Boxing is a high-intensity combat sport. Punches fly, chins get rocked, and fighters hit the canvas. Most of the time, they get back up and are unharmed, but every now and then there are some shocking and unexpected boxing deaths that generate a lot of negative press for this sport.
But how many boxers have died in the ring, who are they and what caused their deaths?
Boxing Deaths: Why Do They Happen
A boxer takes a beating over the course of their career. They are punched every day in training, they are punched during their amateur career and then, when the headgear comes off, they take a beating during their professional fights. But why can some boxers do this throughout their carer and go unharmed, while others can step into the ring a handful of times and end up dead?
Well, bad luck comes into play, as does a lack of forethought and care on behalf of refs and organizers. A boxer is at their most vulnerable when they are already unconscious or in a punch drunk state. Some of the boxing deaths we’ll discuss below have come during fights when the victim has been knocked out or down, and instead of stopping the fight, the ref has allowed it to continue and has allowed them to take an unnecessary beating.
Aneurysms also cause boxing deaths as does sustained brain damage. Some cases of boxing deaths have occurred when the boxer has clearly taken damage in previous fights but has been allowed to continue to fight and to step in the ring again, only to take more damage and to be tipped over the edge.
This is why boxers tend to fight only once or twice a year. In fact, after serious knockdowns and beatings, the organizing bodies won’t let them fight more than that. But these rules tend not to com into play during amateur contests and obscure professional fights, and that’s where the majority of these cases occur.
James Murray, Scotland (1995)
The Scottish fighter made it to the final round of his fight with fellow Brit Drew Doherty before he collapsed. He amassed a total of 15 wins from 17 fights over the course of his short-lived boxing career, but this would be his last as he passed away the following day. A statue of the young boxer, who was just 25 at the age of his death, was erected in his home county in Lanark, Scotland, just one year later.
The fight was for the British Bantamweight title, with the young boxer suffering a bleed on the brain.
Minoru Katsumata, Japan (1991)
All boxing deaths are tragic, as are any deaths involving people doing the thing they love (see our articles on Rugby Deaths and Football Deaths to learn more) but this case is even more tragic because this young Japanese fighter didn’t get a chance to show the sport what he was capable of. He died following his very first professional fight against a fellow Japanese boxer. He made it to the 10th round before he died in the ring.
Kim Duk-Koo, South Korea (1982)
This is one of the most famous of all boxing deaths, and for several reasons. The Korean fighter was a promising prospect and had earned himself a shot at the WBA Lightweight Title against Ray Mancini, who held the title for a total of 2 years. The scale of the fight is one of the most notable things about this boxing death, as many of the boxers who die in the ring do so at a lower level. But it also brought about a major change in the sport.
For many years, the maximum number of rounds fought was 15. After this fight, which saw Kim Duk-Koo receive the fatal damage in the 14th round, the fights were reduced to 12 rounds (4, 6, 8 and 10 round fights are also common, but 12 is the maximum and the standard for championship fights).
Other Boxing Deaths
Many more boxers have died as a result of injuries sustained in boxing fights. The boxing deaths have occurred days or weeks later, but are a direct result of the fight. Such was the case with Mike Towell in 2016 and Tim Hague of Canada, with the former passing away the following day and the latter doing so within 2 days.
Robert Wangila, of Kenya, was an Olympic gold medalist and became the only Kenyan to win a gold medal outside of athletics, an honor he still owns to this day. But the fighter met his demise when he suffered from a blood clot during a fight with David Gonzalez and then died during an operation to remove it in 1994. A year later, Jimmy Garcia of Colombia also died from a blood clot he had received during a fight.
There are many terrible ways to die (see Worst Ways to Die and Dumb Ways to Die) but getting a beatdown for several rounds, suffering a blood clot doing the thing you love and then meeting your maker on a surgeon’s table is one of the more tragic ones.
- Frankie Campbell: One of the first recorded deaths from boxing. The heavyweight fighter had an impressive record, but died from injuries sustained in a 1930 bout.
- James Emerson Delaney: Welterweight who died in 1947, hours after being knocked out. His record stood at 53 fights and 43 wins.
- Archie Kemp: The ref should have stopped the fight but did not, leading to the death of this Aussie boxer in 1949. Calls were made to make boxing a safer sport after Kemp lost consciousness in the ring and never regained it.
- Jean-Claude Vinci: Frenchman who lost a fight on a points decision in 1987 and is said to have died within the hour.
- Brian Baronet: South African who fell into a coma following a 1988 bout, dying 3 days later.
- Daniel Thetele: Another South African to die from boxing in 1988.
- Gerardo Derbez: Mexican who died from injuries suffered after a fight with a fellow Mexican in 1985.
Serious Injuries Caused by Boxing
It’s not just boxing deaths that these combatants have to worry about. Many boxers have suffered life changing injuries from their time in the ring. Some believe that Muhammad Ali’s Parkinson’s was the result of him taking one fight and one beating too many at the end of his career. This is very much debatable and is nothing more than a theory, but there are other life threatening injures that definitely did occur in the ring.
One of the most famous causes occurred when Chris Eubank fought Michael Watson in 1991. Watson spend 38 days in a coma and would never walk again. What’s more, Eubank was clearly affected by the incident and lost his killer instinct (as many of us would). His long-time rival, Nigel Benn, had a similar experience when he fought Gerald McClellan in a brutal 1995 contest.
It was a tough fight and at the end McClellan lost his sight and the use of his legs, while Benn, like Eubank, was forever haunted by the incident. Eubanks son, Chris Eubank Jr. experienced something similar when he fought Chris Blackwell, with his opponent being rushed to hospital and then being forced to quit the sport after slipping in and out of a coma.