Almanac Boxing: Why does society put up with the brutal sport of boxing?

Since the major Brisbane boxing event a couple of weeks ago, and after reading Matt Watson’s very descriptive analysis of Jeff Horn’s win, I’ve been waiting for some sort of backlash from contributors to the Almanac. And I’m still waiting.

Not to the article but to the so-called sport itself.

I know nothing about boxing. Well, that’s not quite true. I know that Mohammad Ali was the greatest, and I know of Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson and Sonny Liston, and of course our Aussie Lionel Rose.

All these guys spring to mind because they are black, and I have a particular interest in the struggles and achievements of black people.

These men have had to strive against all kinds of adversity and degrees of white prejudice along the way, and I applaud them for the success they have achieved in their chosen field – for their sakes.

I take very little interest in other boxing greats, and I take little or no interest in anything else that spans the boxing arena.

There are, however, a couple of things I would be very interested in knowing about this so-called sport:

* What is the appeal of two people basing each other’s brains out?

* What is the appeal of such a barbaric ritual, knowing that those brains will be irreversibly damaged at some stage? (And there’s plenty of proof these days.)

* What is the appeal of watching blood spurting from cut and swollen bruised cheeks, jaws, lips, heads, faces? And bodies?

* What is the appeal of watching a person’s eye socket, and indeed an eye, being put at risk of blindness?

* Pray, what is the appeal of any of this?


I shudder when I see a footballer punched during a game.

I shudder even more when men can’t control themselves, often in drunkenness, and resort to punching each other in a blaze of anger.

The shudder is even worse when I see or read about a man punching a woman or a child.

These assaults are criminal acts and punishments are metered out accordingly.

These assaults are derided by one and all in society.

So, please, pray, tell me, why does society put up with prolonged and repeated brutal behaviour by one person upon another, carried out under the guise of sport?


About Jan Courtin

A Bloods tragic since first game at Lake Oval in 1948. Moved interstate to Sydney to be closer to beloved Swans in 1998. My book "My Lifelong Love Affair with the Swans" was launched by the Swans at their headquarters at the SCG in August 2016.


  1. Agreed. Shit sport. Mostly fixed.

  2. bring back the torp says


    100% agree.
    In boxing (and MMA etc), the legal and desired primary aim is to knock your opponent out/hit them in the head/cause injuries (before they do the same to you!).

    These types of constant punches to the head will cause, for many boxers,later life-long brain damage, and other injuries.
    I understand the term “punch drunk”(ie poor memory, affected speech etc) has been used for boxers for about 100 years; and, for about 100 years, knowledge of the later physical consequences, psychological effects, mood swings etc. It is incontrovertible that these physical/psychological effects for ex-boxers far exceed, proportionately, similar health problems for people of a similar age who have never boxed.

    It is also arguable that boxing “glamourizes”fighting and violence (probably worse for caged MMA brawling, where you can continue to hit your opponent whilst they are on the ground) -with wider negative consequences for society.
    It has been reported that those who have regularly played VERY violent video games are over- represented amongst those who have committed violent crime -desensitisation effect.
    (Similar to those who watch VIOLENT explicit sex videos being over-represented amongst those who have committed attacks on women).

    I have no proof readily available, but I strongly suspect boxing/MMA attracts participants from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Thus, it is a “way out”for many low income people to attain wealth (or probably about less than 1% of fighters who make good money from these “sports”. The other 99%, and the taxpayer, through unnecessarily increased healthcare expenditure, carry the burden).

    Boxing/MMA is a blood sport and should be banned. Or, at the very least, 80% of the revenues these sports make should be taxed/redirected to Govt. health authorities -to repay health care costs for those who did these sports.

    We no longer allow dog fighting, cock fighting, coursing where hounds hunt and rip their terrified prey(followed by their owners on horseback).

  3. Daniel Flesch says

    Good points ,Jan . All of them. Another question : Why are otherwise intelligent , peaceful people like the Almanac commenters on Matt Watson’s piece so enamoured of this “sport?” Reading Matt’s piece from 2015, he seems to make the case against boxing but in spite of that still loves it . Mystery.
    And as bring back the torp points out , it’s often poorer young men who try to make a living from boxing.
    Not knowing anything about the backgrounds of the black boxers you name , it wouldn’t surprise me to learn they also came from the wrong side of the tracks. Anyway , bring on the ripostes – but t keep them civil please boys .

  4. Paul Young says

    Ever since time began, there’s been a gladiatorial element to the way a man is wired. Human beings are born with emotions, one of which is an aggressive competitive streak, some have it more than others. To release the aggression some people enjoy fighting. To them it’s the ultimate test, the survival of the fittest.

    Boxing is a fantastic way to learn self-defence and discipline. Jeff Horn started out wanting to defend himself against bullies and through enormous dedication and commitment has reached the top of the world. The courage he displayed against Manny Pacquiao was remarkable. Who wouldn’t want to be able to feel what’s it’s like to take on the ultimate challenge, emerge bruised and battered but victorious?

    Motor racing is not my cup of tea. Driving a car at 300km per hour while trying to negotiate a bend with others going similar speeds to me is far more dangerous than boxing. We’re not allowed to drive at 300km per hour in the street but for those who do want to drive at that speed we have a motor racing circuit to accommodate them. The drivers know the risks but they consider the rewards worthwhile. And there’s plenty of other ‘death defying’ adventures people take on but do it anyway.

    I guess the simple answer as to why we allow boxing is people want to do it. So why not let them? Bouts arranged by the properly registered authority are conducted with safety of the boxers paramount. The boxers enter the ring conscious of the risks but have the self-belief to think they will triumph.

    Do you really think those who want to box will stop because it is banned? Would it be any safer? Those who want to box will still do it but it will be done ‘underground?’

    There is a thriving masters boxing circuit. You might wonder why does a 50 something guy want to get in a ring and fight? I suspect it’s the gladiatorial nature, the ultimate expression of courage, guts and determination. I’d love to do it myself, get in the ring and face someone of similar age, weight and size. But unfortunately I haven’t the time to appropriately train for it. I do have some regret I’ve never done it. However, I’m well aware that unless I’m willing to commit the time to develop the skills and strategies to win and minimise the damage, then I can’t do it. And I think, that because I’m not willing to do it, I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for those who do.

    Not every boxer ends up with a scrambled brain. The vast majority retire and enjoy fruitful lives, free of any long term damage.

    Boxing training is incredibly popular as an all-round fitness regime and depending on how keen you are, there’s nothing like testing your fitness & skills in a ring against some-one else. There’s dozens of gyms offering a form of ‘white collar boxing’ where complete amateurs can train to a level where they can have an actual bout. So while you have so many people wanting to do it, it would be futile to try and ban it.

  5. War is the extension of politics by other means. Aggressive sports like boxing are the continuation of war by other means.
    “Banning” boxing or other combat sports will not make it disappear. Just make it unregulated and underground. Physical aggression is a natural extension of male hormones. Behaviour that needs to be understood and controlled, but natural behaviour none the less.
    For hundreds of years boxing was a way out of poverty for working class (and sometimes black) men. The same way AFL and other sports are today. Why do we laud Sydney’s fierce physical pressure, but decry aggression in this context? There is a line (a fluid one I agree) that needs to be regulated so it doesn’t become totally manipulative blood sport. Licencing and referees does that in boxing.
    Do they get it right all the time? No. But neither does AFL. Ask Greg Williams.
    I didn’t see the Horn-Pacquiao fight but I saw a lot of all the great boxers (not just fighters) from the 60’s to the 80’s. Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, Rose and the one that sticks in my mind Johnny Famechon.
    Never a fighter – he was a perpetual motion “jab and move” boxer – was Australia’s third world champion (when it still meant something) after Carruthers and Rose. Never hit hard enough to knock someone out, but he wore out all the great featherweights of his time. Beautiful to watch. Great skill and athleticism. Like a Buddy shirt front.
    Fammo retired without a scratch, but ended up a vegetable after being knocked over crossing the road in retirement. Chance and luck are a part of life.
    I don’t want everything banned that I don’t personally agree with. If we are going to ban or lock up everyone causing preventable brain damage there are thousands of pregnant women (and working age men) abusing themselves and their offspring with drugs and alcohol. The intergenerational trauma is a massive largely hidden epidemic (we only see the street users).
    Sunlight rather than prohibition is the most effective disinfectant.

  6. Thanks one and all.
    Appreciate the detail you’ve gone into to put forward your case.

    Only want to say a few things:

    Paul, I don’t think we have good stats to determine whether “The vast majority retire and enjoy fruitful lives, free of any long term damage.” And I would have to question “… the ultimate expression of courage, guts and determination” reference. I’m not sure where I’ve been for these past decades, but I’ve yet to meet or know a man (and I’ve met and known a few) who has ever expressed or shown any inkling towards wanting to beat someone up in order to express their courage guts and determination. Via other means, yes, but never that way.

    And, Peter: I’m not at all sure what “Why do we laud Sydney’s fierce physical pressure, but decry aggression in this context?” means. The physical pressure exerted by all football teams has nothing to do with men bashing each other in the boxing ring.

    I don’t want to see everything banned that I don’t personally agree with either – and there’d be a hell of a lot of banning going on – but sometimes a line has to be drawn, or at least an attempt to limit the damage that men inflict upon themselves in the boxing ring.

    But then, on the other hand, if they’re happy to allow their brains to be at risk, then let them suffer the consequences.

    ps I was hoping that some women might have read the article and commented – one way or the other. However, I realise the Almanac is predominantly a male domain, so what was I expecting?

  7. Jan your opening statement talking about the ‘so called sport’, indicates you don’t seek a dialogue based on a critical thought process.

    Physical test of this nature have existed since humans walked on two legs. In terms of training boxing is the ultimate. Reflexes, strength, stamina, it covers all of those attributes. The years i have been my fittest were the years i was sparring. I was never good, even after 20 years or so of sparring/training, i just didn’t have the skills. But you want to feel good,have your endorphins kick in, then spar 5-6 rounds. You’re wringing wet with sweat aftewards, but you know you’ve worked hard. It’s a mighty feeling. It’s been about 16 years since i’ve sparred but it’s the form of training that i’ve felt was the most challenging.

    I grew up on TV ringside, names like Mundine, Thompson, Famechon, and have always loved the ‘sweet science’. The victory of Jeff Horn brought tears to my eyes to see some one so fair dinkum putting in that sort of effort. Fantastic.

    People are entitled to opinions,but opinions are just that, opinions,nothing more. Jan there are things in the world i find disgusting ,but i prefer to bypass them. Ditto if you don’t like the ‘sweet science’ of boxing don’t focus on it. Your Sydneysiders are doing well, maybe they’ll be the first team to win the flag from being 0-6 down. Barrack them to their third flag, as that’s something you clearly like. Avoid the boxing.


  8. Alistair Watson says

    My opinions on the pluses and minuses of boxing are close to the measured views of Peter_B. One thing I am absolutely certain of though is that it is both distasteful and a public finance monstrosity for supposedly cash-strapped state governments to be even considering putting public money into a return Horn-Pacquiao bout. It is also politically inept. While Anastasia Unspellable might have gotten away with making a clown of herself with her display of tawdry parochialism in Queensland, boxing is no vote-winner in other states.

  9. Hi Glen
    Thanks for your advice, but I do avoid the ‘sweet science’: boxing. And I will continue to partake of the things that I really like!
    I agree with you that “Physical test of this nature have existed since humans walked on two legs”. So have man-made wars, which continue to this day. Does that make it right?

    Thanks Alistair
    I don’t know who Anastasia is, so I’ll leave that to you boys.

  10. Alistair Watson says

    It turns out it should have been Annastacia Palaszczuk.

  11. Julie Cattlin says

    What can I say! Two human beings hitting each other, injuring each other. As long as two adult people have chosen to fight each other, then I reckon it’s OK for them. I just hope that it stays regulated with many, many rules. When money and betting come into it, it’s pretty ugly. But that is really no different from any other sport. At least it’s different now to ancient Roman times when they often fought to the death to please the spectators!! I personally can’t bear to watch it. I remember Robert De Niro’s ‘Raging Bull’ in the 1980s. Just couldn’t watch the boxing bits, even though (I assume!!) it was all just acting.
    A very interesting point: Boxing is legal in most parts of the world except Saudi Arabia and North Korea.
    Good article, Jan.

  12. I’ve never heard of a sport called boxing.

  13. ““… the ultimate expression of courage, guts and determination” reference. I’m not sure where I’ve been for these past decades, but I’ve yet to meet or know a man (and I’ve met and known a few) who has ever expressed or shown any inkling towards wanting to beat someone up in order to express their courage guts and determination. Via other means, yes, but never that way.”

    Jan, the above is the heart of one of your many misconceptions about boxing. Bullies and thugs might want to big themselves up by beating someone up. Not boxers. Boxers express their courage by climbing through the ropes, hoping for victory, opening themselves up to defeat. Public defeat. Watch them when the fight is done. Exultation from the winner because he passed the test. But then watch him hug the loser, knowing he is that man on another day.
    And the contract is known from the start… they trade brain cells for $ and glory. But plenty of young men trade brain cells for a two-hour high.
    Being a jockey is the most dangerous gig in sport and some dude recently wrote a book celebrating Michelle Payne’s triumph at that!! Should be banned. The book and the sport.

  14. Alistair: thanks for the update, but I still have no idea who Annastacia Palaszczuk is.

    Thanks Julie. A woman making a comment!! I couldn’t watch the “Raging Bull” fighting bits either.

    Not sure what to make of your comment Belly. (Perhaps enlighten us all.)

    ajc: Thanks. Don’t agree that my reference to Paul’s “the ultimate expression of courage guts and determination” is a misconception at all. And as for the others you refer to, well that’s your belief, and that OK.

    As for horse racing, well that’s another matter entirely. Perhaps you could write an article about it, and the writer of Michelle Payne’s triumph could put forth his views, if he so wished. And lovers of jockeys and the Sport of Kings can enlighten us all. All I know about it is that the animals get whipped – or they used to. And I don’t particularly like that either!

  15. Agreeing w u jan

  16. & agree re the nags fwiw

  17. Alistair: I just realised you mean the Premier of Qld! My head was thinking only of boxing people, so didn’t sink in!

    Belly: When I first read your comment I wondered whether it was either a clever response (sure ain’t sport) or …didn’t know what. Thanks

    I’m currently watching big burly brutes crashing into each other in that other heavy-duty sport: rugby league. Queenslander!!

  18. Taking a break from the conference on the law and mental health, I visited the Prague castle today. I was struck by the close up viewing of metal and mesh battle gear from the Middle Ages. What lengths these people went to to protect themselves against giant metal swords and other downright frightening battle paraphernalia!
    All I could think was that apart from the weapons and strategies nothing has changed! Fighting persists.
    And yes, it is ugly.
    I try and keep fit too. But I don’t have to knock someone out cold to achieve that!

  19. Good point, Jude. Thanks

    Final point: The irony is that I never used the word “banned” in the write-up. That was the editor’s interpretation and used in his “blurb” about the article.

  20. Who is Belly ?

    I’m unsure why some one puts in Inane comments. They don’t add any insight to the dialogue.


  21. Glen:

    Marc D’s comment isn’t inane – short and to the point. So is Belly’s.

    And, by the way, thought I’d point our your little “miscalculation” in original comment: “…Barrack them to their third flag…” We all know it’d be their sixth! (no need for further thoughts on that one as we’ve done if all before).

  22. Paul Young says

    A mate of mine, unbeknown to me until I saw his facebook page today where he had pictures of his bout, recently participated in a corporate fighter program.

    It’s a program provided by a Sydney based gym where office workers, male and female, can participate in a 12 week program to develop boxing fitness and skills, with the ultimate aim of participating in a bout. These people aren’t idiots or

    These people are not aiming to “bash each other’s brains out” but to fire off enough scoring punches to win. It’s very controlled and no one walks away with long term injuries but the satisfaction they had a go at something way outside their comfort zone.

    It’s a one off thing, a bucket lister.Life would be pretty dull and boring if we at times didn’t take risks and do something way outside the norm.

    What I find frustrating is that people who have no interest in boxing, admit having no knowledge of boxing and have clearly not researched (like go to a gym and ask people why they do it?) the sweet science of boxing….uumm….criticise boxing.

    I’m heavily involved in athletics but still don’t ‘get’ Walking as one of its disciplines. I tried it once and soon realised it’s a lot harder than it looks and have enormous admiration for guys like Jarred Tallent who devote so many hours to the event. I don’t understand it’s appeal but I would never condemn those who do it.

  23. Paul Young says

    Sorry I stopped mid sentence.
    These people aren’t idiots or punch drunk. They have made an informed choice to get involved.

  24. Rocky, raging bull, “I could have been a contender”. Boxing makes for great cinema

  25. Thanks for the follow-up, Paul.
    I don’t condemn the people who choose to either “bash each other’s brains out” or those who want to jab at each other in the amateur arena, be it for fun or getting fit. I applaud anyone for having a go and achieving what he or she sets out to achieve, in whatever field.

    What I condemn is the sport itself, especially now that much medical evidence is being revealed about damage to the brain. To say nothing of the neck. One of the first images on the linked article you sent is of two women – one grimacing and the other with a neck position that has obviously been submitted to a fair whack. I’m not saying that all boxers suffer neck injuries, but based on what my two chiropractic siblings and a medical doctor friend who works with sports injuries have told me, you’d be surprised to hear about boxing and injuries to one of the most vulnerable parts of our bodies, the neck.

    The other, perhaps final, point I’d like to make is that we don’t have to research (in all its facets) things that we don’t understand, whether we like them or not. I hear it when you say people choose to box, and I agree it’s their choice; but I don’t have to know why or to delve into the intricacies – I simply don’t like what I see when people punch each other. End of story.

    Similarly, I don’t like sport that involves any cruelty to animals – I don’t understand it and I don’t need to research further to find out why humans enjoy pursuits in that field.

    And, by the same token, I don’t necessarily understand how humans can create music, or achieve amazing feats in fields of medicine, science and engineering – I don’t have to research these areas in order to accept and enjoy the results. And so on and so on.

  26. Hi Glen, Belly here. Sorry you found my comments inane. I was simply stating that I basically agree with Jan. So much so that I question whether it deserves the appellation “sport”.I apologise if that’s a bit too cryptic. Similarly, I don’t enjoy horse racing (or golf, for that matter)..
    My apologies if my composition was not erudite enough for this forum.
    To flesh out my character, I’ve been a long time reader of the almanac. Came to it in 2007. Only an occasional contributor.
    I’m a child of the late 60s, grew up supporting the Cats (had no choice being born & raised in Gtroit) & suffered long & hard before the current golden era.
    Returned to live in said home town after 6 years at Monash.
    Suffer a long term running addiction after a moderately successful middle distance track running career (amateur, not pro, sorry Dips) & have had to struggle with the realisation that I’m on the downhill slope of the Gaussian distribution curve if performance.
    Happily married with 3 boys.
    Oldest @ Melbourne uni.
    Middle son a keen all round sportsman who earned 3 bronze medals in rowing @ this year’s national rowing championships.
    Youngest son showing some promise as a runner.
    Don’t think any of them will attract any interest from Stephen Wells.
    Have purchased the 07/09&2011 versions of the almanac annual.
    Quietly confident I’ll be buying another this year.
    Anything else?

  27. Can’t abide motor racing either.

  28. Hi Belly
    LOVE, LOVE your reply.

  29. No probs.
    Worried re meeting your mob tho!

  30. Sorry, above comment shoulda started “Hi Jan,…”
    (Just been introduced to Facebook & forgot current site doesn’t automatically link to previous comment…)

  31. Belly like you i’m a product of the 1960’s having barracked for Geelong a long time ago.

    It’ nice to see you posting something more substantial than a one line comment on a sport you have neither interest of or acumen in.

    Enjoy the running. Looking forward to some erudite postings on sports you appreciate/enjoy.


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