By: Sean Crose
It was, truth be told, the best Michael Conlan had ever looked. Fighting for the WBA lightweight title, the man not only knocked down Leigh Wood at the end of the first, he continued to fire hard and land well against the defending champion for the following few rounds. It didn’t matter. None of it mattered. For in the end, Conlan ended up getting literally knocked out of the ring by Leigh before sprawling out unconscious on the floor of Nottingham’s eponymously named arena. Everyone, Leigh included, was deeply troubled by the fight’s brutal end. Conlan left the arena on a stretcher, and it would be some time before news arrived that the former Olympian was conscious and responsive.
It was ugly. It was frightening. And it was very much part and parcel of the sport of boxing. For here is an endeavor where extreme danger is simply part of the landscape. Fortunately, much has changed since Duk Koo Kim died as a result of his fight with Ray Mancini in November of 1982. Fighter health is now a genuine concern for officials and ring doctors. People aren’t afraid to err on the side of caution if things start to look alarming for a fighter. That’s a good thing. But no measure will ever make boxing completely safe. For boxing is, by its very nature, an extremely threatening endeavor.
Of course, boxers aren’t gladiators. They fight to prove who is the more skilled, not to end or ruin a life. That’s why boxing is not immoral by its nature – because serious harm isn’t s meant to be the intention. Yet serious harm is part of the business, intentional or not. My brother-in-law Michael texted me once word came out that Conlan was conscious and alert. “If we find out he’s okay,” he wrote, “(then) that was a fantastic fucking battle.” Michael was right, of course. If Conlan comes out of this experience no worse for wear, the fight with Wood will be considered a classic. If he doesn’t, the fight with Wood will be considered a tragedy. It’s the strange dual nature of contact sports, boxing primary among them.
People say they “put it all on the line” to achieve their goals all the time. Boxers literally do just that, week in and week out, for all the world to see. And it’s glorious, frightening, reckless, selfless, admirable, and tragic all at the same time. Here’s hoping and praying Conlan emerges from this experience with no permanent damage.
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