Flores appears to have done all the right things
The thing that makes Benjamin Flores’ death last week more unsettling than most is that, according to those close to him and those at ringside during his loss to Al Seeger in Texas, there was no warning whatever that this healthy, 24-year-old kid was about to join the great majority.
If you haven’t heard, Flores died on May 5 after he was stopped in the eighth round in a junior featherweight fight against Seeger five days earlier.
Just after veteran referee Laurence Cole stopped it, Flores asked if he could lie down on the canvas. He lost consciousness and died at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. An autopsy showed he died of blunt force head injuries.
This wasn’t Willie Classen getting knocked out three times in seven months, or Benny Paret getting pinned against a metal turnbuckle and pummeled by Emile Griffith after having been savaged by Gene Fullmer three months before.
This wasn’t Du Koo-Kim suddenly wilting after 13 rounds of barely legal mayhem.
It wasn’t Jimmy Garcia or Beethaven Scotland or Leavander Johnson or Oscar Diaz taking a beating round after round after round.
Flores didn’t dry out the way Gerald McClellan did before fighting Nigel Benn, and he didn’t linger between life and death waiting for an ambulance to arrive, like Greg Page did.
“He had an excellent training camp,” Aaron Navarro, Flores’ assistant trainer, told RingTV.com. “He had no problems making weight, no problems at the weigh-in. Even during the fight he was responsive, and was listening to everything we told him. There was no indication that there was anything wrong.”
Ringside reports indicate Flores was behind in a competitive fight and that the seventh was his best round.
“That was his strategy, the way he fights,” Navarro said. “He works the body in the first few rounds and comes on late.”
Navarro said medics were in the ring the moment Flores lost consciousness and an ambulance was on-site. Parkland Hospital was a short drive away and he had surgery a short while after arriving.
In short, everything went right. Everything that was supposed to be done beforehand was done, and everything happened that we’re told is supposed to happen when something goes wrong.
Benjamin Flores died anyway.
We like to think that our fighters’ safety lies largely in their own hands and in the system built to protect them, and that if everyone does what he’s supposed to do, things like this won’t happen.
When a fighter dies, we think, it’s because of something he did wrong or because the system failed him somehow. The referee stopped it too late, the ambulance wasn’t there soon enough, his managers didn’t watch out for him. It has to be someone’s fault.
It doesn’t always work that way.
“Everyone knows (serious injury or death) is part of the game, but no one talks about it, and everyone believes that if you do what you’re supposed to do, it won’t happen to you,” said Navarro.
Dr. Margaret Goodman, THE RING colleague and former Nevada State Athletic Commission Medical Advisory Board chairman and chief ringside physician, wrote in an email that there probably was some underlying cause that contributed to Flores’ death.
“Rarely does a fighter die from the fight he is in,” Goodman wrote. “And under Flores' circumstances, it is even less likely. In other words, a fighter who dies in a fight either had a pre-existing medical condition that no one was aware of; they either unknowingly used something that predisposed them to bleed (such as Aspirin, or Motrin …); or they had an injury in training that no one was aware of.”
Goodman recalled the case of Pedro Alcazar, another fighter who, like Flores, seemed at no greater risk of being seriously injured than any other fighter, but nevertheless died after a seemingly benign stoppage loss against Fernando Montiel in 2002.
“Alcazar only took a few head shots,” Goodman wrote. “He actually had a tiny bleed, but around the bleeding he developed severe brain swelling that killed or literally exploded surrounding brain cells. We never knew what happened, and why it took days to develop. But there was talk he had been in a car accident some time before the fight. If that were true and he did have a seemingly unimportant head injury, perhaps that increased his susceptibility.”
It’s possible that Flores had some symptom or another he didn’t tell anyone about, and it’s the fighter’s code to keep quiet about aches and pains that might indicate something is wrong -especially when people are counting on you. Flores left behind a wife and a 10-month-old son and worked at a Taco Bell when he wasn’t fighting.
“He loved boxing and was trying to build a better life for him and his family,” Navarro said. “I knew him since he was 13 years old and he was a good kid who grew into a good man. He did everything right inside the ring and outside the ring.”
We’re taught that if we do everything right, don’t take any shortcuts and work hard, everything will be all right. So that’s what we do.
We wear our seatbelts and quit smoking and stay away from red meat, look both ways before crossing and torture ourselves on treadmills. We try to do the right thing because that’s supposed to help. It’s supposed to mean something. That’s what we’re told.
But there are no guarantees. Not for us, not for Benjamin Flores.
Some random observations from last week:
Teddy Atlas loves telling us that “75 percent of this game is mental,” which is no doubt a teaching of Atlas’ boxing mentor, Cus D’Amato. I know it’s a blasphemy, but really, how would D’Amato know that? How do you measure it? Did he have some kind of machine?
And why is it a nice, round, emotionally satisfying number like 75? Why not 83.2 percent? Or 67.4? And is it 75 percent for everyone? Aren’t we all different? Why not 75 percent for one and, say, 38 for another? ÔÇª
The only thing sillier than John Ruiz’ recent open letter challenging all the world’s heavyweights is the retort from Kali Meehan, of all people, who responded that he should get a title shot before Ruiz. This is like Fred Thompson calling for a recount after last year’s general election. ÔÇª
Kudos to Joe DeGuardia of Star Boxing for pitting against one another his two young undefeated heavyweights, Kevin Johnson and Devin Vargas, on Friday Night Fights May 15. Johnson was supposed to face Monte Barrett and Vargas was to fight Bruce Seldon. Barrett dropped out with an injury, and an interesting heavyweight fight – a virtual oxymoron these days – was born. ÔÇª
The boxing commission in Florida is getting some heat for letting Hector Camacho fight Yory Boy Campas after New Jersey denied Camacho’s request for a license. I say good for Florida. You’re either free to make a legal living by the means of your choice or you’re not. That the 46 year-old Camacho grabbed and held his way to a draw is beside the point. ÔÇª
Poor Jermain Taylor. You know your reputation is in the crapper when season-one “Contender” contestant Jesse Brinkley calls you out. Brinkley, who recently beat, ahem, Joey Gilbert, challenged Taylor in a press release. “I’ve lost and gotten myself back up and I’m sure that’s what Jermain wants to do.” Why would Taylor risk getting beaten by a guy who was stopped by Joey Spina, for cripes sake? ÔÇª
Raise your hand if you too are sick to death of Vernon Forrest and his injuries. It might be time for Vernon to try a gentler sport. Badminton is nice. ÔÇª
How lucky is Chad Dawson that he doesn’t have to fight the guys his trainer did? ÔÇª
Bill Dettloff can be contacted at [email protected]