Pradal Serey and Bokator are just two of the most popular fighting art forms in Cambodia. Many of the locals enter the world of professional MMA or boxing to earn money to help uplift their family’s lives. Some boxers have rags to riches stories but others are not so lucky, particularly when they experience career-ending injuries.
In this article, we take a look at the worst injuries in boxing that either ended the boxer’s career or worse, resulted in death. Some of the injuries paved for official changes in the rules and regulations of the game, ultimately altering boxing forever. Find out who died in the ring, who got arrested and served a prison sentence, and who was cheated resulting in an injury.
Also known as “The Alien,” Richard Grant is a Jamaican-born American boxer with a career record of 19-15-1, with five wins from a knockout. Whilst Grant successfully made a name for himself by fighting Antwun Echols and Jeff Lacy, the former EBA Light Heavyweight and Super Middleweight champion was made more famous by the aftermath of his bout against James Butler. After winning in a unanimous decision during their rematch, Butler hit Grant whilst exchanging congratulations in the middle of the ring. This means Butler was no longer wearing his gloves. Grant took a right hook to the jaw, knocking him out, and causing him to receive 26 stitches for a lacerated tongue and broken jaw. That blow ended Butler’s career after he was charged with aggravated assault. Butler also made headlines when he murdered Sam Kellerman, a boxing enthusiast and brother of HBO Boxing analyst Max Kellerman. Butler is currently serving his time in prison.
Jess Willard was a heavyweight champion in 1919. The 6’6 ½” and the 245-pound boxer was challenged by a smaller and lighter Jack Dempsey, who stands 6’1” and weighs only 187 pounds. Whilst the bout was a clear mismatch, Dempsey was able to brutally beat and dethrone Willard in only three rounds. Dempsey was able to blow the defending champion’s jaw and knock him down seven times in the first round alone. Willard’s corner eventually threw in the towel after two more rounds. Dempsey went on to become the heavyweight champion for seven straight years before Gene Tunney defeated him in 1926.
Mike Tyson was one of the boxers who had a hard time dealing with his career going on a landslide. Desperate to make another win to salvage his dying career, Tyson did the unthinkable and bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear during the third round of their bout.
Then referee Mills Lane, could not believe what had transpired until he was called to Holyfield’s corner to inspect the damage. Lane contemplated on whether to end the fight or proceed. He chose to proceed but asked judges to deduct two points from Tyson’s score. A few seconds into the fight, Tyson repeated his action and was ultimately disqualified. Whilst it was not a career-ending injury for Holyfield’s, it sure did put an end on Iron Mike’s.
Duk-Koo Kim was a young South Korean boxer who died after a world championship match against Ray Mancini. Kim was a challenger to Mancini who was more experienced in fighting in 15 rounds whilst it was the former’s first 15-round match. During the 13th round of their fight, Mancini rained 39 straight punches to Kim. Whilst Kim survived the round, the start of the 14th round saw two big rights from Mancini towards the South Korean’s head causing the latter to drop down to the canvas. Kim beat the count of 10 but referee Richard Green ultimately stopped the fight. Kim was then rushed to the hospital where he was found out to have a subdural hematoma with 100 cubic centimetres of blood in his skull. He passed away four days later.
What made the fight, the injury, and death even more talked about was its live broadcast from CBS and its aftermath – both referee Green and Kim’s mom committed suicide. Kim’s death also sparked reforms in boxing including reducing the number of championship rounds from 15 to only 12.
Mancini, for his part, was riddled with guilt and experienced depression. He was never the same fighter after Kim’s death.
Becky Zerlentes was a Geography and Economics professor and an award-winning female boxer and martial artist until her death in 2005. She is believed to be the first women to die during an official boxing fight.
Zerlentes participated in the Colorado State Boxing Senior Federation Championships on April 2, 2005. Her opponent Heather Schmitz knocked her out on the third round where she fell unconscious and died. The Denver County coroner wrote blunt force trauma to the head as the preliminary cause of death. She has previously won a regional Golden Gloves in 2002 before going on a boxing hiatus. Before the fight, the professor told her coach that it was going to be her last fight because of her age.
Born Francesco Camili, Frankie Campbell was an Italian-American boxer who has won 33 out of his 40 career fights. He has four losses, two draws, and one no-contest. Campbell’s career ended tragically during his fight with Max Baer on August 25, 1930.
Campbell knocked down Baer during the second round of their fight. Enraged, Baer got up from the canvas and released a solid right-hand punch to Campbell’s chin. Whilst Campbell was terribly hit in the 5th round which caused his death, boxing enthusiasts claimed that Baer did something unacceptable during the second round.
In an article from San Francisco Examiner, the author claims that:
“Irwin [the referee] ruled that Baer had slipped and had not been dropped. He motioned Baer to his feet. In the meantime Campbell had walked the far side of the ring, turning his back… Baer rushed across the ring and socked Campbell with three stiff rights to the head… The blows dazed Campbell and he was pretty well spent as he made his way back to his corner. ‘Something feels as though it broke in my head,’ Campbell told Chief Second Tommy Maloney during the rest interval between the second and third round.”
Max Baer was said to unmercifully hitting Campbell because he was enraged with his former friend and trainer Tillie Herman who switched corners overnight. After the fight, it was found out that Campbell’s brain was knocked off from his skull and was pronounced dead the next day. Baer was charged with manslaughter but was soon acquitted.
The Cuban boxer Benny “Kid” Paret was the welterweight champion in 1960. He eventually lost the title to Emile Griffith seven months after. During the 12th round of his bout with Griffith on March 24, 1962, Paret was hit by Griffith 29 times in a row, with eighteen blows coming in only six seconds. Referee Ruby Goldstein stopped the fight. Paret went into a coma after their fight and eventually died 10 days later.
Many boxing enthusiasts blame the New York State boxing authorities for Paret’s death. According to them, the boxer should not have received clearance to fight after only several months from his last fight where he was knocked out by Gene Fullmer. Goldstein never refereed a fight again as a result of Paret’s death.
Paret and Griffith’s fight became the centrepiece for the 2005 documentary Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story. Griffith who felt guilty for Paret’s death was introduced to Paret’s son at the end of the documentary. The son was shown embracing Griffith and telling the latter he was forgiven.
Billy Collins Jr fought Luis Resto in 1983 in one of the darkest years of boxing history. Panama Lewis, Resto’s manager, was said to have cheated to give Resto an advantage on the younger and odds on then favourite Collins. Lewis purportedly removed some padding and using hand wraps soaked in plaster of Paris on Resto’s gloves resulting in stronger punches and causing Collins’ iris to tear. The injury caused permanent blurred vision which ended Collins career. The American boxer committed suicide two years later with Resto and Lewis both serving jail time for the use of illegal gloves.