Developing an objective method of determining when boxing matches should be stopped
(4 February 2007: VIDYYA MEDICAL NEWS SERVICE) -- Towards developing an objective method of determining when boxing matches should be stopped, a computerized approach to counting punches at ringside identifies certain characteristics related to deaths in the ring, reports a study in the February issue of Neurosurgery.
"This approach could provide sufficient data to stop matches that might result in fatalities," according to Drs. Vincent J. Miele and Julian E. Bailes, of West Virginia University School of Medicine, Morgantown. "However, such a process would become less effective as matches become more competitive."
Drs. Miele and Bailes performed a computer-assisted video analysis to compare three groups of professional boxing matches. Ten bouts leading to the death of a fighter were compared with a "classic" group of ten highly competitive matches.
Fight videos were reviewed by expert observers, who counted punches thrown and landed using a computerized system, called Punchstat, that is commonly used during televised bouts and by fighters for training purposes. The fatal and classic matches were also compared with a group of 4,000 bouts—representing the "average" boxing match—previously scored with Punchstat.
The results showed some significant differences between the fatal and average bouts. The number of punches landed per round was higher in fatal matches: 26.6 for the survivor versus 22.9 for the fighter who died, compared to 9.4 in the average fight.
In fatal matches, the surviving fighters threw and connected on more "power punches" than their opponents. This suggested that the punch-counting system might help to identify fights in which one boxer was entering a "danger level" in terms of the number of punches thrown or landed.
However, when fatal bouts were compared to the more competitive classic matches, the differences were no longer significant. In fact, boxers in the classic bouts landed an average of 10 more punches per round than those in fatal matches.
None of the various other characteristics analyzed—such as age, weight class, boxing experience and record, or previous brain injury—was able to identify fighters at greater risk of death.
"The sport of boxing is often a subject of controversy because the primary strategy is to disable an opponent's central nervous system," the researchers write. "Although numerous prestigious medical organizations have called for its abolishment, participation in the sport of boxing has reached an all-time high among both men and women, and its elimination is unlikely in the near future."
Current criteria for stopping boxing matches are highly subjective, based on a judgment by ringside officials and doctors that fighters can no longer defend themselves or mount an offense. "Developing a standardized, objective method of determining whether or not a contest should be halted would thus be a paradigm shift that might increase the safety of the sport's participants," write Drs. Miele and Bailes.
Although the computerized punch-count method identifies some characteristics of fatal bouts, the system would become less effective as matches become more competitive. Alternatively, it might lead to a decrease in the level of competition. "[T]his method of stopping a contest would essentially eliminate what many consider to be the most competitive and exciting matches," the authors write.
Part of the problem is that Punchstat system only counts punches thrown or landed, with little consideration of the strength and effects of the punches that connect. The next step in developing objective criteria for stopping fights would be some way of measuring the forces generated by punches—for example, accelerometers worn in mouthpieces or headgear—along with a specific level of forces incurred before a fight should be stopped. "It may depend on the science within sports medicine to determine an effective, objective method for identifying which boxers are at highest risk before they experience catastrophic injury," Drs. Miele and Bailes conclude.
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