All four characters—the author, the boxer, the doctor, and the widow—look down into the abyss of boxing’s darkness and destruction.
No More Fight Left in Me Tris
They have learned the untold tale of head damage in the ring from our conversation, and their heartfelt words have strengthened my conviction that something needs to happen.
There is a sense of urgency to their statements because they care about the fighters and want to share all they know to make this harsh sport a little safer.
Boxing’s focus on damage and fatalities has defined it from the beginning. Despite the mayhem outside the ring, the reality of boxing is severe. Despite its lethal potential, boxing also has the paradoxical effect of making its practitioners feel more fully alive than in any other activity.
Boxing has been Missing a Book like the one Tris Dixon has Written.
Former Boxing News editor and current host of the podcast Boxing Life Stories, Dixon, does not shy away from discussing the toll that the sport takes on its competitors.
Dixon traces the development of our understanding of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease brought on by repetitive blows to the head, and the results are both devastating and heartbreaking.
He describes how neurologists’ inability to explain symptoms including slurred speech, memory loss, tremors, severe mood swings, despair, and others led to labels like “punch-drunk syndrome” and “dementia pugilistica.” Because Dixon is such a boxing expert and writes about his subjects with such love and respect, his book packs quite a punch.
Boxing Widows are Another Audience for Dixon.
Frankie Pryor, who met her husband at a rehabilitation centre 30 years ago, is the most fascinating. Light welterweight legend Aaron Pryor (The Hawk) competed in the ring from 1976 to 1990.
He won two world titles at that weight. He fought and defeated great boxer Alexis Argüello twice, in 1982 and 1983, and won both times.
Pryor and Muhammad Ali were good friends, but their friendship ended badly for both The Hawk and The Greatest. As a sport, boxing does not discriminate. Pryor passed away at the age of 60 in 2016, and his widow discusses his decline and the solace boxing once provided.
Fighting Man’s Name is Tony Jeffries.
The 36-year-old native of Sunderland and his family are “living the dream” now that he has opened two profitable gyms in Los Angeles.
In 2008, Jeffries won a bronze medal in the Olympics, and he was undefeated as a professional through his first 10 fights before retiring in 2011 due to injuries to his weak hands.
CTE is a “bullet” that Jeffries hopes he was able to avoid. He started boxing at age 10 and continued until he was 27 years old, during which time he claims to have been pounded “between 40,000 and 50,000 times” in the head. Jeffries is waiting nervously to see what will happen.
Dr. Margaret Goodman, a neurologist in Las Vegas who served as a ringside physician from 1994 until 2005, describes those figures as “frightening” when I show them to her.
After caring for boxers in more than 500 professional bouts and advocating for their safety, she became exhausted by the sport and formed Vada, the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, of which she is currently president. As Goodman puts it, “boxing is a wonderful affliction in so many ways.”
Dixon Includes the Widow, the Warrior, and the Doctor in his Book.
The fact that they appreciate its value is reassuring to the author. When I ask Dixon about his concerns, he says, “I am scared that the anti-boxing group would exploit my argument against the sport.”
The book is aimed at addressing the taboo subject of boxer safety and ensuring that its subjects “have a better life after boxing.” I don’t want a pile of broken-down combat aircraft.
Dixon has been a part of boxing for decades; does he have any renewed optimism that the sport would investigate the harm it causes boxers while generating billions for rogue governing bodies, promoters, and managers?
However, we need to Identify who does care now.
Nobody wants to be responsible for protecting warriors. I won’t have the pride to insist that these people read the book if they genuinely care about the boxers’ well-being once their careers have ended.
However, I recommend that they study chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), tau protein, and the connections between these conditions and Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
If they truly care about the boxers’ wellbeing, they will limit the amount of time they spend sparring and encourage open dialogue about how the athletes feel following training sessions. It’s also on the boxers to tone down their machismo. The fighter and his or her coach must have a firm grasp on the neurological processes at play.
In a short time, authors Dixon, Pryor, Jeffries, and Goodman explain the factors that lead to brain trauma and the treatments that have been shown to be effective.
However, learning more about the book’s background can be illuminating. It wasn’t until Dixon read League of Denial that he began to understand the full scope of the NFL’s concussion epidemic.
“I heard stories of Mike Webster’s crazy antics [after reading about his four Super Bowl victories with the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers]. He lost everything and had to start living out of his car.
“At first, I thought, ‘This is boxing. To put it simply, CTE is Punch drunk Condition.
My realisation that “Hang on, the NFL are addressing this yet we do nothing in boxing” was a watershed moment for me personally.
After 25 years in the sport, I finally learned about CTE, tau protein, and other need. My brain lit up with the realisation that these men who are so concerned about the NFL could instead be focusing their attention on boxing, which is significantly riskier.
The Webster case of 2000 sparked the discussion of head trauma in the NFL. Despite the fact that it’s been nearly a century after boxing turned its back on the sport, we still haven’t had our Webster moment.
Dixon’s Book Provides a Broad Historical Context for Understanding how, in 1928, American Physician Harrison Martland Published a Paper Titled “Punch Drunk.”
While Martland’s research was significant, his argument that punch-drunk syndrome exclusively afflicted average boxers was incorrect.
Damage is a sobering reminder that nearly all of boxing’s greatest fighters, from Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson to Muhammad Ali and Aaron Pryor, had their senses completely destroyed by the sport.
Boxing, say Dixon and Frankie Pryor, wasted a golden opportunity to teach the public a valuable lesson in the wake of Ali’s unfortunate case. When discussing Ali, “the classic punch-drunk phrase was hardly utilised,” recalls Dixon.
Maybe they felt that was too harsh of a name for a man who gave so much and wowed the world with his brutal grace.
The misconception persists that only weaker men suffer from punch-drunk condition. It’s possible that Muhammad Ali was too proud to admit, “Boxing done this to me.”
Ali was the only fighter who could have gotten a lot of notice for this,” admits Frankie Pryor. Ali’s family, however, choose to downplay the significance of the diagnosis, saying instead, “Oh, he has Parkinson’s, it has nothing to do with boxing.” It’s directly related to boxing in every way.
Frankie and Brenda Spinks, whose husband Leon surprised a fading Ali in the first of their two fights in 1978, are featured prominently in Dixon’s book, and the author’s treatment of them is heartfelt.
By the time of his February death, Leon Spinks, who takes up the book’s last chapters, was a slurring disaster.
The neurologists, Dixon argues, “were as much the heroes to me as the fighters” in his final piece.
I’d change that to indicate that wives like Frankie and Brenda are the true heroes. What boxing needs is someone of their character strength to fix the damage. Without these ladies, the male combatants I’ve encountered have ended up homeless and contemplating suicide.