The British title fight that left Nick Blackwell in an induced coma should have been stopped three rounds earlier, according to a leading neurosurgeon who has operated on boxers with life-threatening head injuries.
The series of blows that Chris Eubank Jr landed on Blackwell was enough to halt the middleweight contest in the seventh round, said Peter Hamlyn, who performed five operations on Michael Watson after the boxer suffered a near-fatal brain injury in a 1991 clash with Chris Eubank Sr.
Blackwell, 25, collapsed and was rushed to hospital with a bleed on the brain minutes after Saturday’s bout at Wembley Arena was stopped in the 10th round due to swelling above the fighter’s left eye.
But Hamlyn said that it was clear by round seven that Blackwell had taken a punishing series of blows to the head and was not going to win the fight.
“He was being badly beaten from the get-go. He didn’t land more than two neuro-physically significant punches on Eubank, but received dozens and dozens in return. In the seventh round it would have been entirely legitimate to stop it,” Hamlyn said.
“Eubank was doing a lot of uppercuts and if you look at Blackwell’s head, every time he gets one of those, his head snaps backwards. It’s the acceleration and deceleration that is the damaging part.
“From my perspective, it wasn’t anywhere near close in terms of what each boxer was receiving neurologically. The power and quality and the number of punches Eubank was landing on Blackwell was on a whole different scale to what he was receiving. Blackwell had no chance of winning. What was he going on for?”
Before the fight was stopped, Eubank Sr urged his son to avoid more blows to Blackwell’s head, and to focus instead on his torso.
“If the referee doesn’t stop it, then I don’t know what to tell you, but I will tell you this: one, if he doesn’t stop it and we keep on beating him like this, he is getting hurt; two, if it goes to a decision, why didn’t the referee stop the fight? I don’t get why,” he said. “So maybe you shouldn’t leave it to the referee. So you’re not going to take him out to the face – you’re going to take him out to the body.”
Blackwell was given oxygen and carried from the ring on a stretcher moments after he collapsed. He was admitted to intensive care at a London hospital where doctors confirmed he had sustained bleeding on the brain. He was put into an induced coma to help his brain recover.
On Monday, Billie Joe Saunders, the WBO middleweight world champion, who accompanied Blackwell into the ring before the fight, tweeted that he had heard good news regarding his fellow fighter’s condition. “Spoke to Nick’s dad, looking good he will be back to us in no time,” he wrote.
Since Watson’s brain injury, which left him in a coma for 40 days, boxing has taken measures to reduce the risks that fighters face in the ring. Teams have highly qualified medical support and evacuation plans drawn up to ensure that boxers reach hospital quickly in an emergency. Referees tend to stop fights earlier too, especially in title contests where teams can be more reluctant than usual to throw in the towel.
“You need to have a higher level of suspicion in title-weight fights and stop them early,” Hamlyn said. “These guys are the best at hitting people, and also the best at not being rendered unconscious. If Blackwell had been knocked unconscious, which many of Eubank’s blows would have done to other people, he would have been out of there and saved. Because he wasn’t rendered unconscious, he went on to receive the beating he did.”
Beyond concern for Blackwell’s recovery, Hamlyn said his thoughts were with the referee and Chris Eubank Jr: “I feel very much for the referee. It is very tough to be in the ring under all that pressure trying to make instantaneous decisions. He is completely committed, a great enthusiast for the sport. Just imagine what he’s going through today. And I hugely feel for Eubank Jr. I spoke to his father many times after Watson and it was awful for him.”
“I absolutely don’t call for the sport to be banned. I think the job of doctors involved in sports is to look for the risk factors and eliminate them. But no sport can survive people being injured like that. The pressures will become insurmountable, and they are already here today with calls for boxing to be banned,” Hamlyn said.
Robert Smith, the general secretary of the British Board of Boxing Control, defended the decision of the referee, Victor Loughlin, to let the fight continue as long as it did.
“Every boxer who gets into a ring knows the risks,” Smith said. “We have everything in place as best we can. But we’re never going to make it 100% safe . We do everything we possibly can, we are very strict in this country. But it’s the nature of the sport.”
This article was written by Ian Sample Science editor, for theguardian.com on Monday 28th March 2016 15.53 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010