The Bloody Brutality of Boxing – Brayden Smith

When a boxer gets hit in the face, different brain tissues move against each other.  A hard punch can cause microhaemorrhages, or bleeding on the brain.  The shifting of brain cells also alters the ability to move, see and think.  Repeated hard punches throughout a fight can exacerbate a microhaemorrhage or cause others.

A microhaemorrhage that causes excessive bleeding on the brain can be fatal.

It is impossible to know which punch will cause a microhaemorrhage or how often they occur during a fight.

A fighter may walk the street with a microhaemorrhage and be unaware of it.  The damage can only be seen with an MRI scan.

Repeated blows to the head can lead to a condition called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) where some brain cells are destroyed.  CTE can cause dementia and other irreversible cognitive disorders like Parkinson’s disease.

Many boxers suffer from CTE after their careers.  The damage usually occurs to the frontal or temporal lobes, which is the front part of the brain, where they get hit the most.

No one has ever disputed that boxing is a dangerous sport.  But it wasn’t until the 1950s that medical professionals in the United States demanded it be abolished.


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On Saturday March 14, Brayden Smith fought Filipino John Moralde for the vacant WBC Asian Boxing Council Continental Featherweight title.

Both fighters were unbeaten over 12 fights.  There were no knockdowns during the bout.  As a fight, it wasn’t close.  Smith lost a unanimous points decision.  The judges scored the fight 91-99, 92-98 and 93-97.

Smith ended the fight bruised but on his feet.  He thanked Moralde in the ring then mingled with family and friends.  About ninety minutes after the fight, he complained of a headache.  He was taken to Toowoomba hospital where he collapsed and was flown to Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital.

Two days later, on March 16, Smith’s life support was turned off.  He was 23-years-old.

His death was shocking.

Boxing Queensland’s secretary Allan Nicholson knew Smith and his father, Brendan, a renowned trainer.  Nicholson, who had watched Smith’s amateur and professional career, was upset.  He said Smith was one of the nicest kids he’s ever met.

‘He was graduating from law school this year,’ he said.  ‘It’s a tragedy, it’s an accident.’

‘We’re all very sorry for the family.’

Hours after Smith’s death, the president of the Australian Medical Association of Queensland, Dr Shaun Rudd, was calling for boxing to be banned.

‘It’s particularly sad when somebody dies during a so-called sport where the whole idea is to try and knock your opponent out and do as much damage to the head as you possibly can,’ Dr Rudd said.

His description of boxing was succinct and predictable.  Everyone knows the intent of boxing is to destroy the opponent.  Knockouts are feted.  Getting beat up is a part of it.  Taking a beating and finishing a fight is also feted, because it’s proof of physical toughness.

Nicholson said it was impossible to determine what caused Smith’s death.

‘Sport being what it is, these things happen from time to time,’ he said.  He didn’t agree that boxing needed to be banned.

‘That’s some ill-informed people’s view of boxing,’ he said.  ‘The people involved in it love the sport.

‘We didn’t know that this kind of thing was going to happen but we didn’t know Phil Hughes was going to get his in the head with the ball.  No one’s calling for cricket to be stamped out.’

In terms of deaths, boxing doesn’t rate in the top ten on most ‘dangerous sports’ lists.  Base jumping, hang-gliding, underwater diving, horse-racing and motor-racing kill far more people each year that boxing.

Dr Rudd said sports like rugby, horse-racing and motor-racing are dangerous, but in those sports, the head is sacrosanct.

‘The whole idea of those sports is not to hit your head,’ he said.  ‘In boxing it’s to do as much damage to the person’s head as you possibly can until you knock them out.  It’s a totally different thing and I think that’s completely inappropriate in this day and age.’

Nicholson said it was inappropriate to talk about banning boxing so soon after Smith’s.

‘It shouldn’t even be considered at this tragic time,’ he said.  ‘It’s an accident and that’s it.  The whole boxing community is mourning this young man.’

Tragedies, he said, are rare in boxing.

The last Queenslander to die after a fight was 20-year-old Alex Slade, who collapsed after a four round amateur fight in Townsville in 2010.  An autopsy found his death was caused by a punch, possibly the punch that forced the referee to give him a standing eight count during the bout.

‘Amateur boxing is a very safe sport,’ Nicholson said.  ‘My children have been in it, my grandchildren have been in it, my son went to the Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games.

‘We’ll need to wait until the doctors come out and tell us what happened.  It’s obviously some sort of brain injury.  Who knows how it happened.’

Dr Rudd agreed that amateur boxing is safer than professional boxing, because of the larger gloves, the headgear and the duration of fights.

‘Professional boxing is a long slug and the main plan in the slug is to knock the other person out,’ Dr Rudd said.

‘It’s very hard to make something safe when the whole idea is to knock out your opponent.’

Family spokesman James O’Shea was shattered.  He said Smith’s family was struggling and coping as best they could.

‘The family would like to thank the people who have supported them,’ O’Shea said.  ‘No words can make this situation any better.’

O’Shea said it wasn’t the right time to debate the safety of boxing.

‘That’s not our concern at the moment,’ he said.  ‘We’ve just lost someone very close to our lives.’

Boxing, he said, was Brayden Smith’s life.  Fighting was in the family blood.  Smith was a third generation fighter, following his father and grandfather into the ring.

‘Brayden Smith didn’t need boxing,’ O’Shea said.  ‘Brayden Smith loved boxing, that’s why he did it.’

Smith’s goal was to change the perception of boxing.  He felt it was denigrated and dismissed.  He wanted to improve the image of boxing, to prove it wasn’t just thugs who fought.  Smith was in the final year of a law degree.  He was a professional boxer and a full-time student.

He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke and or take drugs.  He was never in trouble.  He wanted to educate young people that good times didn’t need alcohol.

After graduating, he wanted to talk to primary and high school students and preach a healthy message, that through sport and study they can achieve their goals.  He wanted to develop community programs with the police to help keep kids out of trouble.

‘That’s the big legacy that he leaves,’ O’Shea said.  ‘Someone had the world at their feet, no one had a bad thing to say about him.’

Dr Rudd’s suggestion that boxing be banned arises every time there is a death attributed to the sport.  Boxers know the risks.  Every sportsperson understands the risks of their chosen sport.

It’s the intent Dr Rudd hates.  The need to punch an opponent in the head to win.  A boxer might not break a bone or blow out a knee.  He might not tear muscles as often as footballers, or suffer spinal injuries.

But there are risks.  Former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis understood the risks.  He said every time he stepped into the ring, he knew he wouldn’t be the same when he stepped out.

That’s the risks.  A fighter might never be the same.

‘There’s risks in rugby league, rugby union, baseball, cricket,’ Nicholson said.  ‘What do you do, ban everything that’s slightly dangerous?

‘The kid would’ve known, so would his dad.  I don’t think they’ll be blaming boxing for this.

It was a perfectly normal bout.  There was nothing untoward.  Nobody saw anything happening and he was fine after the bout.’

The ringside doctor examined Smith before and after the bout.  It’s believed he had no reason to suspect that anything was wrong.

‘Could’ve been an underlying problem,’ Nicholson said.  ‘Who would know?’

O’Shea said Smith wouldn’t want the sport of boxing banned.

‘Like anyone involved in this sport, he knew the risks but he loved this sport,’ he said.  ‘He wouldn’t want anything bad said about this sport.’

Sports lawyer Tim Fuller represented the Slade family after Alex’s death.  The coroner’s report showed there was nothing unusual in relation to his death, aside from that punch.  Fuller wanted the family to understand how boxing was regulated in Queensland but his research was troubling.

He found boxing was self-regulated, and despite the Labor Government seeking community feedback on combat sports in 2007, they weren’t willing to legislate.  They didn’t publicly release that feedback either.

Fuller said nothing has changed since Slade’s death.

‘All major combat sports in this state, whether it’s boxing, whether it’s mixed martial arts need to be regulated under legislation,’ he said.

‘In Queensland it’s just a bit of free for all.

‘It’s just not good enough when there’s sports that have contact and they’re not being regulated by the authorities.’

Fuller said he met with the LNP’s former Sports minister Steve Dickson after Slade’s death.  The minister listened to his concerns and like the previous Labor government, Dickson did nothing.

‘I don’t know how you can be in that position of power as a Sports minister and these types of events are occurring,’ Fuller said.  ‘How you could not put that as a matter of priority that there needs to be overarching legislation in this state to govern combat sports.’

Labor’s Sports minister Bill Byrne declined to comment after Brayden Smith’s death.  A spokesman said the minister’s silence was out of respect for the family.  And to be fair, Byrne’s been in the job about six weeks.  He’s never had to consider a tragedy such as this as a minister.

Fuller said Byrne needs to investigate combat sports in Queensland.

‘People have stepped into the ring and there’s not enough checks as to their background, what history they have, what experience they have,’ he said.

‘That was the situation very much around Alex’s death where there was not that oversight as far as the experience of the boxer.’

I know fighters who have been asked to take a bout on a weeks’ notice.  Often without training.  Some fighters willingly take bouts knowing they are not prepared.  Anyone with a licence to fight can get in the ring without proving the number of rounds they sparred, how many kilometres they ran and how many rounds they worked on the bags.

As long as they pass the physical they can fight.  No one asks to look at a gym log, because they don’t exist.

Fuller said subsequent Queensland governments were not protecting the welfare of people involved in combat sports.

‘I think it’s atrocious.  It’s bordering on negligence,’ he said.  ‘Here we have combat sports in which there are serious injury and at least two deaths have occurred in this state and people aren’t taking the responsibility to ensure they’re not better regulated.

‘We have states that have got legislation in place to protect people who participate in combat sports.  Why Queensland isn’t moving with the times, nobody knows.’

Dr Rudd said self-regulation can work and if it does, then the Queensland government doesn’t need to do anything about it. But Dr Rudd issued a caution.

‘I’m not sure how well they self-regulate,’ he said.

James O’Shea said the world has lost a great human being.

‘Don’t worry about boxing,’ O’Shea said.  ‘Don’t worry about him as a student when it comes to law.  Just talk about him as a human being.  He made an impact.  It’s a testament to the man that he wanted to be a role model.  He wanted to help people.’


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Don’t worry about boxing…

I love boxing.  I’ve followed it since I was a kid.  I’ve got hundreds of boxing books, videos and DVDs.  My garage is lined with boxing posters.  The first fight I remember watching featured Sugar Ray Leonard against Roberto Duran.  The second fight I watched was Larry Holmes versus Gerry Cooney.  When Cooney was stopped in the thirteenth round I was shocked into silence.

‘Let’s let the picture speak for itself,’ Howard Cosell said as Cooney was wrapped up in the arms of his trainer.

Cooney had given Holmes a few tough rounds but he’d been beat up in the end.  The fight ruined him as a boxer.

Fighters know the risks and still they fight.

I often find myself on YouTube, watching old fights and wincing horridly at the stoppage.  No matter how many times I watch a knockout it is always dreadful.

I know this and still I watch.  I know boxers are prone to brain disease.  I know a large proportion fight for a pittance and those that earn big bucks often lose it all and fight long after they should’ve retired.

I know boxing consumes its heroes and villains.

I’ve seen men who had 200 amateur fights unable to read a street directory.  One amateur boxer I met several times over several years kept introducing himself.

I know the dangers.  I’ve seen it.  And still I watch.

There are several reasons.  I inherited my dad’s love of boxing.  He used to spar with Lionel Rose.  And I’ve followed boxing diligently all these years. It doesn’t make sense to stop watching now.

And there’s the knockout, that moment in a fight that galvanises excitement and desire into unrestrained, delightful horror.  Often I find myself on my feet after a knockout, cheering and screaming, just like everyone around me.

It’s only later when I see a replay that the true horror is apparent.  Someone just got beat up.  And I enjoyed it.  Someone lost their dignity.  And I enjoyed it.

Still I watch, so don’t worry about boxing.

Boxing can take care of itself…


Read more from Matt Watson – A.K.A IronMike20 –  HERE

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Great piece Matt. I love the noble art of boxing too. There is a reason to ban most things if we look hard enough. Boxing included. Or football. Or tiddlywinks. It must persist.

  2. Andrew Starkie says

    Great work as usual, Matt. Now IS the time to talk about boxing’s future. Put pros in helmets. Go Roos.

  3. Great article tackling a tricky topic Matt.

    Boxing, for anyone who has engaged in even basic training, is indeed a science and fantastic for fitness. It is also a great opportunity for those who need a focus in their lives.

    That said, boxing – like horse racing – cannot afford to be in denial about the dark side. Getting on the front foot and doing everything in its power to be as safe as humanly possible is the only way forward.

  4. Boxing is a noble art. Do we follow the lead of amature boxing, meaning head gear becomes compulsory. In my time sparring, you did not have the option of getting into a ring without headgear, no headgear, no sparring..

    Keep up the great work Matt .


  5. Mike, an Aussie boxer who showed promise in the last few years is Will Tomlinson. I recall he lost his last bout , in the latter part of 2014, but i’ve no idea of where his career is going subsequertly. Any updates?


  6. Glen,
    Wild Wil Tomlinson lost a fight on an eight round TKO against Fransisco Vargas on March 12. The fight was held in San Antonio, Texas.
    Vargas is undefeated, with 16 knockouts in 22 fights.
    Tomlinson is now 23-2-1 with 13 knockouts.
    Not sure where to from here for Wil.

  7. Glen,
    Here is the link.
    It’s another brutal fight.

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