This weekend previously undefeated Australian featherweight boxer Braydon Smith died following a 10 round decision loss to John Vincent Moralde. Death is no stranger to boxing with the risks being well documented. Following combat sports deaths this is how the media conversation typically goes –
1. Stories of the fatality break with the usual sympathies expressed
2. Medical authorities and other special interest groups voice concern over combat sports and call for a ban of these “barbaric” contests.
3. Combat Sports enthusiasts quickly remind opponents that while yes, these sports carry risks, so do many others and combat sports are far from the only risky sports out there with sports such as football, horse-racing, Motorsports and even cheer-leading all having their share of fatalities.
4. Nothing happens.
Lost in this usual cycle is any meaningful change. Yes boxing has inherent dangers. Yes competitors should be made aware of these so they can make an informed decision to participate and no, the sport should not be banned just as hockey, rugby, football, skydiving, scubadiving, skiing and cheerleading should not be banned.
That said, the issue can be studied to see if there are factors that can help reduce the risks.
If you spend any time looking at the trend most deaths in combat sports occur, not with the heavy hitting heavyweights, but rather at the lower weight classes? Let me repeat that, a higher mortality rate occurs in the lower weight classes. Why? It is not the power of strikes generated at these classes. Instead, it is likely the dehydration that accompanies rapid extreme weight cuts which athletes undergo to make weight at the lower classes.
The tolls of rapid extreme weight loss are real and an ongoing concern. I don’t know if a rapid extreme wight cut played a roll in Smith’s death, what I do know is we now have another lower weight class fatality to add to the statistics. Stakeholders in combat sports would do well to take the issue of dangerous weight cuts seriously and consider fashioning solutions to lessen the risks associated with the unnecessary practice.