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Dazed and confused: Robert McCracken, Anthony Joshua and concussion

Danny Flexen examines the criticism directed at Robert McCracken for sending a ‘concussed’ Anthony Joshua back into battle against Andy Ruiz

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Anthony Joshua in the corner against Ruiz (Ed Mulholland/Matchroom)
Anthony Joshua in the corner against Ruiz (Ed Mulholland/Matchroom)

The BBC broke the story earlier this week, as they chatted to longtime boxing trainer and GB amateur Performance Director Robert McCracken about his man Anthony Joshua losing the unified world heavyweight titles to Andy Ruiz Jr in June. The coach, almost certainly underestimating the impact his ‘confession’ would have, told the broadcaster, “I knew he was concussed and I’m trying to get him through a few more rounds, one round at a time, and see where he’s at. But he was glazy-eyed from when he got caught with that initial shot in round three and he carried that with him up until the end.”

 

This admittance – that McCracken ostensibly sent out his boxer for further punishment despite being aware he was suffering from a concussion (something long rumoured but now afforded confirmation) – has inevitably drawn widespread criticism, including from brain injury charity Headway. If indeed AJ was genuinely concussed, and bear in mind there has been no medical diagnosis of that nature, then pushing him back into battle was clearly a failure in McCracken’s duty of care.

 

But ‘If’ is the salient word. If you substitute the word ‘dazed’ for ‘concussed’ in McCracken’s pivotal quote, it is very unlikely his comment would have prompted the same furore. This is not to excuse him but in the boxing world, and McCracken is very much a traditionalist, situations are often exaggerated and inappropriate words used for hyperbolic effect. I cannot second guess him but if Rob merely meant that Joshua was temporarily dazed and confused – though not medically concussed – is he guilty only of poor phrase selection?

 

We have seen countless occasions of a boxer, having just been knocked down, returning to the corner unsure of a number of things, not least which shot had deposited them on the canvas. Trainers, while possessing a duty of care, are not doctors and, while they know their fighter better than anyone, they are not qualified to distinguish between temporary confusion and genuine concussion. There are also competing priorities at play. McCracken will have been concerned about Joshua’s long-term health, of course, but in the heat of the moment and with so much at stake, surviving the crisis and coming back to win the fight will have been hard to ignore. In monitoring Joshua’s condition round by round McCracken doubtless felt he was making the most sensible choice in balancing priorities which, in boxing, are often diametrically opposed.

We often watch boxers caught by a devastating shot and, even if they do not go down or are felled but rise, find themselves unable to completely recover. Should they be given the time to mount an unlikely comeback or should the fighter be pulled out at the first sign of potential concussion? Where exactly is the line?

 

McCracken has inadvertently brought a wider and incredibly important issue to the surface. While the trainer’s judgement in June is rightly being questioned, the guidance given to coaches and the rules and regulations created and enforced by governing bodies also need to be reassessed. It is frequently said that boxers sometimes need saving from themselves, but the trainers can be just as determined to win as their charges. So perhaps these decisions, on certain occasions, should be taken out of the hands of the ones for whom it means the most.

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