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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fight, earn, have fun, then go

BRILLIANT Filipino boxer, Manny Pacquiao has a smile that can melt stone and fists that can break it.

To watch him is to understand boxing's thrill, to hear of former heavyweight champion Greg Page's death (which was connected to brain damage suffered in a fight) is to be grimly reminded of boxing's price.

Men will always box, and some will always pay for it. It is a legitimised violence, an escape for boys from the street, a test of manhood, and a taker of life.

Of course, people die in numerous sports, but boxers suffer. According to a 2006 report on the American Association of Neurological Surgeons website: "In several studies, 15-40 per cent of ex-boxers have been found to have symptoms of chronic brain injury."

So two things I hope for the talented and terrific 30-year-old Pacquiao. That he doesn't box for too long and that he doesn't lose all his money. Because this is what so many boxers do.

Most sportspeople don't want to stop and it's understandable. Men retire in their 60s and find their lives awkward, to retire in your 30s can be unsettling.

For many athletes, their only skill is wielding a racket or throwing a punch. It is their only earning, and often a very good one, and to stay on is tempting.

Teams may oust greying players but there is no limit in individual sport.

And science is lending a firm hand, for athletes now understand their bodies better, eat better, train better. Golf clubs, for instance, have assisted in making Kenny Perry a major contender at nearly 50.

If sportsmen don't know when to quit, it's no big deal. Except for boxers (and NFL players whose concussions and impact injuries haunt them into old age).

Boxers, their brains bruised and careening around their skulls, have to know when to stop, but they rarely do. They see Ali now and they still don't care.

Ali boxed too long. George Foreman is thankfully well, but boxed too long. Evander Holyfield is 47 and fought in December last year.

If you're older, you're slower, if you're slower you're going to be hit more.

And that can't be good in the long run because, according to the AANS: "The force of a professional boxer's fist is equivalent to being hit with a 13-pound bowling ball traveling 20 miles per hour, or about 52 g's." And of course, heavyweights, one presumes, suffer more.

Pacquiao, asked by a television anchor last week about what he was going to do with all his money, said he'd save it. I hope so. Because no one loses money like boxers. No one.

Boxers are often generous, they're often spendthrifts, they're often taken advantage of. To house his entourage in Manila for the legendary Joe Frazier fight, Ali needed 50 rooms. Then the money goes and fighters have to keep fighting. It's a bad mix.

Foreman returned to fighting because he was almost bankrupt (and made a lot of money). Mike Tyson reportedly squandered $300 million in earnings and filed for bankruptcy. Joe Louis came back because he had to pay taxes.

And these are the big fighters, not the smaller ones, with lesser pay days, who keep sweating and pounding away in forgotten rings.

Greg Page, who died last week, suffered brain damage in his final fight in 2001. His wife, so stated a report, "attributed his death to the lingering effects of that final fight".

He was 42 when he last fought and, according to the New York Times, it was a fight held in a nightclub so "dingy that decaying dead rats littered a corner of Page's dressing room". It seems a sad, desperate place for a boxer to go and start dying.

So Manny, fight, earn, then know when to go.


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