‘I was told to fight with a broken nose’ - ex-fighter lifts lid on world of unlicensed boxing
- Credit: Archant
It is more than a year since a young fighter died after being knocked out at a boxing match in Great Yarmouth – but unlicensed fights continue with no minimum safety standards required.
His opponent was throwing up, full medicals were not done on all the fighters, and the medical cover on the night was a 'nightmare'.
Those issues raised at the inquest into the death of Jakub Moczyk, 22, known as Kuba, added to the heartache for his family.
But they are not unique in the world of unlicensed boxing, where no safety rules have to be followed. Those we have spoken to say fighters are frequently sent into the ring without proper medicals.
One former unlicensed fighter even said he had been made to box with a broken nose, cracked rib and black eyes.
It has lead to calls for minimum legal safety standards at all boxing matches.
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Norfolk's coroner Jacqueline Lake raised her concerns at Kuba's inquest in October of the 'high risk' nature of unlicensed boxing events.
Concerns were also raised about the referee also being the trainer of Kuba's opponent and the 22-year-old being matched against a more experienced fighter in the bout at the Atlantis Arena on the seafront in Great Yarmouth.
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Unlike with professional fights regulated by the British Boxing Board of Control, or amateur fights governed by England Boxing, at unlicensed events the level of safety and medical cover depends on the promoter putting on the fight.
As one ex-unlicensed fighter says, there are good and bad promoters.
Unlicensed boxing is widespread in Norfolk and Suffolk with fights being held most months at different venues in the region.
And combat sports are still being put on at the venue where Kuba's fatal fight took place. On November 11, a week before the anniversary of the fight, a ring was set up at the same venue.
Fight fans gathered at the Atlantis Arena to watch a licensed kickboxing show dubbed the 'Eastern Battle 2'. The line-up included the man who organised Kuba's fight and the young boxer's former coach.
The owner of the Atlantis Arena, Colin Abbott, told us they no longer hold unlicensed fights and do more robust risk assessments. He did not organise the Kuba fight.
That same Saturday night in Norwich an unlicensed 'corporate boxing' night took place at the Open venue on Bank Plain.
Over 15 bouts, boxing novices, as well as some more experienced amateurs, fight.
The amateur fighters are from a group called Norwich Golden Gloves which is run by a trainer called Glen Saffer. Mr Saffer was ringside when Kuba was knocked down a year ago.
He did not wish to comment but fellow coach of Golden Gloves Neil Sturman said he would never let his fighters take part if an event was not safe.
'If I ever turn up to a venue that we have been asked to bring lads to and there are things we are not happy with, we would not let them fight,' he said.
Mr Sturman, who has decades of boxing experience, said it was vital medical checks were in place and an experienced referee was used.
In regard to the corporate boxing event at the Open, he said: 'These events are run correctly, with the correct medical team in place and the correct people in charge.'
The vast majority of bouts at the Open on that Saturday night were between first-time boxers who had signed up to a 12-week training regime at Norwich gym Tower Fitness, run by former pro-fighter Jackson Williams.
The fight nights are popular and fun, with those taking part raising money for charities as well as getting fit and losing weight.
A spokesman for Pro-Event Medical, which provided medical cover for the event, said all fighters go through numerous examinations prior to their bout.
They said: 'No competitors will fight without the medical exam taking place and we would advise the event organiser and referee against allowing a competitor to fight if we found any significant abnormalities during the examination process.'
Former fighter Neil Cronin, who has fought several unlicensed bouts, said he had seen both sides of how unlicensed boxing can work.
'There are people with good intentions who provide the safety measures, like Jackson,' he said.
But the father-of-two from Eaton has also once had to fight three times in a weekend, turned up at venues not knowing who he was fighting, not being told the truth about his opponent's ability and even once fought with a broken nose, a cracked rib and two black eyes, despite protests from the medic.
'They told me to put on sunglasses to go into the medical (to cover his black eyes). 'The medic said I don't want you fighting but the promoters got involved. The promoters have the power as they pay the medic.'
The 39-year old stopped fighting more than two years ago.
The fight when he walked into the ring with a broken nose and black eyes, held in Great Yarmouth, was his third fight in two nights.
Mr Cronin said he was told if he didn't fight that third and final bout he would not be paid for his first two fights.
'I felt I had to do it to get the money. I was hoping the medic would say no,' he said.
He reluctantly stepped into the ring and went down early.
The salesman said he had been paid as little as £50 and as much as £360 for a fight.
And he had even fought before with just a day's notice.
He said Facebook was often used to find fighters for unlicensed events but the fighters were not always told the truth about the ability of those they were up against.
'It's almost like a classified ad,' Mr Cronin said.
He said he had even fought one fight without a medical and had simply signed a waiver agreement.
'It is quite scary how easy it can be to put on a show,' he said. 'But with Kuba, someone's life has gone.
'At the end of the day it is unsanctioned but not illegal. I'd like to see more medicals (on fighters).'
Great Yarmouth Borough Council is continuing a health and safety investigation into the event where Kuba died.
•Medic: 'Unlicensed boxing promoters can ignore us'
Medicals are not always done on fighters at unlicensed boxing bouts beforehand, according to the medic who covered Kuba's fight.
Susan Mitchison rushed to Kuba's aid when he was knocked out and she said her firm no longer covers any boxing bouts, unless promoters agreed to take their advice.
She works for her husband and his company Lifeshield Medical Services and has covered dozens of fights as a medic.
'We can do a medical and say, that person is unfit to fight and the referee and promoters can ignore us,' Ms Mitchinson said, something backed up by Mr Cronin's experiences.
'Unless promoters agree to stick by what we are saying as medics, we don't wish to cover the event.'
Ms Mitchison recalled the fight night where Kuba died was disorganised with no list given to them of who was fighting. She said that meant some fighters fought that night without Lifeshield giving them a medical first. She said she made the promoter and referee aware of that.
But Ms Mitchison said they did carry out a medical on Kuba before his bout.
She was meant to be off work as she had just had an operation on a hernia but was called at the last minute to provide cover.
'If we weren't there, they wouldn't have any medical care,' she said.
Ms Mitchison added it was not unusual for unlicensed boxing nights to be disorganised and that was one of the reasons why Lifeshield Medical had now stopped providing cover for these events.
She said at a lot of decisions were made by the referee and promoter rather than medics. 'Some don't even bother with medicals,' she said.
But the former London ambulance technician said some promoters did not want to become part of a licensed organisation, which would enforce safety procedures on them.
Coroner Jacqueline Lake wrote to Lifeshield Medical Services after Kuba's inquest to flag her concerns.
•Unlicensed vs. Licensed boxing
'Unlicensed' boxing covers everything from white collar and corporate boxing, where promoters may follow strict medical protocols, all the way to seasoned amateurs fighting without full medicals.
Unlike with 'unlicensed' boxing, fighters, managers and promoters who are licensed by the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBoC) need to follow strict medical procedures.
Fights need to have a paramedic, doctor and anaesthetist ringside and an ambulance on stand-by. They also need to be close to a brain unit such as Addenbrooke's and inform the hospital before a fight.
Norwich trainer Graham Everett (pictured above), who is licensed by the BBBoC and has trained some of Britain's best boxers, said licensed fights had 'very stringent regulations so the boxers' wellbeing was paramount'.
'All of boxing is dangerous,' he said. 'You can't play around with it. You must have a regulator across boxing in my view.'
Fighters at licensed events are also matched by a professional, but in the unlicensed world none of this has to happen.
A spokesman for England Boxing, the national governing body, said anyone thinking of taking up the sport should go to their local amateur club where they will be trained and taught by qualified people 'with rigorous safety standards'.