When the gloves go on

The Southland Times - - Sport -

Stephen McIvor could barely breathe while the punches flew at his face. But re­mem­ber­ing his trainer’s ad­vice, he spat his mouth­guard onto the box­ing ring floor.

It’s one of the rules – no punches to be thrown with­out a mouth­guard. It’s a re­prieve from the per­sis­tent hay­mak­ers.

It was McIvor’s first char­ity fight, but the in­ten­sity and dan­ger did not de­ter him from get­ting in the ring again. In fact, he did it twice more.

It was days af­ter his third bout in 2014 that he started to fear his de­ci­sion to get in the char­ity box­ing ring would have a dra­matic im­pact on his fam­ily.

The re­al­i­sa­tion dawned as he lay on a hos­pi­tal bed in the brain in­jury unit. McIvor was ‘‘sh ...... my­self to be hon­est’’.

‘‘I was in tears ly­ing on the hos­pi­tal bed think­ing what an idiot I had been to put my fam­ily, and my­self, through this.’’

McIvor had jumped in the ring with Stuff jour­nal­ist Steven Kil­gal­lon for three rounds of char­ity box­ing.

But two days af­ter the bout, while work­ing in the gar­den at his home in Auck­land, McIvor felt his head pound ev­ery time his spade dug into the earth.

Soon, he was rushed to the brain in­jury unit with a sus­pected brain bleed. It would later turn out to be a rup­tured pocket of spinal fluid in his head.

‘‘I lay there for about 48 hours and just kept think­ing about my fam­ily. Just for the sake of my ego I could’ve lost my life, my fam­ily and my kids.’’

McIvor says he is in no way ad­vo­cat­ing to stop char­ity box­ing events, he knew what he was do­ing, and thinks if peo­ple want to give it a go safely – they should.

‘‘But with the tragic events in Christchurch it’s chill­ing to think what could have hap­pened.’’

On Wed­nes­day, Kain Par­sons died in Christchurch Hos­pi­tal aged 37. A for­mer builder-turned-project man­ager, he was knocked un­con­scious dur­ing a fight against for­mer Can­ter­bury and Tas­man Mako half­back Steve Alfeld at Fight for Christchurch last Sat­ur­day.

CALL FOR REG­U­LA­TIONS

Af­ter Par­sons’ death, Box­ing New Zea­land sev­ered its ties with cor­po­rate box­ing events, and pro­fes­sion­als in the in­dus­try have called for tougher re­stric­tions.

Oth­ers in the pro­fes­sion have called for the or­gan­i­sa­tions which sanc­tion char­ity box­ing events – New Zea­land Na­tional Box­ing Fed­er­a­tion (NZNBF) and New Zea­land Pro­fes­sional Box­ing As­so­ci­a­tion (NZPBA) – to heed the warn­ings of ex­pe­ri­enced box­ing train­ers and make strin­gent safety prac­tices manda­tory at ev­ery event, big or small.

In­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Tracey Mar­tin said on Thurs­day she had asked her depart­ment for ad­vice on whether char­ity box­ing matches should be reg­u­lated. ‘‘We’ve had two deaths in three years and that’s two deaths too many,’’ she said.

In Au­gust, Lucy Brown, 31, died days af­ter re­ceiv­ing a head in­jury dur­ing a rou­tine spar­ring ses­sion.

In 2016, Hamil­ton man Neville Knight died in the ring at a char­ity box­ing match, leav­ing be­hind three chil­dren.

Ear­lier this year, Auck­land’s Peach Gym quit the cor­po­rate fight scene af­ter Joel Rea, 36, was se­verely con­cussed at a cor­po­rate fight.

In April, a man was knocked out for 20 min­utes and hos­pi­talised for four days with a brain in­jury at a Box­ing Al­ley event in Auck­land. That led Box­ing Al­ley to also can­cel cor­po­rate fights in­def­i­nitely.

The NZPBA ap­proves or pro­motes about 50 cor­po­rate bouts each year. As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Pat Leonard said the box­ers at the Fight for Christchurch event had a pre-bout med­i­cal check by a reg­is­tered doc­tor and were told by the su­per­vi­sor about the risks.

In Par­sons’ case, he’d taken two weeks off train­ing be­cause of an in­ci­dent dur­ing spar­ring.

Ac­cord­ing to wit­nesses, on the night of the fight Par­sons had been stunned twice by punches dur­ing the bout, prompt­ing the ref­eree to give him two eight stand­ing counts in the first round to check if he was fine to con­tinue.

Then, he was knocked out in the sec­ond round.

DIF­FER­ENT RULES FOR CHAR­ITY BOX­ING

Par­sons was not wear­ing head­gear, which was op­tional – a pol­icy in line with the New Zea­land Pro­fes­sional Box­ing As­so­ci­a­tion (NZPBA). A re­view is un­der way into the fight and the death has been re­ferred to the coro­ner.

Auck­land Box­ing As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Paul McSharry told Stuff pro­mot­ers for cor­po­rate box­ing are ad­verse to the rules of am­a­teur box­ing.

‘‘There are ap­prox­i­mately six gov­ern­ing bod­ies in New Zea­land who can sanc­tion cor­po­rate box­ing.’’

How­ever, be­cause the rules and reg­u­la­tions for am­a­teur box­ing are quite strict, pro­mot­ers will go to the pro­fes­sional bod­ies, he said.

‘‘Cor­po­rate box­ing is sanc­tioned by pro­fes­sional box­ing; pro­fes­sional box­ers don’t wear head­gear.’’

McIvor is adamant head­gear should be com­pul­sory, par­tic­u­larly on the char­ity box­ing cir­cuit.

‘‘In box­ing you’re ei­ther hit or you get hit – that’s what it’s about. There is go­ing to be some af­fect or some dam­age. It’s that sim­ple.’’

His one-time op­po­nent agreed with him. ‘‘I was re­ally con­cussed af­ter the fight and had bad headaches all the next day,’’ Kil­gal­lon said.

‘‘It took me un­til the evening to come right.

Given that I have a job where I have to use my brain, it’s prob­a­bly not the bright­est de­ci­sion to risk long term dam­age to it.

‘‘For years af­ter the fight I was keen to jump back in the ring, but in hind­sight

I’m glad I lis­tened to my part­ner

Emma and didn’t.’’

Both

McIvor and

Kil­gal­lon trained with box­ing pro­fes­sion­als and ar­rived at the fight in peak con­di­tion – and Kil­gal­lon was at least 20kg lighter than his op­po­nent. He knew his lim­its.

‘‘If you didn’t pre­pare prop­erly it would be a fool­ish thing to do. I was con­scious of what I was about to put my­self through.

‘‘If I had been matched with an ex-sports­man there’s no way I would have fought.’’

For­mer six-time New Zea­land box­ing cham­pion Barry Gal­braith was a judge at the char­ity event in Christchurch in which Par­sons was in­jured last Sat­ur­day, but can­not com­ment on the events on the night.

He has been in­volved in the char­ity cir­cuit off and on, and said match­ing fighters of equal abil­ity was the most cru­cial as­pect of safety.

Match­mak­ing takes into ac­count a fighter’s weight, age and time spent in the ring. But Gal­braith said a key com­po­nent was a boxer’s abil­ity and fit­ness. ‘‘When Dean Lon­er­gan kicked all of this [char­ity box­ing] off he made sure you had fit ath­letes fac­ing off against ath­letes,’’ Gal­braith said. ‘‘Most ath­letes have been into the deep end of ex­haus­tion, sim­i­lar to what hap­pens in the ring.’’ As time has gone on, cor­po­rate box­ing has be­come more pop­u­lar, which has led to more and more peo­ple think­ing jump­ing in the ring is easy and just a bit of fun, he said.

‘‘But if you get some­one who plays a bit of squash at the week­end with some­one who’s played 10 years of com­pet­i­tive sport – it’s go­ing to be a huge ad­van­tage and po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous.’’

Gal­braith be­lieves some­one with match­mak­ing skills should be des­ig­nated to ev­ery cor­po­rate event and look over all the back­ground and de­tails to en­sure the right peo­ple are paired up.

‘‘The match­mak­ing is just so im­por­tant – it needs to be more in depth and not just throw­ing two peo­ple to­gether.’’

Gal­braith said or­gan­is­ers of events get the ap­pro­pri­ate sanc­tions from a box­ing as­so­ci­a­tion, but at times em­ploy train­ers who aren’t cer­ti­fied box­ing coaches.

At other events where Gal­braith has trained the con­tes­tant, he’s been forced to pull fighters out of the bout be­cause he felt they weren’t ready to get in the ring.

‘‘As a trainer, your job is to do the best you can for your fighter to make sure they’re not go­ing to get hurt. So if they’re not up for it you need to have a chat to them and say it’s not go­ing to work.

‘‘In box­ing you’re ei­ther hit or you get hit – that’s what it’s about. There is go­ing to be some af­fect or some dam­age. It’s that sim­ple.’’ Stephen McIvor, right, dur­ing his fight with fel­low jour­nal­ist Steve Kil­gal­lon

‘‘I know other coaches have done that, too. But a trainer who has less ex­pe­ri­ence might not see the signs that in­di­cate that needs to hap­pen.’’

How­ever, he said some onus must lie with the com­peti­tor. It’s a sport with ob­vi­ous risks ap­par­ent be­fore any­one signs up, even at a pro­fes­sional level with ex­pe­ri­enced fighters.

Like McIvor and other box­ing ex­perts, Gal­braith be­lieves that head­gear should be manda­tory for non-pro­fes­sional cor­po­rate events.

‘‘The head guards give pro­tec­tion, es­pe­cially around the back of the head if you are un­for­tu­nate enough to hit the can­vas. It also pro­tects the up­per tem­ple and avoids cuts from head clashes.’’

Most peo­ple out­side box­ing wouldn’t know there are be­tween 30 and 40 dif­fer­ent brands of 16 ounce gloves.

Some in the pro­fes­sion have called for the cor­po­rate cir­cuit to be banned, while oth­ers say it would lead to un­governed fight events hap­pen­ing un­der­ground.

But Gal­braith be­lieves it needs ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple run­ning them and look at the rules and re­stric­tions and try to im­prove them.

McIvor agrees: ‘‘My ex­pe­ri­ence won’t be like ev­ery­one else’s.

‘‘I was 48 at the time and I knew what it was do­ing, but some­times for the sake of puff­ing our chest out we might not be think­ing ra­tio­nally.’’

‘‘The match­mak­ing is just so im­por­tant, it needs to be more in depth and not just throw­ing two peo­ple to­gether.’’ For­mer na­tional box­ing cham­pion Barry Gal­braith

Kain Par­sons, above, and Lucy Brown, be­low, have died this year af­ter sus­tain­ing head in­juries while box­ing.

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