Alan Hubbard

“Seconds Out!” is probably the most familiar phrase in boxing, but there are many in the dark old trade now thinking it should be “Seconds In!”.

A couple of recent events involving Britain’s best two heavyweights, Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury, have seen their respective cornermen severely criticised for not acting compassionately and pulling them out of contests where they were badly injured. In both cases, rematch multi-million-dollar future world title fights were at stake.

Joshua’s chief trainer, Robert McCracken, who is also Great Britain Olympic head coach, allowed the hitherto unbeaten AJ to continue for several more rounds, despite believing he was concussed, which he later admitted.

AJ was floored twice in round three and twice in round seven against Ruiz, who picked up the IBF, WBO and WBA world heavyweight titles at Madison Square Garden. During the fight, Joshua asked McCracken what round was next, and before the seventh, said: "Why am I feeling like this?"

Anthony Joshua reportedly suffered concussion during his fight with Andy Ruiz ©Getty Images
Anthony Joshua reportedly suffered concussion during his fight with Andy Ruiz ©Getty Images

In Las Vegas last weekend, Fury’s young trainer Ben Davison found himself in a similar position when the Gypsy King suffered one of the worst eyebrow wounds I have ever seen in boxing. Fury courageously battled on to win his fight against little-known Swede Otto Wallin on points, despite a ringside doctor repeatedly examining the cut, and another which sliced across his eyelid.

But neither the referee nor Davison intervened and it could be argued that their reluctance at least saved Fury from defeat, as the original injury was caused by a legitimate punch.

Former world middleweight champion Andy Lee told BBC Radio 5 Live the fight would have been stopped had it been "any other fighter" than Fury, while BBC commentator Mike Costello thought if the fight had been in the UK, the cuts would have ended the contest.

Davison had to field difficult questions about his non-intervention and also comments made by the fighter's father. Ex-boxer Gypsy John Fury, who can’t travel to the US because of previous convictions, said his son looked "weak as a kitten", adding the display was "the worst I have seen from Tyson".

"It looked like he had nothing after round two," he told BT Sport. "At 18st 1lb, if I had my way, the lot [Tyson's team] would be gone. If they keep that team that will be his career gone."

As it is, the wounds required 47 stitches and plastic surgery and his return fight with WBC champion Deontay Wilder, due in February, is almost certain to be put back.

Criticism of Fury seems harsh given the nature of cuts that clearly forced him to change his style and seek a quick knockout, which never happened. Davison, who has worked with him since late 2017, said: "If he was as weak as a kitten, he wouldn't have been able to do 12 rounds like that. It was his engine, experience, strength and size that was the difference. I am happy.

"John is Tyson's dad so you have to respect him. Tyson was feeling prepared. You can't do anything about a bad cut."

Tyson Fury suffered a deep cut during his fight with Sweden's Otto Wallin last weekend ©Getty Images
Tyson Fury suffered a deep cut during his fight with Sweden's Otto Wallin last weekend ©Getty Images

Earlier, Davison had defended McCracken’s decision to allow Joshua to carry on after the fighter admitted he felt dazed and disoriented after a shock third round knockdown from Andy Ruiz jnr in New York last June. He was eventually stopped in the seventh round.

Brain injury organisation Headway claimed that McCracken “may have put Joshua’s life at risk”, adding that his assertion that his charge fought on concussed showed the trainer's "sole priority was on winning the fight" rather than protecting Joshua from "a potentially fatal injury". The organisation also said concussion protocols in boxing "are not worth the paper they are written on".

BBC Radio 5 Live boxing analyst Steve Bunce said: "That is an outrageous comment for any organisation to make about boxing, especially in Britain, where the British Boxing Board of Control are the leading body when it comes to boxer care.

"They are constantly reviewing fighters. In my view, that is an unnecessary remark. I am slightly outraged by that as it is far too strong.

"What happened here, McCracken simply chose the wrong word. He could have said Joshua was dazed, stunned, or the word we so often use in boxing, gone. They all fall way short of concussion, a serious word. I truly believe he used the wrong word."

Mcracken, 51, has said “concussion” was not the term he meant to use.

"I am not a doctor and it may be that concussed is not the right term to have used. The health of all the boxers I work with is of paramount importance to me and I have always used my judgement and experience to do what is right for them.

"There is no formal concussion protocol where the doctor steps in to assess the boxer so you have to use your experience as a coach and your knowledge of the person to make a decision on whether you think they can recover.

"I have had this a number of times in my career in professional boxing where boxers have recovered from a difficult round to go on and win the fight. I have also pulled boxers out of fights because I knew it was not in their interests to continue."

Davison told BBC Sport: “I don't think the people who have criticised Rob have any knowledge or experience of boxing, When a fighter goes down, I would imagine that has some form of concussive effect every time.”

Carl Froch recovered from an early knockdown to beat George Groves in 2013 ©Getty Images
Carl Froch recovered from an early knockdown to beat George Groves in 2013 ©Getty Images

However, McCracken has let fighters continue after heavy knockdowns in the past, with Joshua recovering to stop Wladimir Klitschko in 2017 and Carl Froch rallying to overcome George Groves in 2013.

Asked how boxing would survive if fighters were removed from bouts if they were concussed, another experienced cornerman, Dave Coldwell, said: "It would be the end of boxing. All combat sports, it would be the end. This is why people choose to box and others don't.”

Of late, head trauma has been a fiercely debated topic in many sports, including football, rugby and cricket. But while brain injuries are always the subject of research and discussion, in boxing there has been relatively little about concussion.

Recovering from head injuries has always been an unavoidable part of the sport and that, realistically, boxing cannot apply the same protocols to concussion seen in other sports, where athletes are withdrawn from the action to medical undergo tests.

In amateur and Olympic boxing, referees have more scope to sept in when a boxer is hurt. In professional boxing, they must wait until a fighter is no longer able to defend themselves.

These days there does seem to be a a reluctance among modern cornermen to halt a contest. Rarely do you see the white towel fluttering over the ropes

Maybe some need to take a leaf out of the boxing manual of the late, great Eddie Futch, up there with Angelo Dundee as the best in the business.

Futch mentored Joe Frazier. In the fabulous “Thrilla in Manila” back in 1975, he pulled Smokin’ Joe out of his fight with Muhammad Ali at the end of the 14th round. Frazier’s eye was a bloody mess, just like Fury’s, but even more grotesquely swollen. He simply couldn’t see.

Frazier desperately wanted to continue, but Futch told him: “Sit down son, it’s all over. But no one will ever forget what you did here tonight.”

It was one of the great acts of compassion in boxing. So, too, was that by Dundee himself some five years later with Ali a broken shadow of his old self, being pummelled and humiliated by Larry Holmes and the referee refusing to intervene.

“I am the chief second and I stop the fight,” he yelled at the end of the 10th.

Sometimes compassion is the better part of valour.