Billy Graham's Preacher's Corner: When To Stop A Fight? The Right And The Wrong Times And Reasons

I’ve been asked to talk about fights being stopped too soon or too late. 

This is an extremely difficult topic to talk about because there are so many ifs and buts but there are black and white situations.

On the whole, fighters don’t get badly hurt in mismatches. If a fighter is allowed to take a prolonged beating in a mismatch, it’s pretty easy to see who is to blame. Either the corner has left their outclassed boxer in too long or the referee hasn’t done his job properly. 

I’m going to talk about the more complicated situations where fighters are evenly matched and the stakes are at their highest. 

When you’re training a fighter, they pay you to get them ready for a fight but also for you to guide them through it. You’re responsible for giving them advice on tactics and for motivating them and getting them through desperate moments in sometimes brutal situations. You’re also responsible for looking after them and deciding when they’ve had enough. And that can be one of the most difficult and disturbing parts of the whole job. 

There have been times when my fighters have won after going through hell but there have been times when I wish I had pulled my fighters out. Whatever decisions I made, I thought they were right at the time but I’m still haunted by those situations. I never rewatch those fights. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. 

I was ringside for the fight between Nigel Benn and Gerald McClellan and I was there when Paul Ingle got hurt by Mbulelo Botile. One of my fighters killed his opponent. The opponent’s eyes looked terrible at the weigh in and if I’d been training him, he probably wouldn’t have boxed. On the other hand I’ve also seen plenty of fights stopped too quickly.

For all the thousands of people that might be in an arena, the only people who can stop a fight are the corner and the referee. Everyone makes mistakes – I’ve been there myself – but they are honest mistakes.

Why do they happen?

Firstly, you’ve gotta understand what boxing is. A lot of the people who complain about flights being stopped too early aren’t true boxing people. They might turn up to watch a big fight but have no idea of what the fighters have put themselves through for months beforehand let alone what they’re going through in the ring. They don’t know what it means to win a fight or how devastating it is to lose one. It means so much. 

I knew my fighters were capable of going bell to bell physically but I also understood how their brains worked and understood their personalities.

If you’re training fighters at the highest level, you should know the opponent inside out too and if things start to go wrong in a fight, that knowledge becomes crucial.

Are they a puncher? Are they physically weak? Will they tire and give my fighter a chance to come back later in the fight? If so, I’ll leave my fighter in there for as long as possible and give him every chance of turning it around. 

You have to ask your fighter to do unnatural things when you’re in a corner but if things start to go badly and the opponent was known as a good finisher or a hungry, ambitious fighter who had no history of tiring, I would begin to look for signs in my own fighter that things might be getting too hard. 

I would have been able to tell if my fighters were lying to me and if I’d have sensed for one moment that they didn’t want to be there, I would have pulled them out straight away.

It’s not just the trainer who has the responsibility for stopping a fight though. Look, no referee wants to see a fighter get hurt. Some are simply better than others. 

As I said, I knew what my fighters were made of. I knew how much they wanted it and as a gym, we understood the business and treated it as a job. I knew how brutal the sport is and we were prepared. For that reason, I didn’t like a squeamish referee.

I shouldn’t even have to say it because it’s blindingly obvious but it is much better for a fight to be stopped too soon than too late but some referees are incompetent. 

Don’t get me wrong, I would hate to be a referee. I see them get criticised for stopping a fight a punch or two too late. Put yourself in that position. Things happen so quickly in a hard fight.

From my experience, a lot of serious injuries happen because of events that take place before the fight that the public don’t see. Real fighters will do almost anything to avoid pulling out of a fight and will train through illness, injury and do ridiculous things to make the weight. That is wrong.

I’d always try to insist my fighter pulled out in those situations but outside pressures mean that it does happen a lot more than it should. If a fighter is getting in the ring in a depleted state, the trainer needs to be ultra aware of what’s going on in the ring and be more cautious than usual. They should be able to recognise the tell tale signs that their fighter has had enough and stop it the moment they see them. 

That is the biggest danger to boxers in my opinion. Fighters can go through hell and have incredible courage but going into the ring in poor condition makes them so much more vulnerable. 

This is a complicated subject and there is much more to it than just saying a fight should or shouldn’t have been stopped. We haven’t even touched on injuries and cuts. We’ll have to come back to that.

You can’t make boxing safe. You have to accept that that’s the way it is.