In Boxing, Premature Stoppages Are Preferable To Posthumous Tributes

The conclusion of the Anthony Joshua versus Carlos Takam brought the armchair referees of social media to a crescendo of criticism directed at referee Phil Edwards for having the temerity to end their viewing pleasure two rounds prematurely.

Many expected Joshua to end Takam’s challenge rather earlier but the very experienced Takam, a late replacement one should remember, proved a much more robust opponent than many who have stepped into the ring with Joshua previously. He exemplified the challenges that Joshua is likely to encounter again; an opponent on the defensive who attacks sporadically but effectively. Takam’s carelessness with his head was less welcome and it appeared Joshua’s nose was broken early in the fight which will have affected his performance overall.

The fight was an impressive one, without being a classic. The stoppage was seen as controversial. Takam had fought bravely and some of the comments on social media decried the decision to halt the contest on the grounds that it would put a blot on Takam’s proud record. Let us look at it more pragmatically.

Joshua was well ahead on points, Takam had been knocked down once and was heavily cut around both eyes. Those cuts will have affected Takam’s vision. Joshua is a serious puncher and, late in a tough fight with restricted vision one would have to question the wisdom of allowing a boxer to carry on. No matter how brave he may be or what his record may look like, his safety must be paramount.

There will be those who will point out that a knockout punch could come at any point until the last bell but boxing needs to appreciate that it is under scrutiny. The risks of boxing are well known and those in charge must understand the safety of the boxers must come before the cinematic romanticism of last second knockdowns. There will be plenty offering opinions if tragedy strikes. The term “duty of care” is often used across a myriad of different situations but in boxing, that notion is particularly important. A fine line exists between entertainment and unacceptable risk.

The ringside attendance was enormous and they will have paid good money for the night of boxing, as had the thousands watching on pay per view television but neither the referee nor the ringside doctor will be taking their entertainment into account when making decisions.

In a previous blog, I have suggested using video technology to help boxing referees, as is seen in other sports. An error on the part of a boxing referee in letting a fight go on too long has potentially fatal consequences. The recent death of a Filipino boxer following a sparing session did not make the headlines in the UK but should, if one were necessary, act as a tragic reminder of the risk these boxers subject themselves to.

One hopes that those who sit behind keyboards offering opinions understand the very difficult job of the referee. I am not holding my breath.