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The drawbacks of fame and fortune in boxing

AROUND TOWN

By Rey Andres

New boxing sensation Nonito Donaire is set to follow the footsteps of Philippine boxing hero, Manny Pacquiao when he chalked up victory number 26 with a clean knockout punch on 2:25 minutes of the 2nd fight with Mexican Fernando Montiel in Las Vegas last Feb. 19. The Fil-Am pugilist going by the ring name Filipino Flash has reinforced the image of the Filipinos as skillful “fighters” in the eyes of the boxing world.

The millions who saw the fight live and on HBO grimaced at the sight of the fallen Mexican champion in an epileptic-like fits after being smacked with a stunning left to the jaw which was akin to being hit a block of concrete. The referee sensing danger of more damage to the boxer stopped the fight scheduled for 12 rounds. With his conquest Donaire is said to have earned $350 grand.

Boxing is a bloody sport that pays big dividends for the disciplined athletes. It is also a very lucrative enterprise for those involved in the game – the promoters, the television networks, the trainers and many others. Although mired in pain and hardships, boxers disregard them as they box their way to fame and fortune.

The world idolizes winners and share the glories of the victors albeit vicariously. Many boxing figures bear the trauma and effects of the brutal sport many years after.

We were mesmerized by the skill, power and showmanship in the ring of Muhammad Ali for many years. We have marveled at the tall, handsome Ken Norton who broke Ali’s jaw in 1973. How are they now? Muhammad Ali has had far and between public appearances and whenever he does, his noticeable gait and shake because of Parkinson’s Disease has driven people to sympathize with the former boxing great. Many believe that his present condition is the result of the punishment he received in his long boxing career starting at the Olympics. But many believe that his condition is traceable to genetics.

One of those who dealt him a good beating and “broke his jaw” was Ken Norton, the all-around athlete from Illinois who had forced his state “to change its high school track and field entry rules because he had won all eight events he tried”. The once boxing idol now walks along behind a walker.

Our own man, Manny Pacquiao considers being in the ring as an opportunity to give all his best all for a good show and satisfy his millions of followers who are willing to part with their bucks for an opportunity to see him reduce his opponent to a pulp. For doing a good work and really being serious about his craft, he is being rewarded handsomely not only in monetary terms but a rightful place in history.

His saga has become an inspiration to many young boxers who want to follow his footsteps to fame and fortune. Even his mom’s appeal to consider quitting the lucrative sport has fallen on deaf ears as she could not stomach what she witnesses on the ring every time his son fights. Call it mother instinct but her fears have basis in fact in truth.

What happens when a boxer over a period of time continues to be pummeled with strong punches to the head? Manny Pacquiao has been fighting for over a decade and has considerably absorbed heavy punches in his head and body. Ex-boxers are more vulnerable to disease and in old age. Findings have revealed that they are more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Any activity that involves blows to the body, especially the head is risky and boxing has serious effects in those who engage in it. Boxing ranks high as a dangerous sport and a good number has died as a result of the brutal encounters.

About 90 percent of boxers sustain a brain injury, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. The sport could account for fewer deaths but it doesn’t mitigate the fact that boxers who suffer from brain damage are higher that recorded. Head injuries are common in boxing and when a boxer gets direct blow to the head, it is like being hit by a 12-pound padded, wooden mallet traveling at 20 miles per hour and can cause fractures to the bone of the head and face and tissue damage in the brain.

A blow can damage the surface of the brain, tear nerve networks, cause lesions, bleeding and sometimes produce large clots within the brain.

Professional boxers most especially suffer from cumulative effect of damage to the brain often resulting in “Punch Drunk Syndrome.” PDS is neurological disorder commonly caused by repeated blows to the head in contact sports such as boxing and the victims “become unsteady when standing, fatuous, euphoric, voluble when speaking, and even aggressive.” Memory and intellect may become impaired and, in advanced cases, may lead to chronic headaches and seizures.

In spite of the danger, many boxers will most likely choose to continue with their sport as it provides one of the fastest ways to fame and fortune. There’s really no indication or marker that says stop when one has achieved what he has dreamed of. Success and fortunes have the uncanny way also of making people drunk and lose their sense of direction. Success has its other painful and tragic sides too.

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