Muhammad Ali (right) winces together Ken Norton records him through a left hook to the head in your September 1973 rematch. Ali, that won the fight, speak of ‘the black lights’ a fighter sees when hit by a concussive blow and also suffered indigenous Parkinson’s condition later in life. Photograph: AP
Boxing must address the damage done in the ring and a new book by Tris Dixon lays out what’s left after ~ the final bell rings


The writer, the fighter, the doctor and the widow every look down into the darkness and damage that boxing. They understand the previously untold story of mind trauma in the ring and, together they talk to me, their moving testimony underpins a shared id that readjust has to come. There is a measure urgency to your words because that they love the fighters and they want to sell their expertise to aid make this brutal sports a tiny safer.

You are watching: Boxers before and after brain damage

Damage and death have constantly framed boxing. This harsh truth means that, regardless of the chaos outside the ring, boxing is shockingly real. It have the right to maim and also even death but, in a strange paradox, boxing likewise makes many fighters feel an ext intensely alive than anything else.


Closed shop? sports needs an ext voices to reach real agreement on concussion | Andy Bull
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Tris Dixon has written the book that boxing has constantly needed. Dixon, the former editor of Boxing News, now a freelance writer and also the host of the Boxing Life story podcast, confronts the damage done come fighters v unflinching honesty. That is smashing yet tender together Dixon charts the background and science of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a mind condition resulted in by recurring blows come the head.

He shows just how it was called “punch-drunk syndrome” and “dementia pugilistica” as neurologists struggled to explain the slurred speech, storage loss, shakes, violent mood swings, depression and other symptoms. Dixon’s publication reads powerfully because he is such an authority on boxing and he writes around fighters through deep affection and also respect.

Dixon additionally talks come boxing widows. The most exciting is Frankie Pryor that tells me just how she met her husband in rehab 30 year ago. Aaron Pryor, revered in boxing together The Hawk, was a two-times light-welterweight civilization champion who battled professionally native 1976 to 1990. He winner 39 of his 40 fights, including two i can not forget battles versus another legendary boxer, Alexis Argüello, in 1982 and also 1983.

Pryor was friends with Muhammad Ali yet The Hawk and also The biggest were both irreparably damaged. Boxing spares no one. Pryor died in 2016, aged 60, and his widow defines his deterioration and the salvation boxing as soon as offered.

Tony Jeffries is the fighter. The 36-year-old is from Sunderland and he and his household are currently “living the dream” in Los Angeles wherein he operation two effective gyms. Jeffries won an Olympic bronze medal in 2008 and also he to be an unbeaten agree after 10 bouts when, in 2011, his delicate hands forced his retirement. Jeffries really hopes he “dodged a bullet” dubbed CTE. That boxed between the eras of 10 and also 27 and, according to his calculations, was punched in the head “between 40,000 and also 50,000 times”. Jeffries waits anxiously for the consequences.


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Tony Jeffries (right) in action against Kenny Egan in ~ the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Now a gym-owner, he approximates he was punched in the head between 40,000 and 50,000 times throughout his boxing career. Photograph: take care of How/Getty ImagesThose number are defined as “scary” when I share them v Dr Margaret Goodman, a las Vegas neurologist who functioned as a ringside physician from 1994 to 2005. She often tended to battle aircraft in an ext than 500 experienced bouts but, in marketing for your safety, was scorched out by boxing and so she founded, and also is now the chairman of, Vada – the voluntarily Anti-Doping Association. “Boxing,” Goodman notes, “is a beautiful sickness in so many ways.”

The widow, the fighter and also the doctor function in Dixon’s book. Castle recognise that is significance, i m sorry comforts the writer. “I am worried the anti-boxing brigade can use mine argument versus the sport,” Dixon tells me. “But the direction of the book is come say: ‘We don’t talk about it yet this is what demands to be excellent to alleviate the risks and also to make certain these guys have a better life after boxing.’ i don’t want a scrapheap that damaged fighters.”

He has actually been immersed in the sports for decades but does Dixon feel fresh hope the boxing might examine the damages it causes fighters that generate billions that dollars for wayward administer bodies, promoters and also managers? “No – yet it’s time to discover out that cares. Who desires to look at after fighters? If these human being want fighters to be OK ~ boxing climate I’m not going to have actually the ego come say they must read the book. But I imply they learn around CTE, tau protein and also links v Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s and ALS .

It"s additionally down come the battle aircraft to not be so macho. Fighters and also trainers require to recognize what"s walking on v their brainsTris Dixon“If they want what’s finest for the fighters, then regulate how much sparring they do and also have open conversations v boxers as to how they feeling after sparring. It’s additionally down to the fighters to no be so macho. Fighters and also trainers require to understand what’s going on through their brains.”

Dixon, Pryor, Jeffries and also Goodman shortly list the causes and feasible solutions to mind trauma however it is instructive to hear about the book’s origins. “It to be only once I read organization of Denial about the NFL’s concussion situation that I started to piece the puzzle together,” Dixon says. “I read around the erratic behaviour of Mike Webster . He dropped on difficult times and also ended up living in his car.

“I thought: ‘This is boxing.’ CTE is in reality punch-drunk syndrome. It was a big epiphany for me: ‘Hang on, the NFL room addressing this yet we carry out nothing in boxing.’ I’d remained in boxing 25 years and I didn’t know around CTE, tau protein and things that must be a staple. Fireworks went off in my head: ‘Wow, these guys worrying about the NFL might be worrying about boxing, i m sorry is far more dangerous.’ The NFL concussion conflict started with the Webster case in 2000. Boxing rotate its back for ripe decades and we haven’t had actually our Webster minute yet.”

The historical sweep that Dixon’s publication shows how, in 1928, the American medical professional Harrison Martland composed a paper called beat Drunk. It was a groundbreaking study yet Martland argued wrongly the punch-drunk syndrome only impacted mediocre boxers. Damages is a salutary reminder that practically all good fighters – indigenous Joe Louis and Sugar ray Robinson to Muhammad Ali and also Aaron Pryor – had actually their senses obliterated by boxing.


Dixon and Frankie Pryor argue the boxing to let go a large opportunity come educate people during Ali’s disastrous case. “The old punch-drunk terminology to be rarely supplied with Ali,” Dixon says. “Perhaps they assumed it also cruel a label for a man who offered so much and awed the people with his brutal elegance. The stigma stays that punch-drunk syndrome taken place to males who aren’t really good. Maybe Ali was as well vain come say: ‘Boxing go this to me.’”

Frankie Pryor agrees: “The one fighter who might have brought lots of fist to this was Ali. Ali’s family determined to say, ‘Oh, he has actually Parkinson’s, it has actually nothing to do with boxing.’ It has actually everything to carry out with boxing.”

Dixon’s publication is compassionate in the company of Frankie and also Brenda Spinks – whose husband, Leon, shocked a faded Ali in the first of their two fights in 1978. Leon Spinks, that fills the final pages the Damage, was a slurred wreck prior to his fatality in February. “At the end,” Dixon says, “I wrote that the neurologists were as much the heroes come me together the fighters. If I could rewrite the sentence I’d to speak the wives, women choose Frankie and Brenda, room the actual heroes. Their strength of personality is what boxing requirements to address the damage. The fighters i’ve met that don’t have actually these women to watch after them, to feed or clothe them, finish up homeless and suicidal.”

Frankie Pryor fills my Zoom display with warmth and also humour – and also a tiny anger at boxing’s fail to talk about the damages it go to her husband and also most fighters. “I took treatment of everything,” she claims of she 30 years with Aaron. “I didn’t know the damage was caused exclusively by boxing till he started reflecting anger. Aaron to be so easy-going until then. I began taking him to a neurologist roughly 1994. At that point we didn’t know . At first it was just front temporal lobe damage but he never stopped going to a neurologist till he died. A neurologist said: ‘This is the only Hall of reputation fighter I’ll ever before work with and also we need an ext proof to confirm what us believe.’”

Was there enough proof Pryor had actually been brain-damaged through boxing? “Oh yes. You watch that damages in every old fighter – there is no exception. Ns noticed all the fighters acting the same when we acquired together. His wife would go to the restroom and also that fighter would acquire confused. Among us other wives would handle the situation. We educated ourselves about CTE since it’s not something friend talk around to your consistent girlfriends. We had actually this group – me, Brenda Spinks, Marvin Hagler’s wife Kay, Ken Norton’s wife, Rose.”


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Frankie Pryor, through her husband Aaron ‘The Hawk’ Pryor, who passed away in 2016. She claims boxing’s authorities ‘take such benefit of specialized fighters that love your sport’.Amid the mess of boxing will their suffer of CTE be mutual widely? “You stated it. Boxing is a mess and also that’s why I have actually no expect this will ever before get resolved unless over there is one main governing body. I’d speak for hrs if you acquire me started on the crooks in boxing. The awful and also they take such benefit of specialized fighters who love your sport. Nothing will ever originate from boxing itself.”

Pryor believes the only hope is to educate a new generation that fighters and also trainers around CTE. That was too late for she husband however she stresses: “I’ve no hate for boxing due to the fact that Aaron loved it for this reason much. It took my husband however his choice to box came before me. Among his registered nurses said: ‘Don’t you wish you’d never boxed?’ the said: ‘What execute you mean? No. What would certainly I have done?’ Aaron was a fighter. Whenever we went the end people always yelled: ‘what time is it? Hawk Time!’ Aaron was born because that it and also his great achievement was to become this remarkable athlete, The Hawk, who came the end of a no hope troubled childhood.”

She laughs when I questioning if she also called him The Hawk? “Of course. I’d say: ‘Even the Hawk needs to take out the garbage.’ He was The hawk the job he died.”

Tony Jeffries was referred to as “Jaffa” or “The Mighty Mackem” as soon as he boxed. We speak on a beautiful morning in Santa Monica, wherein he teaches boxing practice to fitness experts at his box N Burn Academy. His accent is pure Mackem as he remembers being punched in the head as a 10-year-old. “I got the black flash. Once I was 12 there were times sparring where I would certainly cry due to the fact that I’d to be hit that hard. However I obtained through it.”

I walk on the podium, got the gold medal, and also I didn"t have a clue whereby I was. Ns said: "Did ns win?"Tony JeffriesAli speak of “the black color lights” a fighter sees once hit through a concussive blow. “Yeah,” Jeffries says, “it’s like you’ve closed your eyes for three seconds then, boom, lock open. What happened?’ In the european final, when I to be 16, I dealt with this Greek guy who to be knocking anyone out. That hit me so tough my foot went favor jelly. I got a standing eight count and won the fight. Twenty minutes later on I go on the podium, gained the gold medal, and I didn’t have actually a clue wherein I was. I said: ‘Did i win?’ it is pure concussion.

“A few years later, ~ I acquired hit therefore hard, I was in my room when my phone call rang. ‘Sarah? who is Sarah? Oh, my girlfriend .’ however you simply think: ‘This is boxing.’”

Jeffries calmly tells me how numerous times he was hit in the head. “I had 106 fights. Ns averaged 4 rounds a fight. That’s 424 rounds. Stop say I acquired hit come the head an typical seven times a round. It is 2,968 punches. If ns sparred 10 times because that each fight and each spar was 6 rounds, it is 6,360 rounds. 7 headshots every round makes 44,520 blows. It could be a little less or a little more. But 40,000 to 50,000 punches landed.”

This methodical calculation underpins a vital point the could change boxing. There need to be a limit on the lot of sparring wherein fighters take it head shots for, as Jeffries admits, “after just around every spar, as a pro, i would have a dividing headache.” that acknowledges it would certainly be hard to manage sparring so the just solution is for trainers and fighters to education themselves around the damage it does and restrict many of your training to human body punching.

Jeffries highlights medical proof which proves that punches to the head that a kid under 14, when the mind is quiet developing, are specifically dangerous. “I to be punched in the head 4,000 time by the moment I to be 12. Friend don’t have to be a genius to think it is not great for the brain.”


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Muhammad Ali, pictured in 2008, was very first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the period of 42, three years after ~ his last fight. He died in 2016, aged 74. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesFive years earlier Jeffries met Dr Charles Bernick that “runs the best fighter brain study in the world. They research fighters’ brains end a long period. As soon as I very first went ns was worried. After ~ the test they said: ‘Your mind is median for a 31-year-old.’ i was like: ‘Yes!’ they went: ‘But you need to come earlier for years because your mind could have actually been over average – or it might deteriorate later. They told me I’ve obtained a large split in my membrane i beg your pardon attaches the mind to the skull. That’s after gift punched in the head. The scary.

“If i forget my vehicle keys or slur mine words i think: ‘Boom, brain damage.’ yet I’m doing all I have the right to do to assist my brain. Ns haven’t drunk alcohol since 2019. I want to perform what I have the right to for my mind so I deserve to be as good as feasible for my kids.”

Jeffries emphasises just how much he fan the sport for it sparked his booming brand-new career. “Boxing is great. Yet it has that sad end and the only method to settle this is by an altering boxing culture.”


Dr Goodman agrees and, indigenous a neurological perspective, she believes “it’s pretty simple. I would say 99% of brain damage originates from sparring. Too numerous fighters go into a fight through concussion, or mild concussive symptoms. So much mind trauma is based on sub-concussive blows. Ns think of terrycloth Norris , a boxer of good skill, and a beautiful person, yet he thought it was better to take punishment, particularly to his head, in the gym. We check out the damage that did.”

Boxing is chaotic, without an global governing body, yet does Goodman believe educating trainers and fighters would certainly curb the damage? “I yes, really do. We need to gain boxing the end of the dark ages since this details is at their fingertips. The amazes me boxing walk not help fighters in this way.”

What else should be done to do such a perilous sport safer? “Fight in ~ the appropriate weight. So numerous fighters are put in the wrong division and end up cutting weight. If they were in the exactly weight class it would stop so lot damage and also prevent eat disorders. They also need to avoid all performance-enhancing drugs. Even those that are not prohibited are detrimental. Alcohol, too, due to the fact that it can rot a fighter’s brain.


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Tris Dixon, writer of Damage: The Untold Story of brain Trauma in Boxing, says: ‘It’s time to discover out that cares. Who desires to look after fighters?’“Fighters are so intelligent that silly because that them no to take duty for their wellbeing. They have the understanding to say no to a fight or sparring. Acquisition that responsibility is the many important means we can adjust boxing.”

She points come Floyd Mayweather Jr, the most successful and also richest boxer of the 21st century. “I worked on his an initial championship fight and also he is the quintessential professional. The looked in ~ his Uncle i get it and also understood that staying in shape was vital. Floyd was so smart about sparring therefore little.” Mayweather, however, might be spiteful and his care for himself did not constantly extend to various other fighters in the gym. Goodman suggests: “George Foreman is another good example since he never sparred much either. Even after all those challenging fights he’s healthy and balanced today.”

Goodman additionally believes that doctors have to lessen the push on fighters by ending bouts earlier. “What bothers me an ext than something is the ringside medical professionals don’t desire to it is in the one pulling the plug. Fighters room willing to go out on their shields – and also if castle don’t then they gain ludicrous abuse. The physician have to take the obligation off the fighter and also the corner. Of food it’s no easy. I’ve been the brunt of terrible criticism and felt like I essential to check my brakes prior to driving home. You build so plenty of enemies.”

She was so spend by safeguarding boxers that, prior to being ringside, she studied your previous bouts for indications of neurological damage. Goodman was additionally the ringside doctor once two fighters, Pedro Alcázar and Leavander Johnson, lost their lives. Finally, drained and exhausted, she stepped away. Walk she ever before think boxing must be banned?

“No. We have the right to make it safer. I don’t think boxing need to be prohibition – ever.”


The doctor, the widow, the fighter and also the writer have witnessed the worst that boxing. But they still assistance its existence and its human features of courage and also resilience, skill and intelligence. Goodman sounds uplifted when she remembers working with fighters. “It to be such a privilege to examine and talk to fighters who have been among the many famous and also brilliant in boxing. Just to understand their motivation was inspiring.

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“Fighters to be the best patients I ever before had – also if the regulators no protecting lock enough. I don’t desire to humiliation the patient I have actually now, yet sitting with a fighter at the weigh-in, in the edge during a fight and then after that was an ext dramatic, incredible, educational and amazing 보다 anything else. Oh my God, come be v a fighter after a fight? To see the emotion ~ winning or losing? It nearly seemed unreasonable to have been privy to that. Therefore from a medical and also a personal standpoint ns never had anything ns enjoyed an ext than boxing. We understand the damages but, oh, the fighters space incredible. We just need come take care of castle and aid them take far better care the themselves.”

Damage: The Untold Story of mind Trauma in Boxing by Tris Dixon is released by Hamilcar

This article was amended on 28 might 2021. A mistyping offered the estimate for punches continual by Tony Jeffries in 424 rounds as 2,698 instead of 2,968.