To Decrease Ring Tragedy

By Joe Koizumi

It was very sorrowful that Japan’s #11 ranked flyweight boxer Hirokazu Yamaki (7-9, 5 KOs) passed away because of a brain hemorrhage on the morning of last Monday (February 22). Yamaki, 26, was halted by #7 Toshimasa Ouchi (12-5-1, 3 KOs) in the eighth and final round at the Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan, on February 19. He became unconscious and had to be urgently carried to a hospital, where he underwent brain surgery for an acute subdural hematoma that night. He stayed in a coma for two days and died despite the best possible medical treatment.

Yamaki was floored in the first round, but came back and retaliated to win later rounds to be leading on points before the referee finally called a halt to protect the suddenly fading loser. It seemed a very well-timed stoppage without Yamaki going down even if Yamaki supporters protested against the allegedly premature stoppage. But Yamaki eventually passed away—to our great sorrow.

He is the 37th ring victim since the Japan Boxing Commission (JBC) was established in 1957. It was less than a year since Masatate Tsuji sadly died after losing on a stoppage by Yuji Kanemitsu in the tenth and final session of a Japanese national minimumweight elimination bout at the Hall in March of the previous year. Kanemitsu also said farewell to the ring because of brain damage, so we forfeited a couple of boxers after the bout.

This observer simply wonders why more than a few ring accidents have occurred under the strict and splendid medical control of the JBC, for which our commission has often received high honors and citations from the WBC and the WBA. This Sherlockian hereby attempts to make an analysis of cause and effect on the non-decreasing ring tragedies.

Should the JBC’s medical administration be thorough—under this hypothesis—we might well question another of the two wheels of a cart, that is, our safety control by way of Sherlock Holmes’ process of elimination. The possibility left might be a deficiency of proper and adequate defensive skills of our professional boxers in general.

It might be very problematic to point out this technical problem in our boxing fraternity which now boasts of ten world champions—six male and four female titlists. Carefully reviewing fights of young and mediocre boxers, to say nothing of very vastly-talented ring stars or prospects, they usually put on give-and-take performances without properly defending themselves and with only depending on their fighting spirit. Traditionally, our aficionados have long loved such game, brave and undaunted fighters rather than skillful and scientific boxers.

Such excellent boxers as Hasegawa, Nishioka, et al. can avert the opponent’s attack with remarkable reflexes. But we realize that there have been too many less educated boxers fighting here in terms of defensive skills. They usually attack very well, but cannot defend themselves well.

Without reforming the technical structure of our boxers and without teaching them how to defend themselves more emphatically, this observer would like to dare to insist, there might be no decreasing ring accidents here in Japan. The general lack of the defense must be a cancer of our boxers on the whole.

It might be also desirable to review our scoring standard, asking whether we have too much evaluated only the aggressiveness of our boxers, regardless of their lack of finesse, that is, of defensive technique. Generally speaking, the defensive skills consist of three main categories: (1) blocking, (2) footwork, and (3) body movement (weaving, ducking, head-slipping, etc.). Our young boxers seldom show these defensive techniques and just raise their hands, usually offsetting their uneducated defense by recklessly attacking the opponents. The defensive part of sweet science has been long ignored and neglected by our instructors, fight fans and experts in this country with the “kamikaze” or “go-for-broke” tradition. Everybody has hesitated—long in history—to point out this fundamentally serious technical defect of our boxers, only praising “aggressive” fighters.

Our trainers should coach young boys more on the defense in order to protect themselves from lethal combinations of their opponents. We need not sacrifice a boxer’s life to entertain the crowd. The instructors had better consider how to reduce your boxer’s absorption of punishment through sparring sessions at the gym and in the fight—as well as develop their quick combinations.

It must be the best policy for our boxing industry to survive that we will not produce any more ring victims with proper technical instructions at the gym, of course, along with the JBC’s scrupulous care on the medical control and its education of the officials (referees, judges, inspectors and doctors). No matter how many new world champions we may see, a single ring death might hurt boxing more seriously. We must positively go forward to improve this sport.

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