No boxing tragedy will ever suffice to shut the sport down -- and if it should, won't another combat sport, in taking its place, keep it essentially alive?
Not just because it presents the poor and unlettered a possible career (if not exceptional wealth and fame) and because that connection can be programmed for the gain of common tricksters. Not just because globalized culture means another country will take up the sport as soon as a first-world one dismisses it. Not just because simple writers find easy material in underclass striving (it's tired stuff, but so are many efforts to transcend it).
Boxing isn't the domain purely of punchers, pimps and bad poets.
The game has technical wizards whose apprenticeships have left them with mesmeric skill. It has good-hearted people who want to serve this elite and writers who come in praise of them.
Men and women who can show angles.
It has promoters and executives whose hearts and head weigh all these factors and feel always unbalanced. Who privately discuss leaving the sport in hoarse voices on late-night phone calls and can next be seen on the weekend championing their stables in between rich meals.
I know them -- perhaps you do, too. The utterly unrepentant ones aren't worth saving. That's obvious to us. It won't be to those tragedy invited.
In mourning the death of Maxim Dadashev, I know distinctions will be missed. Understandably. Someone is gone, short of 29, for no larger purpose, due to injuries sustained (and replayed) on live television.
Newspapers and magazines of a certain type (not to mention the great glib masses) are moths to these fluorescent words -- boxing, death, Disney.
This piece isn't meant to head off their criticisms. Or curtail the period of Dadashev grief. In fact, I hope both Showtime and DAZN, with live cards this weekend, take time to mourn the Top Rank-ESPN fighter, despite the disparate corporate affiliations.
Dadashev could have been a contestant on their broadcasts. Any boxing death is just that -- a wider communal loss, a sadness surpassing abstruse (ever-changing) backroom-affiliations.
Nor do I wanna embrace the utilitarian idea -- that boxing does more for the disenfranchised than it demands of them. Or that its lucre and ennoblement mean it has social merit. That the worst case scenario, no matter how common or rare, is the unfortunate cost of doing business.
The result would be an apology for the "The Hunger Games."
I just wanna say I thought I'd be done dealing with boxing a long time ago. It was never my plan to keep writing about these soap operas without end (in part because some participants are impenitent women-beaters and some chroniclers are high-functioning illiterates; also, the drug-gang affiliations are a lot to swallow).
But having done so, I've come across a band of decency perhaps native to the game (if this exists in other realms, feel free to let me know). There are rebels of common decency here -- people who are manic, sick, sad, desperate (sometimes all at at once) and somehow evince more good will than my closest friends engaged in a political debate.
They will enrage me sometimes by ignoring what I write or misconstruing it or insulting it during a compliment: "I thought you were crap, but you're not, so what the hell are you doing in this cesspool?"
Light the back and side of your neural matter with a Zippo, feel that fire, go days without sleep and tell me how comfortable you'd be working your way up the non-remunerative journalistic ladder. Cure my brain inflammation and I'll pwn Pynchon, I promise.
I write for the rebels -- those pinned into this corner of the world by circumstance whose mourning of Dadashev will feel insufficient; whose posture means they'll be poked by non-native trollers of tragedy; whose sadness will render them momentarily unprotected.
If this entire venture is wrong, we've no simple manner to extricate ourselves. I've tried and for multiple reasons (some involving me, some involving the game), I've always returned, no matter how long the absence.
We are here and we are gutted. We're not pretenders of naivete like Bob Dylan in the early '60s -- we know calling for the erasure of fighting is ineffectual. We are not lovers of snuff who want bodies on our record (I still don't think Deontay does when he follows the thought to its conclusion -- he's just not in the habit of going that far).
We are really sad, and knowing sadness well enough, we know it never completely leaves. That the thought of that night and this passing will recur to us -- and small depression alongside it.
I see the ashen face of Egis Klimas.
Neurologists don't really understand memory yet (the promise of Wired articles on fMRI studies notwithstanding). Is this passing a primal warning to the system -- Don't fall into that circumstance again -- heed how it ended last time?
Whether that's the case or not, I want to consider the question -- because I honestly don't know who else will. We can't expect that of those closest to Dadashev nor the interlopers who'll find fault with our brutal entirety.
I will only say so much -- the death shouldn't be made easier to deal with; and my own brain, battling uncommon affliction for 15 years, means I've no patience to call up 100 neurologists or 10 for consultation on ring trauma.
What I know are two essential cases that coalesce into a single argument. First, Pedro Alcazar, who lost his title in a sixth-round TKO in Vegas in July 2002 but hung about the Strip the next day without incident -- whose sudden and fatal brain-swelling did not seem to commence until a full day after his fight had even ended. Whose post-bout checkup revealed no neurological precursor of bleeding or resultant ischemia.
The second is the earthquake that could be felt in Vegas almost 20 days ago -- the Ridgecrest activity -- magnitude 7.1 -- that sent scoreboards swaying in the Thomas and Mack Center, curtailing an NBA Summer League game and scaring the bejesus out of announcer Doris Burke and fans alike.
In this second case, I have been struck by the similarity of geological reports to the science behind subdural hematomas -- the acute brain bleeds boxers suffer whose swelling releases pro-inflammatory factors and can deny the brain oxygen and necessitate the surgical removal of parts of the skull and the inducement of medical coma.
The July 5 earthquake took place in the Eastern California Shear Zone, whose rent land moved northwest and southeast along opposite sides of a fault. The rupture is made visually apparent in a series of GIFs created via Google Earth by a Greek geologist.
The visual and its name are windows into the embattled boxer's brain bleed: "the Shear Zone" sounds awfully like the consensus scientific description of an acute subdural hematoma, which results from "shearing injuries" to veins or arteries.
Now that boxers present far less dehydrated on fight night than they used to (thanks to the day-early weigh-in), and we've trimmed the number of rounds in a title match and even added a rope to prevent boxers falling through, the greatest medical question legalized fighting faces is: why do some veins shear when others retain their integrity?
It's no easy question to answer -- to whit, we know about fault lines across the world but remain unable to predict the occurrence of quakes with precision. And yet, we have clues -- a direction for future engagement.
Consider again case one, Pedro Alcazar, whose rupture occurred so long after he faced any punches. Consider, too, the discussion I had with eminent fight doctor and PED-tester Margaret Goodman after Dadashev was hospitalized.
Her informed belief based on observation and study is that brain injuries begin in training. Which is another way of saying the integrity of veins may already be compromised in the training process -- rendering shearing more likely, if I understand her correctly.
Either way -- whether it's Alcazar being stricken a day after his fight ended or a boxer's brain being first insulted in sparring -- the picture is like that of a tectonic fault -- two surfaces slipping against east each other a little bit at a time until suddenly they're free of each other enough to split, fall away, come undone.
Of course, continental plates wind up catching on each other again, while the split vein has no similar means of natural re-connection (there is coagulation, though). But it's a helpful metaphor until that point. And the science past the split isn't utterly unknown -- it's probed and augmented everyday.
This study from last October, to which I referred earlier this grim week, says patient blood type makes a big difference in outcomes following acute subdural hematoma.
All of which means we need a new model of fighting that doesn't separate training (or respite) from fight night and doesn't depend on spot-neuro exams, either before or after bouts, as the sole measure of cerebral safety.
Instead trainers and commissions need to assess fighters for predispositions to venous tearing constantly -- with communication now and technology once we have it. For now: if you train a guy, and he's involved in brutal sparring, that should be a matter of doctoral record and not hee-hee rumor spread by giddy cognoscenti.
Boxing will never be free of risk. Science won't cleanse our cockfighting souls. An outsider with good intentions will pillory us, and we'll have to take it, no matter how little nuance we find in his or her words. Some of us may just shut off fights for a long time, myself perhaps included.
For the moment, however, we are in this corner of the world -- a place to which we've felt called (or have been marooned). And for that reason may, post-tragedy, undoubtedly return. There are the attachments of routine, memory and ironclad contract.
This is for us.
Rest in peace, Maxim Dadashev. Your family matters more than any of us now. Maybe they'll see donations from the dark-money elements in the game. That would hardly balance the moral ledger, but what should they care of redemption in the purchase of bread?
I hope they find tremendous comfort in what you did or may yet inspire or in some element of life I'm overlooking.
I think of tearing and hope somehow you are caught.