BEING KNOCKED UNCONSCIOUS is an unpleasant experience in any sport, whether it is in the ring or on the playing field. We have been hearing a lot about the effects of concussion on rugby players and I believe there is much to be learned from the way boxing deals with the problem of serious head injuries and the possible after-effects.

Nathan Weise

It may not be generally known that in this country any boxer who is stopped in a bout - not necessarily knocked out - is suspended for a minimum of 28 days, regardless of the circumstances. Should he actually be knocked out or has suffered excessive punishment to head or body, he would receive a minimum suspension of 45 days, which would include sparring, and in either case no boxer would be allowed to fight on until he had received medical clearance from a BBBofC doctor and in extreme circumstances this would include a further brain scan, in addition to the scan and MRI that boxers have to take annually.

Compare this to rugby - and football - where there are growing concerns about the alarming brevity of head-injured players returning to action, often only after a few minutes.

I have seen rugby players obviously badly concussed - and some with facial cuts that would have any fight halted immediately - get a splash from a cold sponge, a whiff of smelling salts and be sent back into the fray. Very macho, but with what consequences?

Rugby head injury

I am not knocking rugby. Like boxing it is by essence a game of hard knocks. I love the sport and was involved for a while in the nineties as owner and chairman of Bedford Rugby Club. Three of my sons, Francis, George and Henry, played rugby, one for his university and the others for their school.

I watched them frequently and I have to say I was more concerned about them getting seriously hurt on the rugby pitch than had they been in the boxing ring. One of them was once knocked out cold and it worried me stiff.

It has taken too long for rugby to get its head around concussion, so to speak.

Football is not immune to the hazards of head injuries either. The family of the late England striker Jeff Astle fought a successful battle to prove his death was caused by degenerative brain disease brought about by regular heading of the ball. There is no doubt other footballers have been similarly afflicted.

Football unconscious

And new guidelines about players suffering knockouts were only brought in after the Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Loris was concussed in a Premier League match at Everton last season. Incredibly he was allowed to play on.

Over the years there has been an apparent lack of concern for this type of life-threatening injury and neither rugby nor football - as well as some other contact sports - have failed to reach the levels of protection and after-care that have been in place in British boxing for some time.

I bet there are more brain-damaged rugby players around these days than punchy ex-fighters. Curiously, you never see boxers now with cauliflower ears - what the trade used to term 'tickets' - but in rugby they seem to be a badge of honour, an accepted occupational hazard for those in the scrum.

Of course in any sport there can always be a freak accident, as sadly there was in cricket recently with the death of Aussie star Phillip Hughes. Equestrian sports, especially National Hunt racing, see many more serious mishaps than you get in boxing. And as for American football - well, don't even go there!

Of course, boxing has been and always will be an inherently dangerous sport because of its very nature. Everyone in it accepts that. It has had its share of tragedies. But the British Boxing Board of Control and licence holders have worked hard to make it safer than it has ever been.

Safety regulations have been upgraded since the 1991 Michael Watson affair and advice from leading neuro-surgeons like Peter Hamlyn has been taken on board. I personally got involved in helping set up a system whereby boxers get regular brain scans.

There are always two or three doctors at the ringside with paramedics and an ambulance on standby at the arena.

Referees stop fights promptly if a fighter is in distress. Some say they often do so too quickly. George Groves still argues over Howard Foster's seemingly hasty intervention in the first fight with Carl Froch. But surely it is better to err on the side of safety - something which boxing does but other sports need to think more seriously about.

***

MY OLD SPAR-MATE DON KING will be back in business big-time, at 83, if his man Bermane Stiverne successfully wards off the swarming challenge from boxing's new great heavyweight hope Deontay Wilder in their WBC title fight in Las Vegas tonight.

Deontay Wilder

This potentially sensational scrap, to be televised live by BoxNation, will determine whether Alabama's Wilder really is the long-awaited saviour of American heavyweight boxing. The Vegas bookies seem to think so - he's odds-on to become the first Yank to hold a version of the heavyweight belt in almost a decade. I am not quite so sure. Neither is the Don.

Stiverne, a Haiti-born Canadian, is a decent boxer and one who can dig a bit himself as he showed when dropping and stopping Chris Arreola to lift the title dominated for so long by Ukrainian Vitali Klitschko, now the mayor of Kiev.

None of Wilder's 32 opponents have made it past four rounds. He hits like a hurricane. But Wilder by name, wilder by nature. We know nothing about his defence as no-one has had time to hit him back. At 36, no age for a heavyweight these days, Stiverne may well be capable of pricking the Wilder bubble if it goes beyond halfway.

King confidently predicts Stiverne will survive an inevitable early blitz to secure a hopeful mega-bucks unification showdown with Wladimir Klitschko, who holds the other three belts. We'll see. Just don't blink.

By coincidence, Wilder's attempt to restore long-lost American pride in the heavyweight division falls on the birthday of Muhammad Ali, still punching at 73 against all the odds.

Manny happy returns, Muhammad. You'll always be the world's champ.

***

IT'S A DOUBLE BUBBLE on March 6 in Liverpool when Derry Mathews takes on WBA World Lightweight Champion Richar Abril. This fight is added to Paul Butler's challenge to be a two weight World Champion when he takes on Zolani Tete for the IBF World Super Flyweight Championship. It's the first time Liverpool has had 2 of their own challenging for World Titles on the same bill and it will be a huge night for the great fight city.

Derry Mathews

Subscribe to BoxNation to watch Bermane Stiverne v Deontay Wilder LIVE tonight.