ANALYSING THE MEDIA COVERAGE OF BLACKWELL vs. EUBANK FALL OUT

Matt Bevan

Boxing is once again the focus of the media for all the wrong reasons, after the unfortunate ending to Nick Blackwell and Chris Eubank Jr’s British title fight at Wembley, as Blackwell is in hospital after collapsing in the ring following the clash.

It is a horrible situation for Blackwell and his family, Eubank and his, as well the BBBofC, whose safety measures that are in place at every fight card across the UK will have once again contributed to helping Nick Blackwell stay alive.

Yet despite all this, and as is nearly always the case, the mainstream media, not the boxing journalists but others with little knowledge of sport, medical experts and members of the general public are jumping on the bandwagon and voicing their opinion that boxing should be banned.

Yes, boxing can be a brutal sport. Two men, or women, sharing the ring with the purpose of landing more shots on their opponent, to either stop them or outpoint them. For some it is barbaric, violent and sends the wrong message to young children. But for the others it is as pure a sport as can be.

The aim of boxing is to catch your opponent and not get caught yourself, a nuance that is forgotten by the vast majority that attend shows. It is why fighters like Guillermo Rigondeaux and Andre Ward are viewed as boring, when actually they are exceptionally skilled at what they do.

Those who believe that it should be banned have a right to their opinion and will just switch off until an incident like this happens. But, regardless of what you think, boxing is fast becoming one of the biggest sports in the UK and around the world once more.

It’s a sport that turns the most normal person into one with a seemingly insatiable bloodlust. You see it all the time from ringside at fights. I’ll look across from the press seats and see people dressed in their finest and dolled up to the eyeballs and screaming at the top of their lungs, as one fighter looks to be on the verge of knocking out the other.

Sometimes they are connected to one of the fighters in the ring, either a member of his family, a friend or a supporter who has bought a ticket of him. They could do anything in their 9-5 job, but when they are at the boxing, they are there to witness two gladiators in battle.

They’re more than happy to tell you they could have gone to the Olympics themselves if they had been more dedicated, before engaging in handbags outside the ring and after the fight which certainly show their claim has no validity whatsoever.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig

But, no other sport brings that sort of reaction out of normal people or creates the highly charged atmosphere that boxing does. Most fans who go to these events want blood, gore and knockouts. That’s what they’ve paid for the opportunity to sit in overpriced ringside seats for after all.

However when an incident like this happens, there is huge outrage and those who are desperate for the sport to be banned come out of the woodwork and the use of hindsight becomes a wonderful thing.

In hindsight, maybe Victor Loughlin, the referee on the night, should have stepped in earlier. Perhaps, Gary Lockett, a highly respected trainer in the UK and former world title challenger, should have pulled his fighter out of the fight to save him from more punishment.

But, despite taking some heavy shots, Blackwell was trying to respond and is well known for coming on late in a fight. His reputation was definitely a factor. I had no problem at all with the stoppage at the time and don’t know now, but then again hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Now though the calls to ban the sport are intensified and journalists in the national press are now calling for a blanket ban on boxing. They have medical experts to back them up and more than enough opinion from the public to justify their campaign.

The vast majority of those that cover the sport for the national press weren’t at the Blackwell – Eubank fight. They were at the same show as me in Sheffield, where Kell Brook was defending his world title, and the closest they got was watching it on a laptop on the press row.

But, their views are being ignored as others that are possibly higher up the payroll and can generate more interest in a story, can produce an article that gets more “likes and opinions” than the people who make a living, following the sport and provide these fighters with the platform to earn some money and help their families.

But, one thing is being forgotten as the news unfolds. Every fighter knows the risk of fighting and the risk that they could be injured in the ring. They’re not forced into it and they all know what they are signing up for.

The paramedics at ringside are always there in case something like this happens and the card doesn’t go on until they are back in the venue, if this sort of incident happens, and it very rarely does. Yes, boxing is dangerous, there’s no argument there, but it is statistically safer than a lot of other high profile sports.

Yet, when someone is badly hurt in one of these other sports, the immediate concern is for him or her, making sure they are looked after properly and transported to the nearest medical facility safely. With boxing, due to the nature of the sport and its perceived image, the first response by some is to ban it forever.

I saw a comment on Facebook that boxing is for thugs and under privileged children. The technical term for that comment is bullshit. Without boxing, many of the stars that have captured the imagination of the British public, could be in prison, rehab or dead.

You listen to fighters who claim this and then hear them talk about the discipline and respect instilled in them after starting out and going to the local gym. Kids that turn up and think that it is just about brawling don’t last long in boxing or quickly realise that their views couldn’t be further from the truth.

As for it just being for under privileged children, that is just as ridiculous. A lot do come from council estates where there are genuine problems. But there are plenty that come from what would be considered a “good” background and just want to box.

At the end of the day, what has happened to Nick Blackwell is dreadful and my thoughts are with him. He is a warrior and will fight harder than in any battle he has had in the ring to make as full a recovery as possible.

For now, let’s just leave it at that and put our opinions to one side.

Matt Bevan is freelance journalist and contributes to several other leading publications on a weekly basis. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MBevs68.