1,467 Boxing Deaths

good read today in Philly newspaper


Someone has to count the corpses

Philadelphia Daily News

'ME, I AM neither for nor against boxing: Like Zen, it is," says Joseph R. Svinth. It is a wonderful line, written by a man whose avocation is to chronicle death in the ring.

The latest: Choi Yo-Sam, 33, a flyweight from South Korea. The WBO intercontinental champion, he defended his title on Christmas Day against Heri Amol in Seoul. Knocked down in the 12th and final round, Choi got to his feet, won the decision, collapsed and fell into a coma. He was brain dead. They harvested his organs for transplant a week later.

You probably did not read any of this, and why would you? It is 25 years now since Choi's countryman, Duk Koo Kim, died after a fight with Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini in Las Vegas. Since then, the sport has diminished. The circumstances were not unusual. Boxing has never been safer, at least in this country, but it will never be safe enough. The risks are inherent. The sport would not exist without them. You accept those risks or you don't - and people who want to abolish the sport as well as its proponents will be screaming past each other for as long as anyone cares.

Choi's was the fifth boxing death resulting from a 2007 fight. Svinth can call the roll. (You can read his work in the Journal of Combative Sport: http://ejmas.com/jcs/jcsart _svinth_a_0700.htm) Here are the five names, and the sites of their fights: Jackson K. Bussell (California), Angelito "Lito" Sisnorio (Thailand), Anis Dwi Mulya (Indonesia), Anders Uwadinobi (New York), and Choi.

"Overall, these are a reasonably representative set of boxing deaths," Svinth said the other day, in an e-mail interview.

"One: An amateur [Uwadinobi] who died of heart failure during an unsupervised match [no legislation can ever stop that].

"Two: An intentional mismatch arranged by foreign promoters [Sisnorio] who wanted to treat the hometown crowd to a knockout.

"Three: An experienced amateur boxer [Bussell] who had recently turned pro, who was fighting another fellow with a similar record [e.g., a very fair matchup].

"Four: A pro [Mulya] with a 1-5 record, who had probably fought under other names, who was sick at the time of the fight.

"Five: And Choi, a champion who decided to do one more fight for the money.

"The four pros were all working-class men, while the amateur was a college freshman who got hit in the chest at just the right instant, and his heart stopped in midbeat."

And so it goes. The decade of the 2000s has seen an average of 8.8 reported boxing deaths per year. That is a little high compared with the 1980s (6.7) and 1990s (7.8), but low compared with, say, the 1950s (14.6) and 1920s (19.1). Again, no one doubts that the sport in this country is safer, mostly thanks to government intervention.

But, going back to the 1700s, Svinth has chronicled nearly 1,500 boxing deaths. About a decade ago, he took over the task that was begun by a man named Manuel Velazquez, an immigrant from Cuba who came to this country in the early years of the 20th century. Velazquez began collecting newspaper clippings, probably in the late 1930s, and grew to become a crusader against the sport. Svinth, by comparison, is a boxing agnostic.

"The question is always, 'What's acceptable?' " Svinth said. "High school football has quite a few deaths each year [far more than does college or pro ball, actually] . . . Of course, lots more kids play football than box. Also, there is [often] simply something that wasn't diagnosed. This is usually cardiac, and it happens most often to younger athletes. Boxing in the USA is, overall, much safer than it used to be . . . lots better than the old Blinky Palermo days."

Palermo was an old Philadelphia boxing manager who ended up going to jail for racketeering in the early 1960s. If it isn't like that anymore, well, the people who like the sport fall into two categories: the "sweet science" people who appreciate the skills it takes, and the people who love the dangerous, dark nature of the game. That second part isn't changing any time soon, by the way. Neither is the raw, physical danger.

So, Joe Svinth talks about increasing insurance coverage for promoters and fighters, and about holding commissions more accountable for the fights they sanction.

And he counts. As of today, the number is 1,467.