2016 has unfortunately seen some tragedies in the boxing ring that act as a constant reminder to us about the sometimes brutal realities of this sport, even in today’s times with a notable example coming very recently in Scottish boxer Mike Towell.
Fighters are born to suffer. Fact. Therefore making this list of most courageous boxers of all time list was a very difficult process.
I wanted to focus in on five men who in particular have bounced back from situations that us mere mortals could not begin to comprehend.
Nobody who ever donned a pair of boxing gloves for a living made the decision lightly. They knew it would be a gruelling, energy draining, soul crushing process lasting years, if not decades, before even the smallest indication of making it to the ‘big-time’ came their way.
As true in sport as it is in life, things do not always go according to plan either.
Just when all seems to be running smoothly, a fighter can be hit with the ultimate curve-ball. One earth-shattering moment that seems to render all previous effort irrelevant and turns any outstanding ambitions into shattered dreams overnight.
Sometimes, some people just need a little bit of hope in their lives. So here are five men who overcame the odds, regrouped from the direst of circumstances and achieved the seemingly impossible:
Sugar Ray Leonard
Easily the most revered name on this list, Leonard was already a legend of the sport when a nasty eye injury reared its ugly head.
Complaining of problems with his sight during training, a doctor’s visit confirmed Leonard had detached the retina in one of his eyes.
While surgery was successful in repairing the problem, Leonard claimed the recuperation process had forced him to lose his enthusiasm to box.
He announced his retirement shortly after on November 9th 1982.
In hindsight, this may have all been part of an elaborate plan by Leonard to stir up hype regarding a potential super fight with fellow future hall of famer ‘Marvellous’ Marvin Hagler.
Returning to the ring after yet more eye surgery, the pair would finally meet on April 6th 1987 in one of the most anticipated fights of the era.
‘Sugar’ Ray would go on to win a close split decision, a decision which earned ‘Fight of the Year’ and ‘Upset of the Year’ honours from Ring Magazine simultaneously.
Leonard continued, making numerous retirements and comebacks over the following years, winning several belts, though never quite managing to reach the level of esteem he found in his youth.
Sheffield’s welterweight star Kell Brook was riding high after finally securing a world title bout with ‘Showtime’ Shawn Porter, a staggering two years after first earning his shot.
Travelling to California, Brook would go on to out-class a brawling Porter, nabbing the IBF welterweight belt away from home.
While on holiday celebrating his world title win with his family, Brook became the target of an unprovoked, horrific machete attack, leaving the newly crowned champion with a massive gash in his thigh.
After a six-month recovery period, Brook returned with a string of successful, impressive title defences.
Despite a heroic but losing effort against middleweight king Gennady Golovkin, Brook remains a title holder at 147 pounds and is still considered one of the top names in the division.
If reports are to be believed, Brook was only minutes from bleeding to death before receiving an emergency transfusion.
Heaven forbid what damage may have been inflicted should the attacker have had his wits about him.
Anthony ‘Million Dolla’ Crolla
I had the pleasure of meeting Anthony Crolla before his fight against Jorge Linares, and I’m very happy to report his recognised status as one of the nicest guys in boxing is well deserved, which is why a specific incident back in 2014 could have been so much more tragic.
Crolla had earned a WBA title shot – thus far the high point of his career.
But, when Crolla tried to intervene in a nearby robbery, one of the assailants set upon the Manchester fighter with a brick, breaking his ankle and fracturing his skull before making a getaway.
In what at first appeared to be a life threatening and career-ending injury, Crolla made a full recovery and was awarded another title shot, against Darlys Perez.
After a highly controversial draw, Crolla would finally lift world championship gold with a sensational body-shot knockout blow in the rematch.
Probably the most unlikely comeback in boxing history and the subject of an upcoming film, Vinny Pazienza’s heart and body were left broken after a horrific car crash left him unable to walk.
A situation made all the more depressing considering he had won the first world title of his career just weeks earlier.
Ignoring the advice of all medical professionals, Pazienza resumed training upon regaining control of his lower body, even though his spine was still extremely delicate.
Achieving feats of strength and endurance no man in his condition should even be attempting, Pazienza kept a video diary of his home training sessions as proof of the impossible process he had undertaken.
A mere thirteen months after the accident, he made a triumphant return to the sport, and went on to win yet another world title.
Daniel ‘Miracle Man’ Jacobs
While split eyelids and torn muscles are common reasons for abandoning a fight, nobody ever expects a fighter to withdraw due to the world’s deadliest disease.
That was the challenge facing Danny Jacobs back in 2011.
Undefeated until a one-punch KO at the hands of Dimitry Pirog, Jacobs was looking to bounce back in a big way until an osteosarcoma diagnosis forced a change.
An aggressive form of bone cancer, Jacobs underwent treatment for an underlying tumour that was causing dangerous pressure to the rest of his system.
At one point, doctors were unsure whether or not he would survive, even if the treatment worked.
Thanks to a good amount of luck and world-class care, Jacobs found himself cancer free and looking to make the ultimate comeback.
After a string of convincing TKO victories, Jacobs was awarded the WBA (Regular) Middleweight title with a fifth round stoppage against an over-matched Jarrod Fletcher.
Jacobs continues to be an avid supporter of and contributor to cancer-related causes and hopes his elevated status as a ‘cancer-survivor world champion’ will encourage others in their greatest fight.
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