Each one becomes harder to process, more difficult to rationalise. He was doing what he loved. He climbed through the ropes of his own free will. He lived to fight. We know that. We only hope his family and loved ones manage to salvage some modicum of comfort from those cold, now past-tense facts.
The news from the hospital thus far has been as positive as everyone could have prayed for. No surgery needed, no deterioration in condition, could be woken today. Nick Blackwell won’t box again, but we hold our breath now and hope he can do anything else he wishes. Aged just 25, he still has so much in front of him. Has, present tense.
Tragedies is the ring affect so many but beyond the boxer concerned and his family, three others tend to be cut deepest: the opponent, the referee and the stricken fighter’s corner.
Incidents of foul play aside, the opposition boxer is fully and immediately absolved of blame, granted sympathy, and given space to wrestle with his own emotions and struggle towards his own peace. Rightfully so and we wish Chris Eubank Junior well.
The waters are muddier, or bloodier, for the third man in the ring and the chief second, however. Hindsight is a wonderful and terrible thing, but at times it is impossible not to silently ask yourself: What were they thinking? What were they seeing? What were they expecting?
Such questions should be kept internal by everyone in the immediate, invariably uncertain aftermath. A little later, when opinions, speculation and prognosis have been given sufficient time and examination to solidify towards fact, they must be raised. If there is even a one in a million chance that they might serve to save another boxer, in another ring, in another fight, the questions must be raised.
Ideally, they should also be raised by a qualified few. This is one of those occasions in life when if you haven’t lived it, your tuppence worth, while still valid, simply carries less value. If you haven’t hit and been hit in a professional boxing ring. If you haven’t physically separated two men attempting to render one another unconscious with their gloved fists. If you haven’t lived and breathed a training camp with a boxer and then leant on the ring apron and felt each blow as if your own flesh was absorbing it. If you have done none of the above, you know less about these specific circumstances than those who have.
And if you form your point of view remotely, watching a television screen, thousands of miles from the tragedy unfolding, with no first-hand knowledge of the men involved, then you know much, much less than those who have.
Carl Frampton, the unified super bantamweight champion of the world, alluded to the masses of critical armchair experts when he demanded that all boxers, regardless of level or ability, deserve respect for what they risk each time they perform. Nick Blackwell had just been induced into a coma in an effort to reduce the swelling of his brain and so the sentiment was clear and well-received by all. All but one, it seems.
An ESPN boxing writer, a man with a vast forum and highly influential voice, chose to use Frampton’s message as a platform to blame Blackwell’s trainer, Gary Lockett, and the fight referee, Victor Loughlin, for the boxer lying in a London intensive care unit, hanging to his life by a thread. The fighters do deserve respect, he allowed, “but not referees and corners that don’t do their jobs.”
The exchange took place online and, looking at the two profiles concerned, at least 365,000 twitter users potentially read the conversation. 365,000 people were given the impression by an experienced and respected boxing journalist that Lockett and Loughlin are the reason Nick Blackwell is currently fighting for his life.
Given the timing of the tweet, it was insensitive in the extreme. Given his remoteness from the incident and total lack of knowledge of the protagonists, it was the height of arrogant recklessness. Given the evidence at hand, it is was an incredibly harsh judgement.
The standing and reach the seasoned ESPN contributor enjoys ensured plenty of support for the quick summary ruling he handed down from behind his keyboard. It should have been stopped earlier by the referee or corner, most stated, matter-of-factly. One tweeter pin-pointed the seventh round as the moment to call a halt. “It’s that simple,” he then concluded to apparently win the debate.
Of course, it never, ever is that simple. This was a brutal title fight, one of many brutal title fights the boxing fraternity will watch this year. Blackwell came up against a much better man on the night. He fought bravely and gamely but suffered a sustained beating, uppercuts in particular landing seemingly at will from the early stages. But he never went down, never wobbled, never stopped throwing back, never stopped attempting to block punches, never sounded incoherent in his corner, never asked to stop. Every now and again, a fighter will pull off a miraculous victory from such a dire position. And certainly, the vast majority go on to fight another day. Unfortunately, Nick didn’t and won’t.
Yet even when Victor Loughlin paused the action to allow the ringside physician to check a grossly swollen supraorbital ridge and decide enough was enough, Blackwell appeared relatively okay. Five minutes later, he was still strolling around the canvas, winking to well-wishers, chatting with his rival, and ruefully shaking his head at the loss of his treasured British title belt. Neither he, nor his opponent, nor his trainer, nor the referee, nor the ringside doctor, nor anyone at ESPN, could possibly know that the pressure on his brain was slowly increasing in force and sliding Nick towards unconsciousness.
Could this latest tragedy have been avoided? Of course: boxing could be banned or Nick Blackwell could have refused to enter the ring on Saturday night. Anything else is pure, dangerous and unfair conjecture. We will never know, but the bleed on his brain may have commenced with an early punch and gradually worsened as the fight trudged violently forward. That first vicious uppercut that so visibly jolted Blackwell’s head may have caused the irrevocable damage. The result may have been preordained with that blow and, even had the white towel flown over the top rope there and then, the desperately sad conclusion to the night would have remained the same.
Hindsight is always 20/20 vision, they say. Correct, but only from each person’s unique vantage point, and some views are not as clear as others. It is difficult to pull any positives from the current mire, but hopefully they will come. Whether in the form of Nick Blackwell’s recovery or further improvement of the safety precautions in situ within prize fighting, we pray some light will emerge from the darkness.
And the benefit of hindsight will play its part in the process, as it must. Just not to condemn honourable, well-intentioned men like Gary Lockett and Victor Loughlin.
Get well soon Nick.