Jim Lampley on how ring deaths shaped his view of boxing
We who have been following the sport for a long spell have seen situations occur, and then re-occur, and so, arguably, we tend to view tragedies like the death of Maxim Dadashev through different filters.
Like, say, a Jim Lampley; the Hall of Fame broadcaster has been calling fights for 45 years. He is still a fan, after HBO boxing shuttered their store-front, but the Cali-based broadcaster is keeping up on the news cycles within the sweet science sphere. I caught up with Lampley to see what he’s been up to, and we touched on the recent word that Russian boxer Maxim Dadashev had passed away from brain trauma suffered in his July 19 bout against Subriel Matias, a Puerto Rican slugger. That faceoff ran on ESPN, and was the lead-in to a Teofimo Lopez vs. Masayoshi Nakatani main event.
I put it to Lampley, who was enshrined into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2015, how did and does he handle these sad inevitabilities, the ring deaths?
“It never was easy,” the 70 year old blow by blow man stated. “It got harder to deal with as I wound up, over the course of all my years covering fights, I wound up narrating four different ring fatalities. And once you narrate a ring fatality, you feel like you are a part of it, and you face the reality that people are excited and into what’s going on, and it’s part of the drama that one guy was getting hit hard. So, it becomes more difficult. It’s always been a part of the sport.”
Indeed; but, of course, as we progress in the realm of gaining knowledge into the mysteries of the brain, and how blows to the head affect that organ, and produce damage seen down the road. So, armed with more information, should that impact our stance on the existence of prize-fighting? For some, to varying degrees, yes.
Lampley said that we see ring deaths, and the docs and commissioners and such are “too complacent as the fight goes on,” time and again. We are dulled to what those blows can and often do DO. Lampley thought maybe the Dadashev fight could have been stopped after round nine, instead of the 11th. Trainer Buddy McGirt, does he lay awake wishing he’d stopped it earlier, Lampley wondered.
Here is a certainty – people will be paid to fight each other as long as there are beings on earth. “You’re never going to completely eliminate the specter of what happened to Dadashev or what happened to (Hugo Santillan),” he said. He admitted, even, that he became more interested in boxing after reading a Red Smith story on Jimmy Doyle’s death at the hands of Sugar Ray Robinson. And even more so when Emile Griffith killed Benny Paret. That cemented the severity of the stakes for the young Lampley.
Indeed, the issue is complex, and Lampley helps illuminate that, with his candid declaration, that reading of ring deaths brought him closer to the sweet and savage science.
The HBO man noted that the people who do this for living do so with eyes open, they know the risks, and continue to soldier on. “I have never met a prizefighter who didn’t know” the possibility of the massive danger, he told me.
And that’s it, this is an example of freedom, in action. We have the freedom to engage in dangerous enterprises, and sometimes, that freedom bites back.