By Corey Erdman
After Adonis Stevenson had hammered Andrzej Fonfara with four consecutive monstrous left hands, it was clear that if not for any intervention, the bout would only end one way—with Fonfara out cold on the canvas.
Sensing that the outcome of the fight was inevitable—even more than the wide betting odds suggested it was from the outset—Fonfara's trainer Virgil Hunter stepped up onto the ring apron and stopped the fight. In doing so, Hunter did one of the most noble and brave things an individual can do. Know when enough is enough.
Whenever a fight is ended without one fighter completely separated from his senses and motionless in the center of the ring, there will be a collection of bloodthirsty fans didn't just want more, but feel they deserved it. Even Kell Brook's fractured eye socket was not sufficient reasoning for a fight to have ended for certain fans after he bravely battled Errol Spence Jr. There were some who were okay with Brook taking a knee, but were not okay with Nicholas Walters bowing out against Vasyl Lomachenko when he felt he could not win the fight.
"People don't know what Brook is going through with his recovery," former champion Paulie Malignaggi recently told Sky Sports. "Everybody goes about their normal days, but Brook will not be having a normal day because he's recovering from a difficult injury. For a fighter, it does not end on fight night."
Everyone has a level of punishment they deem acceptable and worthy of their time and money as a fan. Some simply view it as a sport and aren't personally offended by a fighter quitting or anyone involved forcing him to quit. Others don't view boxing the same way they assess other sports. They can understand why a baseball team down 10 runs will yank their starter, put in a mop up reliever and some bench players and wait for another day, but can't fathom that a fight would reach a point of being unwinnable like any other contest.
Decisions like the one Hunter made have to be made by trainers more often, because nearly everyone in boxing is discouraged from getting in the way of serious injury.
Fighters who take a knee are “quitters.” Referees who stop fights “ripped people off.” Jurisdictions that don't license fighters are “taking food off their tables.”
In stepping up and saving his fighter, Hunter was accused online of being everything from an overrated trainer to a variety of improprieties as absurd as wanting to beat the Montreal traffic.
What Hunter is, is a man who saw Fonfara, who statistically gets hit with more power punches than any other high level fighter in the sport, getting drubbed by Stevenson, statistically the most accurate power puncher in the sport. Combined with the erosion Fonfara had experienced in wars over the year, most notably a savage battle with Nathan Cleverly, and no amount of defensive training over an eight week training camp was realistically going to yield an outcome other than him getting knocked out.
It's precisely the insistence that anything short of that is an insufficient effort that leads to tragic situations like the one another former Stevenson opponent, David Whittom, is in right now.
Whittom is currently in a medically induced coma following a May 27 bout against Gary Kopas in Fredericton, New Brunswick. The footage of the bout is grotesque, with a clearly incapacitated Whittom being stood up and allowed to take two extra haymakers following a knockdown before the fight was stopped.
Coming into the fight, Whittom had lost 18 of 20 fights, and had engaged in at least 10 unsanctioned bare knuckle bouts as well. He had been beaten up by everyone from Stevenson to Eleider Alvarez to Hughie Fury. Commissions kept sanctioning him, trainers kept working with him, promoters kept booking him, and considering he was only stopped in the first round three times, referees almost always gave him the benefit of the doubt.
He exhibited exactly the borderline maniacal bravery some demand in every fight...to what end? Whittom did go the distance with Stevenson, and in his last fight, he didn't go out on his back. Unfortunately, that may be the only position he'll ever be in again.
Prior to Fonfara's bout against Cleverly, he said in an interview that his goals in boxing were to make enough money to be secure, and one day train fighters in Chicago. Modest aspirations, ones that indicate that the fight game is a means to hopeful financial stability just like any other job.
Perhaps the most memorable corner stoppage in recent memory was Billy Briscoe's saving of Gabe Rosado against Gennady Golovkin. Prior to throwing in the towel, Briscoe could be heard yelling to Rosado's father, “I gotta stop it, your son's gonna die.”
On live television, Briscoe sharply vocalized the grave danger that exists in boxing, a fact willingly ignored all too often at every level in the sport.
Boxing is not a bloodsport. It is an athletic competition involving human beings. It is an unthinkably dangerous vocation that requires men and women to dedicate their whole lives. They spend years mastering an otherwise useless skill, and once they have, wager their own physical currency for the chance at making money. Every little decision made in boxing—particularly whether to continue fighting or not—should be done so with the consideration of health and future prosperity, not whether the ending of a bout is horrific enough for a perverse portion of the audience.
Hunter recognized that in Montreal. Fonfara and Hunter tried to win until they couldn't—even if it only took four minutes to figure out. And though Fonfara's goal of winning a world title will most likely never happen, he will now at least have an opportunity to be healthy enough to achieve his larger life goals.