One of the doctors who worked the boxing match Saturday night in Quebec City that left Adonis Stevenson hospitalized in an induced coma said he and his colleagues are at a loss to medically justify the sport.
The goal of boxing is to inflict damage on the opponent, often by knocking him unconscious. And that carries important risks for severe head trauma, Jean Doré said.
“I can’t say we can justify it,” Doré said in an interview.
“It’s a question a lot of doctors are asking, especially doctors within the sport.”
As of Monday evening, Stevenson, the 41-year-old Montreal-based fighter known to his fans as “Superman,” remained in intensive care in a Quebec City hospital after a knockout by Oleksandr Gvozdyk of the Ukraine. In a statement, the hospital described the fighter’s condition as stable.
Despite his misgivings, Doré said he prefers to remain ringside rather than leave the sport.
One of his patients was New Brunswick boxer David Whittom, who died last March after being in an induced coma for 10 months following a knockout blow.
Doré chooses to keep attending fights, he said, “to better manage the situation and to try to prevent these events.” On Saturday, Doré was a backup physician and did not directly care for Stevenson.
Dr. Charles Tator, a neurosurgery professor at University of Toronto and a director at Canadian Concussion Centre, said it pains him to watch boxing.
“I can’t really watch combat sports because it bothers me so much when I see the direct hits to the head,” he said in an interview.
He said its “tragic” that people willingly get into the ring.
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“There’s so many hits to the head that could be damaging, that I can’t take it as a brain surgeon, knowing what happens inside,” Tator continued.
Alain Ptito, a brain trauma expert at McGill University’s Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, said it is impossible to make the sport safe.
“When you are knocking out someone, you are essentially damaging their brain,” he said in an interview.
A fighter who stumbles and crashes onto the mat after a knockout punch has suffered trauma to the area around the brain stem, which governs vigilance and consciousness, he explained.
Injuries are cumulative, Ptito added, meaning the more one gets hit in the head, the greater the likelihood they will have an early degenerative disease.
“Boxing should be abolished as a sport,” he said. “I wouldn’t hesitate to say that.”
‘This is their best way of getting out of trouble’
But any pressure by doctors to ban boxing would trigger resistance from those who say government has no place interfering with consenting adults who understand the risks of professional boxing.
In Montreal, one of the top boxing cities on the continent, the pushback would be particularly strong, said TSN 690 boxing analyst Matt Casavant.
Fighters such as Lucian Bute, Jean Pascal, and Stevenson are major sporting figures in the city and are embraced by fans, said Casavant, who also works bouts as a cutman treating fighters between rounds.
Boxing transcends sport, in part because of the storylines of troubled men who make something of their lives, Casavant said. Stevenson, for instance, served jail time for being a pimp. The boxer has in the past credited boxing for turning his life around.
“These fighters, especially in North American culture — do not necessarily choose this path,” Casavant said. “This is their best way of getting out of trouble — of making a living for their family. Boxing knows what it is.
“It’s not trying to hide the fact it has big-time risks and health concerns.”
Sylvera “Sly” Louis, co-owner of Underdog Boxing Gym in downtown Montreal, said boxing changed his life.
“Boxing lets me express my anger — my anger and my desire to create and to compete,” he said in an interview. “It allows me to be nice (outside the ring.)”
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Louis, 36, who still competes professionally, said seeing what happened to Stevenson was a reminder of the dangers of the ring. “Sometimes when I’ve gotten hit, my ego will want to pretend that it didn’t hurt me,” he said.
“We’re all proud and sometimes our pride can get us hurt.”
Louis started boxing at 16, and he says it makes him happy to see people he’s come up with over the years doing well, thanks in large part to the sport.
“We’re not in jail and we’re not dead,” he said. “Some have families and most are doing good.”