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Friday, September 24, 1999 Published at 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK


The fight that changed boxing

Michael Watson: Can walk and talk but needs constant help

Boxer Michael Watson was among the top three British fighters when Chris Eubank threw the final uppercut in their 1991 title fight. It ended his career and left him permanently brain-damaged.

The plight of Watson, who underwent surgery to remove two blood clots from his brain then lapsed into a 30-day coma, forced the sport to introduce a number of safety measures which have since saved other fighters.

But some spectators believe the British Boxing Board of Control has still not done enough to lessen the damage which can be caused in the ring.

They say the safety measures - which include a requirement to have an anaesthetist and two teams of paramedics at the ringside - do nothing to prevent injuries, they only make it easier to treat them.

[ image: There were no specialists on standby for Watson]
There were no specialists on standby for Watson
Even so, had those basic measures been introduced before Watson's fight with Eubank, he might have returned to a normal life.

Certainly it was a night filled with mistakes made worse by the fact the BBBC was inadequately insured and might now struggle to pay Watson's compensation.

It was a savage fight at White Hart Lane, north London, ended by referee Roy Francis less than a minute into the 12th round. Watson, nicknamed the People's Champion, collapsed into unconsciousness seconds later.

But the damage had been done in the 11th, when with 10 seconds to go Eubank's punch caught Watson square on the chin and threw him back onto the ropes.

It was the events that followed which condemned Watson to semi-paralysis and life in a wheelchair.

Neurosurgeons describe the 60 minutes following the sustaining of a head injury as the "golden hour" because the chances of preventing permanent damage are so much higher than after a longer delay.

But, with only a Board of Control doctor in attendance, Watson did not go into surgery until almost four hours after the fight ended.

Watson was not stretchered off until 14 minutes after the end. When an ambulance arrived, he was taken to North Middlesex Hospital, which does not have a neurological unit.

[ image: Watson (right) takes a punch from Eubank]
Watson (right) takes a punch from Eubank
After a delay he was transferred to St Bartholemew's Hospital where he was operated on for several hours by top neurosurgeon Peter Hamlyn.

In 1989 Hamlyn enabled boxer Rod Douglas to make a full recovery after removing a blood clot from his brain. Douglas was operated on almost immediately.

Hamlyn remains critical of the BBBC and says it should take more radical safety measures such as shortening rounds and improving boxing glove design.

The High Court heard that until the Watson injury, doctors at fights were chosen on the basis of an interest in boxing rather than any neurological expertise.

But as a result of that night in 1991 the board now has the best safety procedures in the world of professional boxing.

Since Watson suffered his injury, two boxers have died in British title fights and four others have suffered serious injuries.

[ image: Bradley Stone: Died in 1994]
Bradley Stone: Died in 1994
The four have made recoveries due in part to the safety provisions introduced after Watson's harrowing night and after the death of Jimmy Murray in 1995.

American fighter Gerald McClellan is one of them. He needed brain surgery after his 1995 WBC super-middleweight fight against Nigel Benn. He recovered but has now lost his sight.

That fight was attended by four board doctors, a consultant anaesthetist and two teams of paramedics.

In 1994 Bradley Stone died of his head injuries sustained in a fight against Richie Wenton. But Stone walked from the ring seemingly unharmed and only collapsed hours later at his girlfriend's house.

Watson himself is pleased with the changes made by the BBBC.

But his paralysis means he will never work again and he has devoted the last eight years to his fight for compensation.

He has also had to come to terms with thinking what might have been on that night in 1991, when at 26 he was at the peak of his boxing career and "on top of the world".

His words say it all.

"I am not sure what my last memory on September 21 1991 was or when my next memory occurred. It was some years later."

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