Quitting seems to be the hardest word in boxing
Type ‘quit’ into Google and the first definition that pops up is this: ‘leave (a place), usually permanently.’ It’s not the definition most associated with the word, but it’s the definition most relevant to Kell Brook’s actions on Saturday.
Right down the list of ‘quit’ definitions is this: ‘stop trying, struggling, or the like; accept or acknowledge defeat.’ That’s the definition that popped into a lot of people’s minds, as they watched Brook drop to a knee in the 11th round. Including, I’m embarrassed to say, mine. But a few minutes later, I found myself railing against Tony Bellew on Twitter, the Liverpool boxer and Sky pundit having called Brook a quitter, while taking great pains not to call him a quitter.
Because it’s not good form to call a fellow fighter a quitter, even if they did. All of which means that ‘quitting’ seems to be the hardest word in boxing.
Technically, and by yet another definition of the word – ‘stop, cease, or discontinue’ – Brook did quit, as was pointed out by a lot of people on social media. There was another round and a bit left and Brook – who still had two arms and legs at that point – could have fought on. And while the views of fight fans whose most recent brush with pain was 30 minutes boxercise can be more easily dismissed, the views of Brook’s fellow pros will stick in his craw.
“How can you quit in the 11th round in front of 27,000 of your fans?” wrote IBF super-featherweight champion Gervonta Davis. “How do you give up your world title with only two rounds to go because of a swollen eye?” wrote Brook’s fellow Brit Chris Eubank Jr. “He quit,” wrote light-welterweight world champion Terence Crawford, as brief on Twitter as he is in the flesh.
But it was Bellew’s semantic wrestling that was most telling. “You can’t do that,” said Bellew (sub-text, consciously or not: “I wouldn’t do that”); “Kell chose to end that” (“I wouldn’t have chosen to end that”); “You’ve got to bite down on your gumshield and give it” (“I would have bitten down on my gumshield and given it”); “We’re warriors” (“at least I am”). Amir Khan, standing beside him, thought pretty much the same. But asked straight out whether he thought Brook had quit, Bellew said he thought nothing of the sort.
Brook’s sudden disappearance through the trap door, the Sheffield man having exhibited such mad bravery to survive the 10th round against a marauding Errol Spence, allowed some fellow pros to flex their egos and emphasise what they perceived to be their superior courage. And when Bellew and Khan said they would have carried on in the circumstances, broken eye socket and all, I believed them. Boxers are remarkable people – what they put themselves through is unimaginable for mere mortals – but what Brook did at Bramall Lane was also courageous, although in a less obvious way.
Boxing on would have been the fighter’s thing to do, but it would not have been the wise thing to do. As such, Brook’s capacity for clear thought – about his health, his future, his family – while flak flew should be admired. Contrary to what some fight fans believe, Brook doesn’t owe them anything. He certainly doesn’t owe the fight game, a business that takes more from most boxers than it gives, anything. The aim of the game is to make as much money as possible before getting out with your health still in tact. Anything else is a bonus.
As fight fans, we take great and perverse pleasure from watching men inflict violence on each other. It should give us pause for thought that we, me included, can react in such a childish manner if that violence is suddenly denied us.
Consider this: when Gerald McClellan dropped to a knee in the 10th round of his fight against Nigel Benn in 1995, Ferdie Pacheco, a medical practitioner commentating for American television, said: “I’ve never seen a man quit like that. There was no reason for him to go down. This is an absolute resignation.”
What nobody knew at the time was that a blood clot was growing in the cavity between the inside of McClellan’s skull and his brain. He emerged from a coma 11 days later severely brain damaged, unable to walk and blind. McClellan quit according to that first definition - his leave was permanent.