Josh Warrington’s shock ninth-round loss to surprise Mexican package Mauricio Lara caused a divide in opinion about what happened in and out of the ring.
Many thought Warrington should have been withdrawn after round four.
Initially referee Howard Foster was under heavy scrutiny for allowing it to continue when Warrington was dropped heavily and somehow remained on his feet for the remainder of the session. He was horrendously groggy, dazed and how his leaden legs managed to hold him up was a minor miracle in itself.
As he made his way back to the corner, he looked like a drunk man in magnetic boots. The ability to stand was no longer a given.
Foster, by the way, was the same official pilloried for controversially stopping George Groves ‘too early’ in his first fight with Carl Froch. Here, he was on the receiving end for the opposite reason.
There’s an old adage to insert about preferring to stop a fight a second too early or a second too late…
It’s at this point, by the way, you could make a case for anyone stopping Warrington-Lara after the fourth.
In some jurisdictions, however, doctors can stop the fight and that should be brought in universally and should be brought in now.
However, there was a groundswell of opinion that Warrington should have been halted because he was clearly concussed from the fourth and this is where things in boxing get a little murky.
As Chris Nowinski of the Concussion Legacy Foundation told me during my four years researching Damage: The Untold Story of Brain Trauma in Boxing (out in May and published by Hamilcar), the fact that a mandatory eight count or even the 10 count is permitted means concussions are effectively written in to the laws of boxing.
If you need several seconds to stand up and clear your senses there’s a good chance you’re concussed. It’s in the rules. It’s a little late to get moral about it.
Nowinski suggested that if a fighter has recovered in three seconds or less, that would be more appropriate, not to include bodyshots, of course.
Yet we’ve seen fighters win on autopilot. We’ve seen fighters scrape themselves off the deck to earn spirited victories, we’ve seen them hurt and rally. We’ve seen these heroes turn it around, even if they haven’t been able to remember it afterwards.
And to Warrington’s immense credit he battled back. He gritted his teeth and went back into the trenches in round five and he might have won some sessions, too. He was digging so deep you couldn’t help but admire his courage.
And as the rounds went by it was almost as if the former champion, who had relinquished his IBF featherweight title before the fight, deserved to hear the final bell.
But on a more humane level you could say he deserved to be pulled out much, much earlier.
Regardless, the debate was null and void after the Mexican gate-crasher smashed his way through with heavy hooks in the ninth, ultimately leaving Warrington flat on his back, in need of oxygen and then requiring a hospital visit.
Attention was also paid to Warrington’s corner where his father, Sean O’Hagan, received plenty of criticism for allowing Josh to fight on. Having a father in the corner is a whole other debate but it was a brutal spectacle. No one could have let Warrington out for the fifth and not been questioning whether it was the right thing to do.
But in high stakes boxing those are the calls that must be made in an instant.
There’s no half-time or time outs and there are certainly no substitutions.
The career of a trainer or referee can be defined by a decision that can be made in the time it takes to click your fingers.
It’s a cruel sport and unflinchingly hard. And fights like the one we saw last night can not only change the trajectory of a fighter’s career but his life after boxing, too. It’s not about money, titles or legacy, it’s about health and seeing your children growing up, remembering their childhoods and knowing how to count your hard-earned money when you walk away from the sport.
Fortunately Warrington didn’t give an interview in the ring. Fortunately no journalist was allowed near him for their pound of flesh afterwards and fortunately he went to hospital.
In the NFL, protocols have been installed so concussed players would never be put in front of an interviewer because they wouldn’t know what they were saying.
Fighters shouldn’t suffer from that exposure when other athletes are not. No one should, in any sport. Just because you can’t see a concussion doesn’t mean erring on the side of caution should not be mandatory. After Tony Bellew was knocked out by Oleksandr Usyk in November 2018, the chain of command somehow allowed Bellew to be interviewed by television and radio broadcasters. He was on loop, a sure-fire sign of concussion, repeating himself over and over again.
Hopefully protocols with broadcasters, promoters and the British Boxing Board of Control will now put the fighter first, not the paying customers or the people paying the wages but those who require the most protection.
But last night concussion, a word so often ignored or avoided in boxing, was abuzz on social media.
This isn’t just a sport of acute, fight night injuries, but one of long, slow deaths described by prehistoric rhetoric from punch drunk syndrome to dementia pugilistica when, what we are dealing with, is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). It’s not only the fight night causalities we must be aware of but the long, tragic deaths brought about by changes in a fighter’s brain that can cause depression, mood swings, anxiety, short term memory loss, slurred speech and tremors.
Boxers don’t have many Warrington-Lara-type contests in their reserves. A fighter’s mileage is not governed by his age but by the rounds he’s boxed, the hard fights and spars he’s had and the abuse he’s taken.
He perforated his ear drum and fractured his jaw for starters.
It’s fair to say that last night Warrington took too much punishment.
It’s a throw away comment, a cliché to say ‘that’s boxing’ and to do so is to be part of the problem.
Turn a blind eye if you will, but you could also choose to demand something better for the men and women who put their lives, health and futures on the line.