On Saturday night, Tim Bradley, one of the world's best welterweights, fought Ruslan Provodnikov on HBO. Bradley, who has become a champion boxer mostly by possessing a will that has never broken, took heavy punishment, but won the fight by decision, despite being knocked down in the final 10 seconds. After the fight, HBO cut to announcer Max Kellerman in the ring. He said, "Tim, what did you just tell me?" Bradley gave a dopey laugh. His eyes seemed to lag behind the movement of his head. "What did I just say? I forgot."
"You told me you were concussed earlier in the fight," prodded Kellerman. "Oh yeah. I think I got a concussion," Bradley said, still laughing. "I know I do. Without a doubt."
Without a doubt, he was right. At least three separate times in the fight, Bradley ate huge left hooks and right hands from Provodnikov that left him "out on his feet"—woozy, legs wobbly, leaning back against the ropes, eyes rolling, unable to fully control his body. Because he is Tim Bradley, he continued punching the entire time, surviving on sheer piss and muscle memory. Any normal human, and most normal fighters, would have collapsed unconscious before the end of the second round. Bradley lasted 12. And won.
A brain doctor who'd studied fighters once told me that a "concussion" is any impact to the head that has a resulting effect—so if you take a hit to the head that made you dizzy, or made you forget where you were, or made you woozy, you had a concussion. Fighters (and coaches, and trainers) will often assign some arbitrary, far-off criteria to the term "concussion" to ensure that their current experience doesn't qualify as one. But that's wordplay, not science. No one—not even the brain doctors—know how these blows to the head will affect a fighter long term. They know only that they will have an effect.
A ringside doctor told reporters after the fight that Bradley "was sent to the hospital for signs of amnesia and not a possible concussion." Well then. Just amnesia, not a concussion. We should all recognize, in deference to the lack of real scientific knowledge on this point, that a fighter who has just taken repeated, hard, staggering blows to the head is fucked up. Whether or not he meets an arbitrary "concussion" definition is beside the point. He has been damaged. He is not in his right mind.
But boxing is weird. Boxing asks that you do the equivalent of repeatedly slamming your Accord into an oak tree for a half-hour or so, and then be eloquent, or at least coherent, about the experience afterward. Reputations are made and unmade based on how a fighter comports himself in the moments after a bout, which is insane. Imagine having your public image determined in part by what you did and said in the 10 minutes after a violent car wreck. Imagine if Jay Cutler conducted postgame interviews from the bed of a CT scanner, and then got judged for being surly. Imagine if David Gregory conked politicians on the head with a bat prior to asking them about the sequester.
What is anyone expecting to get out of these post-fight interviews, anyway? Usually, they're boring. Sometimes, they're not. What we usually get are a few breathless platitudes and shoutouts. Sometimes, we get to hear from a fighter as his brain struggles to reconstitute itself, as Bradley's was. And sometimes, we get the cheapest kind of "news."
Bradley managed to mumble some nice things after the fight. But Provodnikov, who had fallen to his knees and wept after the final bell rang, barked that he should have won the fight. Does this make him less than "classy"? He had taken almost as much cumulative punishment as Bradley just had. His manager says he will be out of action for six months to recover from the fight. He had just been through a traumatic experience. Not traumatic like your favorite restaurant running out of your favorite dessert; traumatic like your being smashed in the head and face repeatedly for an hour by a professional fighter, and pushing yourself past the point of exhaustion, and having your effort declared insufficient in the end. Physical and mental trauma like that will stay with him for life. It is ridiculous to expect class at a time like that.
Last year, the fighter Juan Manuel Lopez was suspended by the Puerto Rican Boxing Commission for a year after he accused a referee of betting on one of his fights. Lopez's accusations came in a post-fight interview after a fight he had just lost by TKO. Minutes before, he had been punched in the face and knocked down and rendered unfit to fight; now, the powers that be were offended that he had made somewhat unkind statements. It would have been better for everyone if Lopez had not been interviewed at all, just minutes after picking himself off the canvas. He was fucked up.
We ask a lot from boxers. We ask them to risk their health for our own entertainment. The least we can do is treat them as decently as possible when they're done entertaining us. And that begins with respecting their right to be fucked up for a little while after a fight—with having the decency not to put a microphone in front of a concussed man in the hope that he'll say or do something controversial. That's not journalism; that's wreckage porn.