Through the elegance of our greatest champions, the blue collar determination of our contenders and the sheer love of the game shown by those journeymen often fighting below a .500 record, sure this is a sport of beautiful brutality, but no brutality- nor no sport- is beautiful when it is fatal. The death of former IBF lightweight champion, Leavander Johnson is nothing short of a tragedy.
Less than an hour after losing his grip on the IBF lightweight championship at the hands of Jesus Chavez via a brutal eleven round beating on the undercard of Robbie Peden and Marco Antonio Barrera’s meeting at Ceasers Palace, Las Vegas, Leavander Johnson underwent emergency brain surgery to operate on a blood clot on his brain. Two days later on the -21st of September- Leavander Johnson lost his life. Leaving behind four children and a loving fiancée, Deatra Nichols. As well as the championship legacy he had strived for to finally reach at 35 years of age, realising his dream by defeating Stefano Zoff in Milano, Italy less than four months ago to become the IBF lightweight champion of the world. Such is boxing that a fighter can go from the ultimate pinnacle to an ultimate tragedy as literally as the same man goes from one bout to the next.
I want to tread very carefully here, but I believe this fight and this sad death of a champion of the sport, can hopefully extinguish some of the over the top macho ethics that seems to hold back corners from throwing in the towel and see’s them allowing their fighters to take unjustified and irrational beatings for no gain. If the guy isn’t in the fight, take him out of it. Sure I love the pride and determination of fighters, but clearly this bout went two rounds too long.
The loss of life- or sight or sense- is much more than the loss of a fight or the loss of a title. It is also sad to think that had Leavander succumbed on his stool -perhaps saving his life- after the ninth or tenth round he would have been victim of criticism from some circles (ie. Kostya Tszyu, Mike Tyson in earlier bouts this year).
In many cases it is this “heart of a champion” that drives fighters to the cellars of boxing’s cruellest depths. How would you describe Evander Holyfield’s determination to continue his career post-forty two years of age? The New York State Athletic Commission’s earlier move to ban him may be politically rough, but it was a move done with the best intentions for Holyfield, hey they’re not making money out of having Holyfield fighting out of the state that’s for sure.
There’s a fine line between determination, bravery and irrational stupidity. Externally the line between right and wrong is much bolder, officials just need to display the initiative to recognise it. Sure the consequences of these misdemeanours aren’t always fatal, but you only have to look at Nigel Benn to realise that death isn’t the only costly consequence the dark side of boxing has to offer.
Beyond all the bravery, all the determination and even all the attributes of self pride that appears intrinsic in most great boxers, there must be a sense and a focus for the safety of these fighters. Hell this could result in a few tough calls and perhaps even a couple of controversial and wrongful stoppages, but if referees are protecting the well being of fighters and in cases such as these- saving lives, there is no doubt that they are doing their jobs. The corners also have something to answer for, with all the one-sided beatings we see occur out in boxing, there seems to be a severe shortage of towels making appearances in today’s rings.
I don’t think boxing needs to move to introduce new rules and regulations just yet, more new ethics and morals. Because Ceasers Palace isn’t the Roman Coliseum and boxers are not fight-to-the-death gladiators. This is sport not barbarics.
If boxing, as a community, can lift our game more tragedies can be avoided. And though Leavander can not be brought back, perhaps in his passing we can bring a sense of awareness and promise some kind of emotional reform out of respect towards the fallen champion.
Leavender flowers always smell better when not drenched in blood. Boxing smells cleaner when not corrupted through the scent of death. Let’s hope the tragedy of Leavander Johnson’s passing can bring some common sense back to the community of boxing in which he occupied as a true champion. And let’s also hope that same man rests in peace.
© Copyright / All Rights reserved: Doghouse Boxing 1998-2005