouts being my favourites of the last 12 months – I should have been all over it.

Instead, I felt uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.

Of course this isn’t the first fight which should have been stopped long before it actually was. Each passing instance gives the anti-boxing brigade further ammunition to launch vitriol at a sport which provides just as many serious injuries as any other, really.

But Lebedev’s eye socket being pretty much reshaped, with the 33-year-old all the while pretty clearly unable to properly see out of either eye, makes even such an ardent fight sports fanatic as myself think maybe the politically-correct protesters have a bit of a point.

Referee Stanley Christodoulou, an experienced referee, should know better – a lot better – than to take so many looks at the defeated fighter and allow him to box on, whether he runs the risk of disappointing the partisan crowd in Moscow or not.

Worse still, Kostya Tszyu – the man who quit on his stool in another hard-hitting war against Britain’s own Ricky Hatton in 2005 – was right there, in Lebedev’s corner, and allowed his charge to go to the penultimate round having spent half the fight in such a bad way.

That made me sick, to be honest. An ex-boxer should REALLY know better.

Compare and contrast to the countless current or former boxers who run a corner for a colleague, friend or protégé and are not afraid to end a boxing contest in an unpopular fashion because they put their man’s welfare first.

A great example, very recent and from a British angle, is Darren Barker calling off Lee Purdy’s one-sided loss to Devon Alexander on Saturday. Purdy was in tears that his close friend withdrew him, but Barker was spot on. There was no late rally forthcoming after 'Lights Out' soaked up so much abuse.

I will never be so narrow-minded as to throw decades of 17 weight divisions of worldwide boxing into one ‘it’s too violent’ pigeon-hole. Never.

But the general logic all around during Jones-Lebedev shows there is still a lot of work to be done to silence the sport’s critics.

We do not need Lebedev or anyone else to risk their permanent vision, or worse, to entertain us or to prove their worth as extremely tough and brave athletes.

There will always be thrilling wars in a squared circle somewhere to get our adrenaline pumping – ones where the participants are being well prepared, monitored and protected at all times, and emerge with only moderate cuts, bruises and an enhanced reputation.

Here’s hoping that when, even if, Lebedev returns to the ring, he is granted these privileges by those in charge, who appear to forget how much responsibility they should be taking for their meal tickets and their health.

Liam Happe | Follow on Twitter

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