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The Dreaded Subdural Hematoma

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The Dreaded Subdural Hematoma

In 2016, I wrote an article for TSS titled, “Concussion: Now It’s Boxing’s Turn.” In the article, published on Aug. 16, I described the work of Dr. Bennet Ifeakandu Omalu who became famous for his work on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) on football players using former Pittsburgh Steeler “Iron Mike” Webster as a key part of his study.

Six years later, Tris Dixon’s timely book, “Damage: The Untold Story of Brain Trauma in Boxing,” was published. In the book, Dixon wrote:

‘…This is boxing.’ CTE is actually punch-drunk syndrome. It was a big epiphany for me: ‘Hang on, the NFL are addressing this but we do nothing in boxing.’ I’d been in boxing 25 years and I didn’t know about CTE, tau protein and things that should be a staple. Fireworks went off in my head: ‘Wow, these guys worrying about the NFL could be worrying about boxing, which is far more dangerous.’ The NFL concussion debate started with The Mike Webster case in 2000. Boxing turned its back for nine decades and we haven’t had our Webster moment yet.” (emphasis mine)

To my delight, Tris affirmed what I had concluded in my 2016 article; to wit, a connection between Dementia Pugilistica and CTE existed. In fact, they might be the same.

January 2010

Before I wrote the 2016 article, I had a somewhat traumatic if not unique experience for a boxing writer—and this brings me to January 9, 2010.

While dining out out with my wife, I became incredibly thirsty. The following day I began to get disoriented with a splitting headache and short-term memory loss. I recall I could not put my watch on, type, or connect the buttons on my shirt. Something was wrong. After experiencing some confusion, I drove to my ophthalmologist’s nearby office at Memorial Hospital in North Conway, New Hampshire, thinking something was going on with my eye pressure. He took one look and immediately had me wheeled to emergency. He thought I was having a stroke and he was not far off.

 I was then given an MRI after which I was Informed that the results showed I had a brain bleed and that I would be taken to the excellent Maine Medical Complex in Portland, Maine, where they were equipped to attend to the matter.

The 65-minute ambulance ride over icy roads (I chose ambulance over helicopter) was harrowing. The attendant asked my name and date of birth every five minutes. He also gave me a shot of something that relaxed me. His intent was to keep me conscious.

We finally reached the hospital (a large complex) and I was rolled to ICU on a stretcher and then, after a short while, assigned to a room where I met the operating surgeon, Dr. Joseph Alexander. I asked how serious a matter this was and he assured me that things would come out “just fine.” I also asked if this is what happens to boxers who suffer a subdural hematoma, and he replied, “if they are lucky” inferring that if they lose consciousness and/or a blood clot is present, things can get very tricky. Thankfully, neither one was involved in my case.

 I was then prepared for the operation. My wife was with me the entire time staying in the nearby Regency Hotel.

I was quickly rolled into the operating room and commenced talking with the  anesthesiologists. Suddenly, I went out like a light and the operation began to resolve the dangerously increasing pressure caused by the brain bleed.

ted

I woke up in a bed with high rails and a tube in my head (see photo above) but I WOKE UP. The doctor said that when they opened up my skull, the blood gushed out like a geyser. They also had to remove part of my skull (see photo) to help ease the pressure of the swelling.

In retrospect, I had taken a bad fall a few months back. I had gotten out of bed too fast and fainted, landing hard on my head. Whether this was the cause could not be determined because there was some “old blood” in my skull, but I believe that it was. At any rate, I was confined to a nice private room for four days and subsisted on horrific hospital cuisine. I recall that a terrible earthquake had struck Haiti so I can accurately pinpoint the dates of these events.

 The only discomfort I experienced was a headache and a bad reaction to OxyContin in which I became a jumping jack. It was horrible, but it was soon replaced by something that worked, Finally, on the fourth day, they removed the draining tube from my head and stitched the hole.

Research

During my time at the hospital, I made it a point to learn as much as I could about subdural hematomas. In particular, I was interested to see where my situation ranked in the scheme of things.

I found that speed is essential and that after a short time without blood flowing to the brain, unconsciousness takes place. Apparently, after a few short minutes without the oxygen that the fresh blood supplies, the brain begins to shut down. And then after about five-six minutes, the result can be irreversible brain damage or death. This was not my case, thank God, as the swelling of the brain did not cut off access to blood by squeezing shut the arteries and blood vessels that supply it.

Apparently, If the brain swells larger than the skull, bad things can happen. For example, the sign of blood coming out of the ears should be a warning sign whether in boxing or otherwise.

I had become an amateur expert on brain injuries thanks to reading and discussing the topic. I learned that my situation was on the lower end of the severity index, but I also learned that the critical variable of speed translates in boxing to an absolute need for competent medical assistance at ringside — oxygen, stretchers, and a waiting ambulance.

In this connection, the death of Willie Classen in 1979 begs to be reexamined. So does Greg Page’s case in 2002 where there was no ambulance, no team of paramedics, nor oxygen, all of which were required by law. The ringside doctor, Manuel Mediodia, wasn’t licensed in Kentucky and was under suspension in Ohio.

Their stories cannot be forgotten, nor should the 2013 case of Magomed Abdusalamov or the bizarre ring fatality of South African Simiso Buthelezi, a more recent example.

My hospital stay then ended, my son arrived and took me back home to New Hampshire where I started the rehab process and, sooner rather than later, fully recovered.

 I had used up one of my nine.

October 2017

Unfortunately, the issue popped up again in 2017 when one of my sisters suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of being struck by a truck in Las Vegas. After emergency surgery could not bring her back, she was put on life support machines. I knew more than most what was going on and I knew what needed to be done.

Upon arriving to Las Vegas I immediately went to the hospital and conversed with the neurologist. After staying at her side for two days to give her many friends and relatives a chance to say goodbye and/or to pray, I had the life support machines disconnected and remained alone with her until she passed about an hour later. It was another horrific incident that added to my body of knowledge on brain injuries. I think of her every day.

As far as boxing is concerned, the danger of a subdural hematoma is omnipresent, and it doesn’t discriminate: “

 Ted Sares enjoys writing about boxing and can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Johnny Famechon was a Hero in Australia Where Willie Pep Had a Bad Night

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Willie Pep was good at boxing. He wasn’t so good at math. Ah, but hold the phone; we are getting ahead of ourselves. This isn’t a story about Willie Pep, but about former world featherweight champion Johnny Famechon who passed away last Thursday, Aug. 4, in Melbourne, Australia, at age 77.

Famechon was five years old when his parents left his birthplace in Paris and settled in Melbourne. He came to the fore in an era when boxing was still a mainstream sport and home-grown champions were national idols. The locals turned out in droves for the parade in Johnny’s honor when he returned to Melbourne after taking the featherweight crown from the Cuban-born Spaniard Jose Legra in a big upset at London’s Prince Albert Hall.

HeraldSun

Famechon’s Welcome Home Parade

Famechon’s first title defense came against Japan’s Fighting Harada. They met in Sydney, Australia, on July 28, 1969.

At age 26, Harada was a battle-tested veteran. He previously held world titles at flyweight and bantamweight and would be remembered as the only man to defeat the great Brazilian boxer Eder Jofre, a feat he accomplished not once, but twice.

Only two boxers in history – Bob Fitzsimmons and Henry Armstrong – had won world titles in three of the eight classic weight divisions. Harada, who entered the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995, was bidding to become the third.

Team Harada insisted on a neutral referee. The British promoters chose Willie Pep. A legend in the sport, Pep had previously shared a ring with another Famechon, having out-pointed Johnny’s uncle Ray Famechon in a featherweight title defense at Madison Square Garden in 1950.

Some thought that Pep would favor Fighting Harada. American referees put a higher premium on aggression than did their foreign counterparts and Harada was a little buzzsaw who rarely took a backward step. But others thought that Pep’s selection favored Famechon, an elusive counterpuncher with whom the Connecticut “Will-‘o-Wisp” could identify; their styles were similar.

Pep had been the third man in the ring for four previous title fights, three in Jamaica and one in Brazil. But this fight would be different. He would be the sole arbiter. If the fight went the full 15 rounds, Willie Pep would be the judge and jury.

During the bout, Famechon scored one knockdown, sending Harada to the canvas in round five, but Harada scored three, knocking Famechon down in rounds two, 11, and 14. The last of the three knockdowns was the harshest, but Famechon made it to the final bell.

The fight ended in a clinch. Immediately upon separating the fighters, Pep raised both of their hands, a signal that the fight was a draw.

Fighting Harada’s handlers were outraged and demanded to see the scorecard. A policeman at ringside was empowered to give it a look-over (Australia had no boxing commission). What the policeman found was that there was indeed a discrepancy. However, it was the opposite of what Team Harada anticipated!

The fight was scored on the antiquated system whereby the winner of a round was awarded five points and the loser four points or less. In the case of an even round, both fighters got five points.

After 13 rounds, Fighting Harada had amassed 59 points on Pep’s card. He won the 14th round, giving him an aggregate total of 64 points. But when Pep added up the numbers “59” and “5” in the column where he kept the aggregate total, he came up with “65.”

Oops.

When Pep signaled that the fight was a draw, people stormed the ring from all sides. Newspaper reports said the belligerents were about evenly divided. Famechon, the Aussie, was the crowd favorite, but Fighting Harada was well-backed in the betting markets, a very big industry in Australia. Many were even angrier when Famechon was summoned back to the ring to have his hand raised.

The Famechon-Harada fight aired live on Japanese television. In Japan, there was a great outpouring of outrage. Pep had been instructed to score a round 5-4 if the round was narrow and 5-3 if there was a clear-cut winner. Despite the knockdowns, Pep scored every round 5-4 or 5-5. In the revised tally, he had Famechon winning 6-5-4 in rounds.

“Harada loses to referee” was the headline in Japan’s leading sports daily. Willie Pep made no friends in Australia either. There were shouts of “Yankee go home” as he left the ring.

Famechon and Harada met again five months later in Tokyo. One would assume that Fighting Harada proved superior and got a fair shake, winning the third title denied him in Sydney. But don’t assume.

Harada was well ahead after ten rounds but faded. On the deck in round 10, Famachon returned the favor three rounds later, knocking Harada down hard with a perfectly placed left hook. Harada was in dire straights when he came out for round 14 and Famechon put him away.

Harada never fought again and Famechon left the sport six months later after losing his crown to Vicente Saldivar. Johnny was only 25 years old, but had crammed 67 fights into a nine-year pro career and said enough is enough.

Famechon’s post-boxing life took a tragic turn in 1991 when he was hit by a car while out jogging on a Sydney highway. He spent several weeks in a coma and several years in a wheelchair but eventually recovered most of his motor skills and regained his speech to the point where he could serve as a boxing color commentator on television. In 2018, a larger-than- life statue of Famechon was unveiled at a public park in the Melbourne suburb of Frankston where he was a longtime resident.

For the record, Johnny Famechon finished his career with a record of 56-5-6 with 20 KOs. We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to his loved ones.

Arne K. Lang’s latest book, titled “George Dixon, Terry McGovern and the Culture of Boxing in America, 1890-1910,” will shortly roll off the press. The book, published by McFarland, can be pre-ordered directly from the publisher (https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/clashof-the-little-giants) or via Amazon.

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Fast Results from Fort Worth Where Vergil Ortiz Jr Won His 19th Straight by KO

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In a match pushed back from March 19, Vergil Ortiz Jr moved one step closer to a mega-fight with Terence “Bud” Crawford or Errol Spence Jr or Boots Ennis with a ninth-round stoppage of England’s feather-fisted Michael McKinson. The end came 20 seconds into round nine when McKinson appeared to injure his knee as he fell to the canvas, an apparent residue of the body punch that put him on the deck late in the previous stanza. To that point, Ortiz had seemingly won every round.

It was the 19th win inside the distance in as many opportunities for Ortiz who resides in nearby Grand Prairie and was making his first start with new trainer Manny Robles. McKinson was undefeated heading in, but had scored only two knockouts while building his record to 22-0.

Ortiz, ranked #1 at welterweight by the WBA and the WBO, pulled out of the March 19 bout after being diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a muscle disorder associated with over-training.

Ortiz’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, says that Ortiz will fight the winner of Errol Spence vs Terence Crawford next assuming that the fight gets made, and if doesn’t get made, Ortiz’s next fight will be with one or the other. The WBA, which stamped tonight’s fight an eliminator, may push to have Ortiz fight their secondary title-holder, Eimantas Stanionis.

Co-Feature

Houston’s Marlen Esparza (13-1, 1 KO) successfully defended her WBA/WBC world flyweight title with a unanimous decision over plucky 4’11 ½” Venezuelan southpaw Eva Guzman who had won 14 straight coming in, albeit against soft opposition. The judges had it 98-92 and 99-91 twice.

Guzman (19-2-1) was game, but just didn’t have the physical tools to overcome Esparza whose lone defeat came at the hands of talented Seneisa Estrada.

Other Fights of Note

In a 10-round match contested at the catchweight of 150 pounds, Blair “The Flair” Cobbs rebounded from his first defeat with a career-best performance, a wide decision over former WBO 140-pound world titlist Maurice Hooker. It was the second straight loss for Hooker who returned to the ring after a 17-month hiatus and came out flat. Cobbs put him on the canvas in the opening frame with a combination and decked him twice more with straight lefts in round two.

Things got somewhat dicey for Cobbs in round five when he suffered a bad gash on his forehead from an accidental head butt, but Hooker, who had stablemate Bud Crawford in his corner, hesitated to let his hands go and couldn’t reverse the tide. The judges had it 96-91 and 97-90 twice for the flamboyant Cobbs who improved to 16-1-1 (10). Hooker, a consensus 5/2 favorite, lost for the third time in his last five starts and slumped to 27-3-3.

In the opener to the main portion of the DAZN card, Uzbekistan’s Bektimir Melikuziev (10-1, 8 KOs), a super middleweight growing into a light heavyweight, dominated and stopped overmatched Sladan Janjanin. Melikuziev put Janjanin down with a body punch in the opening minute of the fight and scored two more knockdowns before the bout was halted at the 2:18 mark of round three.

This was Melikuziev’s third fight back after his shocking one-punch annihilation by Gabriel Rosado. Janjanin, a well-traveled Bosnian who fought three weeks ago in Massachusetts, declined to 32-12 and was stopped for the eighth time.

Also

Chicago welterweight Alex Martin (18-4, 6 KOs) overcame a first-round knockdown to win a unanimous decision over 38-year-old Philadelphia journeyman Henry Lundy. The judges had it an unexpectedly wide 98-91, 97-92, 97-92.

Martin was coming off a points loss to McKinson and this bout was his reward for taking that fight on short notice. Lundy (31-11-1) has lost five of his last seven.

Floyd “Austin Kid” Schofield, a lightweight who appears to have a big upside, advanced to 11-0 (9 KOs) at the expense of Mexican trial horse Rodrigo Guerrero whose corner wisely pulled him out after five one-sided rounds. It was the ninth straight loss for Guerrero (26-15).

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Conlan Wins His Belfast Homecoming; Breezes Past Lackadaisical Marriaga

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“The Return of the Mick” was the label attached to tonight’s show at the SSE Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The reference was to local fan favorite Michael “Mick” Conlan who returned to his hometown in hopes of jump-starting his career after suffering his first pro loss in a brutal encounter with Leigh Wood.

In that bout, a strong “Fight of the Year contender, Conlan was narrowly ahead on all three cards heading into the 12th and final round when the roof fell in. Wood, who was making the first defense of his WBA world featherweight title on his home turf in Nottingham, knocked the favored Conlan unconscious and clear out of the ring.

This was the sort of fight that can shorten a man’s career. Hence the intrigue in Conlan’s homecoming fight tonight against Miguel Marriaga. On paper, the Colombian, a three-time world title challenger, was a stern test considering the circumstances.

To the contrary, Marriaga had no fire in his belly until the final round when he hit Conlan with a shot that buckled his knees. But, by then Conlan was so far ahead without overly exerting himself that there was virtually no chance of another meltdown.

While Conlan won lopsidedly, the scores – 99-89 and 99-88 twice – were somewhat misleading. True, “Mick” had Marriaga on the deck in rounds 7, 8, and 9, but the punches that put him there did not look particularly hard.

Conlan, 30, improved to 17-1 (8). Marriaga, 35, declined to 30-6.

After the fight, Conlan expressed the hope that Leigh Wood would give him a rematch.

Other Bouts of Note

In an entertaining 10-round welterweight scrap that could have gone either way, Belfast’s Tyrone McKenna (23-3-1, 6 KOs) rebounded from his defeat in Dubai to Regis Prograis (TKO by 6) with a hard-fought unanimous decision over 33-year-old Welshman Chris Jenkins (23-6-3). The judges favored the local fighter by scores of 97-94 and 96-95 twice.

Jenkins, a former British and Commonwealth title-holder, had the best of the early going, working the body effectively while frequently finding a home for his uppercut, but he could not sustain his advantage.

Thirty-four-year-old Belfast super middleweight Padraig McCrory who got a late start in boxing, scored the most important win of his career with a fifth-round stoppage of Marco Antonio Periban, a former world title challenger. McCrory had Periban on the deck three times – once in the second and twice in the fifth – before the bout was halted at the 2:14 mark of round five.

It was the fourth straight win inside the distance for McCrory who improved to 14-0 (8 KOs). Mexico’s Periban, who returned to the sport in April after missing all of 2020 and 2021, fell to 26-6-1.

Highly-touted welterweight Paddy Donovan improved to 9-0 (6) with an 8-round unanimous decision over Yorkshireman Tom Hall (10-3). The referee scored every round for Donovan, an Irish Traveler trained by Tyson Fury’s bosom buddy Andy Lee, the former world middleweight title-holder.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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