To Quit or Not to Quit

By Gordon Marino on October 25, 2013
To Quit or Not to Quit
Tweaking the rules is not going to spare boxers from the “pocket full of mumbles” fate.

Thanks to the NFL class action suit and the swirl of publicity surrounding head injuries, there have been a number of rule changes aimed at removing some of the risks that come with football. But if you think the gridiron arts can shake up the grey matter, try the prize ring.

On Tuesday, 26-year-old junior featherweight Francisco “Frankie” Leal died from a brain injury suffered in a knockout loss to Raul Hirales in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Hirales, who was dominating the fight, had Leal down in the sixth round. In the eighth, Hirales landed a crushing right. Leal was up before the count of 10 but then collapsed and soon thereafter fell into a coma. It could be argued that Leal should not have been allowed in the ring in the first place, given the fact that he had to be taken out on a stretcher after his frightening knockout loss to Evgeny Gradovich in March 2012.

Unlike the NFL, boxing people do not need the lab coats to tell them about the connection between blows to the head and early onset dementia. And yet, tweaking the rules of the ring is not going to spare boxers from the “pocket full of mumbles” fate of Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Floyd Patterson and countless other ring warriors.

Greater safety in boxing requires a shift in sensibilities of the sort recently hinted at by pound-for-pound king, Floyd Mayweather Jr. Following his win over Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, Mayweather confessed:

“I truly believe I could have banged with Canelo and eventually knocked him out in probably the eighth round, but I could have taken a lot of punishment also, which could have messed my career up to where I wouldn’t have been able to fight four more fights…It hurts my feelings to look at Ali’s situation. He fought for the people, to please them. You’ve got to fight to please yourself first. Self-preservation.”

Traditionally, people who make their living giving and taking punches have not paid much heed to the law of self-preservation. Mayweather’s admission that he put concern for his health above going for the knockout and pleasing the crowd is not one that many boxers would be willing to make. The unstated rule in the world of the ring has always been “create excitement and never surrender, no matter how impossible the odds.”

A fighter who loses every round, has his brain scrambled but keeps punching, can count on slaps on the back and, at least for that night, adoring fans assuring him that he possesses a certain part of the male anatomy.

But if boxing is to become less perilous, the ethic has to change. Trainers know their fighters better than the referees. When their man or woman is taking a beating and there is no hope of victory, the trainer needs to protect their fighter from his or her own courage and halt the contest.

More than that, boxers need to take Mayweather’s lead and take responsibility for their health. If their corner does not have the lights to see what is in the offing, then the boxer has to have the mettle to say “enough.” This would entail a sea change in the gladiatorial mind-set, but there were hints of just this in Saturday’s title tilt between Mike Alvarado and Ruslan Provodnikov.

The first few rounds of the matchup were competitive, with Alvardo boxing the brawler from Siberia. However, as the fight progressed it became evident that Alvarado could not keep his relentless and powerful opponent at bay. With a hammer-like left hook and crushing body shots, Provodnikov was beating his gutsy foe down, body part by body part.

Alvarado’s mother was ringside, dabbing her eyes, and in a state of high anxiety for her boy’s health. With his right eye closed, Alvarado was looking like a gargoyle and there was nothing left in his offensive tank. After round six, referee Tony Weeks started coming over between rounds to see whether or not the fighter known as “Mile High” could continue. Finally, just before the tenth stanza, a crestfallen Alvarado whispered that he was done.

After the brawl and almost apologetic, Alvarado explained, “It was not worth taking more punishment because the damage could be permanent…It just wasn’t my night. I have a lot of heart. I’m not a quitter.” Bravo Mike…Bravo. If only Frankie Leal could have done the same.

A professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College, Gordon Marino writes on boxing for the Wall Street Journal. He is on the board and works with boxers at the Circle of Discipline in Minneapolis, as well as at the Basement Gym in Northfield, MN. You can follow him on Twitter at @GordonMarino.

Special thanks The Daily Beast

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  1. Gordon Marino 01:01pm, 10/28/2013

    Ted, Thanks for the reference - very strong article!

  2. Ted 12:15pm, 10/28/2013

  3. Gordon Marino 09:16am, 10/27/2013

    I think it was criminal to put Frankie Leal in there. Please note that I am not suggesting that the risk can or should be taken out of boxing but I am for trainers throwing in the towel in hopeless fights - where their man or woman is taking a beating.
    Of course people love to see the ko and when a professional opponent sticks in there and takes a beating for 8-10 rounds everyone slaps him on the back and says you have %@LLs - but they won’t be with him 10 or 5 years later when he starts to talk funny. Never been a big FM fan but I have to say that I appreciate his approach to the sport. He knows what those punches can do. Thanks

  4. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:27pm, 10/25/2013

    Can’t find Ted Sares’ very fine tribute to Frankie… here goes….why was Leal still fighting….I guess the easy answer is that’s what fighters do. The real question that comes to my mind is why was this particular match made….they were friends and I can’t believe that they didn’t have the occasion to spar because that’s what fighters do. Frankie was clearly vulnerable and as it turned out totally outgunned in this fight…to the extent that if they had indeed sparred the obvious difference in fire power would have been clear to those at ringside, even if not to Frankie because he was indeed a fighter.

  5. Ted 11:54am, 10/25/2013

    Here is a post I made prior to the Alvarado fight on another thread:

    “Ted 08:22am, 10/18/2013
    Sometimes there are fights that scare me. Sometimes the fighters put themselves at great long term risk. This is one of those. I wish it had not been made. There is a story line here, but I am just too burned out to write it”

    I think you touch on this pretty well, Gordon.

  6. Ted 09:02am, 10/25/2013

    I do think the Leal affair warrants more scrutiny. I tried to do it in my blog. Something came up smelling less than roses on this fight.

  7. Ted 08:30am, 10/25/2013

    Well, yes, we HAVE gone mad.

  8. Clarence George 07:59am, 10/25/2013

    I agree, Ted.  I don’t know what boxing would be without the “gladiatorial mind-set,” but I do know it wouldn’t be boxing.

  9. Clarence George 07:55am, 10/25/2013

    Ted:  I completely agree with you about Leal.  And I don’t doubt that “women boxers” take risks.  But that’s not the point—boxing is a man’s world, and women have no place in it; anyway, no place in the ring.  Women hitting each other for sport?  Have we gone completely mad?

  10. Ted 07:49am, 10/25/2013

    “This would entail a sea change in the gladiatorial mind-set, but there were hints of just this in Saturday’s title tilt between Mike Alvarado and Ruslan Provodnikov.”

    Never happen. If it does, forget about boxing. Guys like Rios and Prov. know only one way and it’s savage. They cannot change their mind set. Not possible.

  11. Ted 07:41am, 10/25/2013

    Or this one that is very similar to the Leal ending but thankfully, Frieda recovered.

  12. Ted 07:38am, 10/25/2013

    CG, Check this out and tell me what you think of “little girls?” Without rancor.

  13. Ted 07:31am, 10/25/2013

    CG, I agree for the most part with what you say, but the part on Women Boxing is. These ladies suffer the same risks as men every time they enter the ring. Case in point: Frieda Wahlberg. Case in point: Holly Holm..

    As for Frankie Leal, he should not have been allowed to fight, but the thing got caught up in the confusion of changing promoters and he paid for that confusion with his life. Still, I did not like the way, he was attended to when he slumped to the floor. Where was the oxygen for God’s sakes?.

  14. Clarence George 04:35am, 10/25/2013

    What’s next, replacing boxing trunks with tutus?  You guessed it:  I don’t at all cotton to the insidious softening and weakening of the once manly art.

    I know full well the risks boxers take; more to the point, so do they.  They don’t want to take those risks?  Then let them instead take a civil service exam.  But if they opt to enter the ring, they should be prepared to fight.

    I’m very much in favor, to be sure, of boxers defending and protecting themselves, and there was nothing dishonorable in Mike Alvarado “quitting.”  But self-preservation, while a given, is hardly the warp and the woof of the sport.

    “Women boxers,” pink gloves, shoulder rolling like a little girl shown a spider…boxing as a marginally more vigorous form of kabuki.  I have an idea—let’s take a run out to Southampton Cemetery where we can suffer the ignominious embarrassment of witnessing Jack Dempsey spinning in his grave like a top.

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