By Frank Warren
The need to ‘wrap up’ properly during the inclement weather this week got me thinking about the importance of protecting a fighter’s hands.
The human hand – constructed from 27 bones – clearly wasn’t designed with the intention of people punching one another and several ring careers have been compromised, some even wrecked completely, due to long-term hand damage.
The problems are particularly prevalent amongst the sport’s very heaviest hitters such as John Conteh, Joe Calzaghe and Naseem Hamed. In the present game, heavyweight David Price and middleweight Billy Joe Saunders have suffered badly.
The latest to fall victim to delicate mitts is Stockton-on-Tees light-welter Bradley Saunders (no relation to Billy Joe) who I signed with me early last year. The lad from the north-east is rightly touted as one of the hottest prospects in boxing. An eight time national junior champion, former English senior ABA king and medalist at both the 2007 World amateur championships in Chicago and 2010 Commonwealth Games in India, the 26 year old is the most seasoned British amateur of this Millennium, having represented England or Great Britain on close to a hundred occasions.
Frighteningly heavy handed, Saunders scored spectacular stoppages at almost every tournament he attended, fighting the globe’s elite amateurs who were buffered by head guards, whilst he wore gloves so padded they resembled pillows.
However, after just five pro fights, Bradley is the latest to require career-rescuing surgery from industry leader Mike Hayton at Cheadle Royal Hospital in Manchester. Previously Mike salvaged the careers of David Price, Tony Bellew, Tony Jeffries, all three Smith brothers (Paul, Stephen and Liam), Joey Selkirk, Kal Yafai, not to mention several Premier League goalkeepers.
Young Saunders had bone grafted from his hip to his hand and, thankfully, initial indications suggest he shall be able to resume his march towards titles unabated, around April. In his last outing prior to going under the knife, Bradley secured a fantastic win against Irish champion Peter McDonagh and his pedigree should allow me to move him very quickly into title contention. He is a hugely exciting talent who I predict will evolve into a major attraction up in the north-east where the knowledgeable fans have long been craving a local hero to follow.
The fists essentially serve as the tools of the trade to the prizefighter and every precaution must be taken to safeguard them. Too often, the damage can be traced to the formative stages of the boxer’s amateur career where the youngsters hands are wrapped either by willing but untutored volunteer coaches or, more commonly, by the young boxer themselves.
In amateur competition, boxers are restricted to just two metres of bandage – secured at the wrist by two inches of zinc oxide tape – which is simply insufficient. In the pro game, where gloves are significantly smaller and less padded, regulations permit unlimited bandage and tape – provided it doesn’t cover the knuckles – plus an additional pad to cushion that knuckle area.
Experts, such as my matchmaker Dean Powell, will take up to half an hour to meticulously wrap a fighter’s hands prior to battle but it is equally crucial that due care is taken every time the boxer punches in the gymnasium.
Education is the key. At their trainers and seconds’ seminars, the Board of Control advises cornermen of their rules regarding wrapping but presently don’t get an expert, such as Dean, to demonstrate best practice. Prevention is far better than cure.
For championship fights, the taping of hands is stringently monitored by both sanctioning officials and a representative from the opposition camp. While I’m yet to hear of the mythical horseshoe being hidden inside a boxer’s glove, there have been occasions when skullduggery has occurred.
Following a bout at Madison Square Garden in 1983, Puerto Rican welter Luis Resto and his trainer Panama Lewis were sent to prison for three and six years respectively after it was discovered in a post-fight handshake that padding had been removed from Resto’s gloves. Disfigured opponent Billy Collins, previously unbeaten, suffered a torn iris, never fought again and tragically died after crashing his motor bike in what many believe was suicide.
In 2009, prior to a WBA welterweight clash in Los Angeles, it was revealed that champion Antonio Margarito’s wraps were ‘loaded’ with a sulphur and calcium mix which formed Plaster of Paris! The bandages were removed and, following a brutal spanking from challenger Shane Mosley, the Mexican had his licence revoked for a year. Several, myself included, felt the ban should’ve been sine die.
Cheating such as that significantly increases the risk of serious, perhaps even fatal, injury in this most dangerous of sports.
British welter king Frankie Gavin appears to have fully overcome his well-documented demons. The 27 year old Brummie, Britain’s only ever world amateur champion, was back to his majestic best, live on BoxNation last Friday, taming Walsall’s plucky Jason Welborn in seven. Expect him to now advance to major international honours before the year is out.
Last weekend BoxNation showcased the talents of vicious WBA middleweight king Gennady Golovkin who butchered Philadelphian Gabriel Rosado in seven rounds at Madison Square Garden. It was the 30 year old Kazakh’s 22 stoppage win in 25 starts.
Former two-weight WBO champion Steve Collins has apparently begun training for his showdown with Roy Jones Jnr. In his prime, the Celtic Warrior conquered Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn (twice each) but retired 16 years ago, citing a medical irregularity.
Steve was not only one of the hardest men ever to climb between the ropes, he’s also a top fella and dear friend. However, he’s now 48, doesn’t need the dough, so lets just say I’d prefer his ‘comeback’ didn’t happen!