Boxing trainer Rob McCracken has refuted claims that he put Anthony Joshua’s health at risk by allowing him to fight on following two knockdowns in his world heavyweight title defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr. in June.
McCracken has come in for criticism after admitting in an interview with the BBC that he “knew he (Joshua) was concussed, and I’m trying to get him through a few more rounds”.
Leading brain injury charity Headway described McCracken’s comments as a “shocking admssion”, and accused him of prioritising winning the fight over “protecting the fighter from a potentially fatal injury”.
McCracken, who is currently with the GB Boxing squad at the World Championships in Chelyabinsk, has stressed the health of boxers under his instruction is “paramount.”
In a statement issued via GB Boxing, McCracken said: “I have had this a number of times in my career in professional boxing where boxers have recovered from a difficult round to go on and win the fight.
“I have also pulled boxers out of fights because I knew it was not in their interests to continue.
“I am not a doctor and it may be that concussed is not the right term to have used but the health of all the boxers I work with is of paramount importance to me and I have always used my judgement and experience to do what is right for them.”
In one of the sport’s biggest upsets, Joshua hit the canvas four times and was beaten in the seventh round, after which his promoter Eddie Hearn insisted: “He was definitely slightly concussed.”
McCracken’s initial comments drew stinging criticism from Headway, whose deputy chief executive Luke Griggs said: “It’s a shocking admission but it’s highly unlikely that this is an isolated incident.
“Trainers have a duty of care to their boxers and it seems clear that Anthony Joshua’s trainer’s sole priority was winning that fight, not protecting the fighter from a potentially fatal injury.
“One wonders how many deaths in the ring over the years have resulted from a win-at-all-costs mentality.”
McCracken has pointed out the lack of any formal concussion protocol in professional boxing, and insisted it is necessary for the trainer to bank on “experience” to recognise if a fighter is in trouble.
And Griggs conceded that establishing any kind of official guidelines would be “almost impossible” given the nature of the sport.
Griggs added: “In every other major sport, concussion protocols state that once a concussion has been suspected, the player must be removed and not allowed to return.
“Every blow to the head delivered by a fit, strong, technically gifted boxer has the potential to cause a concussion.
“In addition, boxers are celebrated for their bravery when they just about manage to beat a standing eight-count – during which the referee is tasked with deciding whether or not they’re fit to continue.
“You are basically asking the referee to conduct an impromptu concussion assessment with all these people watching, in too short a period of time and when they are not qualified to do so.
“In such a fast-paced sport, where blows to the head are constant and there’s no time to draw breath and assess the damaged caused, it is hard to see how any effective concussion protocol can be adhered to.”
However, Tyson Fury’s trainer Ben Davison launched a strong defence of his counterpart.
Davison, currently preparing for Saturday’s heavyweight fight against Otto Wallin in Las Vegas, said he too had been in a similar position.
“If Rob is to be criticised so am I because Tyson took a heavy knock in the Deontay Wilder fight (last December) and I didn’t stop the fight,” he told the PA news agency.
“No-one knows his fighter better than him and I know he would have had Anthony Joshua’s health as his number one priority.
“It is ridiculous if you ask me. They are fighting men and that’s what they get paid a lot of money to do.
“The moment they realised he was not fresh enough to do what he needed to do the fight was stopped at the right point.
“I can guarantee that (criticism) has come from people who have never been in the sport, never been around the sport.
“It has been taken out of context, what he means is he knew Joshua was hurt. Clearly he was hurt but boxers get hurt all the time, it is part and parcel of the sport.
“Footballers get injured, get concussed, but what do they do? They carry on playing.”