Every time a fighter courageously steps foot in the ring, they literally put their life at risk. The majority of those brave boxers make it back home safely to their families once the final bell sounds and the bouts come to an end.
But for the tragic minority, the worst can happen inside the squared circle. For some, the consequences from a life in prizefighting has been fatal.
It’s estimated that between 1890 and 2011, 1,604 boxers lost their lives as a direct result of injuries sustained in the ring, with that working out at an average of 13 per year.
From the same study, it showed 233 boxing-related deaths in the 1920s, during less safe times, while 103 occurred in the 2000s.
Here, we remember some of the incredibly valiant warriors who tragically died in the ring or from injuries sustained during their fights throughout boxing history.
1. Frankie Campbell (vs Max Baer, August 25, 1930)
After dropping future heavyweight champion Max Baer in the second round (but being ruled a slip), Italian-American Frankie Campbell turned his back and walked to the ropes.
Baer had got to his feet and proceeded to land a thumping right hand to the side of his opponent’s head.
Campbell would tell his corner, “Something feels like it broke in my head.”
He battled through until the fifth round, when he took a sustained beating from the Nebraska-native before the referee finally intervened.
The fallen fighter sadly died hours later in hospital from a double cerebral haemorrhage. Baer was taken into police custody for manslaughter, with a $10,000 bail imposed, but charges were later dismissed.
Referee Toby Irwin and the corner teams of both combatants were suspended for a year.
2. Jimmy Doyle (vs Sugar Ray Robinson, June 24, 1947)
The first death suffered by a boxer in a world championship bout since the 1800s. Sugar Ray Robinson dreamed he killed Jimmy Doyle in the ring the night prior to their Cleveland clash for the welterweight crown.
Shaken by this he pushed for the fight to be cancelled, with the commission even acquiring a Catholic priest to reassure Robinson over his fears.
A 22-year-old Doyle suffered an eighth-round knockout loss and never regained consciousness; tragically passing away in a local hospital after undergoing surgery.
Having predicted this fatal tragedy, Robinson set up a fund from his subsequent bouts which went to Doyle’s parents.
Asked if it “was his intention to get Doyle in trouble”, arguably the greatest fighter ever replied: “Mister, it’s my business to get him in trouble.”
3. Davey Moore (vs Sugar Ramos, March 21, 1963)
A ring fatality which inspired Bob Dylan to pen a song questioning its responsibility and led Pope John XXIII to slam boxing as a “barbaric” sport.
Davey Moore was sent to the floor awkwardly in the 10th round of his featherweight title showdown with Sugar Ramos, worryingly landing on his neck on the bottom rope.
Somehow he was able to rise and finish the round on his feet before the referee halted proceedings.
The Kentucky-born champion unfortunately lost a lot more than just his title after a gruelling encounter; falling into a coma in his dressing room which he never emerged from and dying 75 hours later in a hospital bed.
4. Young Ali (vs Barry McGuigan, June 14, 1982)
Following Irishman Barry McGuigan’s sixth-round stoppage success over Young Ali, his tough Nigerian opponent fell into a coma in London after being stretchered out of the ring.
Ali, whose real name was Asimi Mustapha, was placed on a life support machine but would later pass away at his home, being survived by his then-pregnant wife.
Decades later, Clones’ former world featherweight champion admitted he is still haunted by that ill-fated night in the English capital.
On his crowning night in 1985, when beating Eusebio Pedroza to become champion, he dedicated his triumph to his past fallen rival.
5. Kim Duk-koo (vs Ray Mancini, November 13, 1982)
In what ultimately resulted in one of the most significant fights in boxing history, South Korean warrior Kim Duk-koo went toe-to-toe with American Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.
Minutes after the conclusion, Kim collapsed in a coma and was immediately taken to hospital. He underwent emergency brain surgery and died four days after the bout.
Mancini’s 14th-round KO win prompted reforms aimed at improving the protection of boxers’ health, with the main decision being to reduce championship bouts from 15 rounds to 12.
6. Roman Simakov (vs Sergey Kovalev, December 5, 2011)
One of the more modern day fight fatalities, with light-heavyweight contender Roman Simakov sadly collapsing in the ring after his loss to Sergey Kovalev and later dying from brain injuries.
The 27-year-old Russian’s passing hit Kovalev hard.
The man known as “The Krusher” swiftly reached out to assist his fallen opponent’s mother financially but has always limited comments regarding the tragic incident with media.
His manager Egis Klimas was aware that Simakov’s family still blamed him for what happened, meaning he was talked out of attending the funeral, and it took “considerable time” convincing Kovalev it wasn’t his fault.
7. Mike Towell (vs Dale Evans, September 29, 2016)
A British welterweight title eliminator in Glasgow took a fatal turn when Dale Evans stopped Mike Towell in the fifth round of a scheduled 12 bout.
Home fighter Towell, born in Dundee, was immediately taken to hospital where it was discovered he had a serious brain bleed which ultimately led to his tragic passing soon after.
A “heartbroken” Evans revealed a meeting with Towell’s mother gave him personal strength and comfort.
While there is no way of truly consoling families involved in such terrible instances, the financial burden was eased with the help of many within the sport, such as Ricky Hatton.
A ‘Justgiving’ page set up in light of Towell’s tragic death raised over £50,000, as well as other contributions from within the boxing world.
8. Scott Westgarth (vs Dec Spelman, February 24, 2018)
It should have been a cause for celebration for Scott Westgarth after overcoming Dec Spelman in a light-heavyweight meeting in Doncaster.
But it quickly became a tragedy as the 31-year-old was rushed to hospital following the 10 rounds shared before dying just two days later.
His opponent that night has since developed a close relationship with Westgarth’s family, stating: “There could have been resentment, but luckily they have been understanding. They have been great with me ever since.”
9. Maxim Dadashev (vs Subriel Matias, July 19, 2019)
Another recent ring fatality sadly occurred on American soil, with Russian boxer Maxim Dadashev passing away at just 26 following injuries sustained during his IBF light-welterweight title encounter with Subriel Matias.
Esteemed trainer Buddy McGirt pulled his fighter out of proceedings in the 11th round after pleading: “Please, Max, please” in the corner.
The American said he “could not convince” his man to quit, so had to take the situation into his own hands.
Dadashev was hospitalized with a brain bleed after being unable to walk to his dressing room. He sadly died following surgery.
A fund was set up for his young son Daniel and wife Elizaveta, who vowed that her brave husband would give her the “power to live.”
10. Patrick Day (vs Charles Conwell, October 12, 2019)
It was a tragic year for boxing across 2019, with several fighters losing their lives following ring injuries. Patrick Day was another unfortunate victim.
The American was forced to undergo emergency brain surgery after his 10th-round knockout loss to Charles Conwell in Chicago, having fallen into a coma.
His promoter Lou DiBella later announced that Day passed away “surrounded by his family, close friends and members of his boxing team.”
Remembering These Sporting Legends
As boxing fans, we have a bloodlust.
Craving chaos, we desire maximum effort and pure action whenever any man or woman climbs through the ring ropes for battle.
But beyond the spectacle of the fight, it’s sometimes easy to forget the danger and risks associated with each scheduled match-up.
Fatalities are therefore always a painful reminder that boxing is a sport, or business, that is literally a matter of life and death.