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In the commentary on the tragic 2005 Leavander Johnson/Jesus Chavez fight, which claimed the life of Leavander Johnson, commentator Jim Lampley said that there are two things that seem to be "constant" in recent fights where a boxer was seriously - sometimes permanently - injured:

In the recent history of the sport, when you look at fights where one fighter has been badly, sometimes permanently damaged, two constants seem to be part of the formula. Number one, the opponent who is doing the damage is a hard hitter, but not a big enough hitter to put the opponent away. Number two, the guy who is getting worked over has his father in the corner as his trainer, constantly sending him back to take more punishment.

I'm sure Lampley would love to have been proven wrong in this case, but the words he spoke in the 11th round, shortly before referee Tony Weeks belatedly stopped the fight, were eerily prophetic, and less than a week later, Johnson was dead.

A little research on my part turned up an earlier article from the LA Times, which listed other fighters who were killed in their bouts and had their fathers in their corners:

Johnny Owens (1980)
Kiko Bejines (1983)
Rico Velazquez (1988)
Jimmy Garcia (1995)
Fernie Morales (1991)1

More recently, in 2009, Francisco "Paco" Rodriguez was killed in the ring, with his father in the corner.

Here's a slightly more thorough list of boxers who were killed or seriously injured in the ring since 1980 with their fathers in their corners.

Has there ever been a serious analysis into the possible correlation between permanent injury/deaths in the ring, and having one's father in the corner? Do we know if there is actually a statistical correlation between these two factors?


1 Fortunately, Morales actually survived, but suffered a blood clot in his brain, had to have emergency brain surgery to remove it, and never fought again. Sadly, all the others on the list died from their injuries.

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    I doubt the statistical power here. – Dave Liepmann Apr 25 '16 at 8:18
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    @DaveLiepmann - I do too - although the cases I've mentioned are only what I found in a single, speculative search, and there are surely many more cases that fit the profile, I am dubious of there being any statistical significance, and trying to prove/disprove it would be laborious and time-consuming. I don't even know of any records of all the professional boxers who have died in the ring in the last 50/70/100 years or whatever. – Wad Cheber Apr 26 '16 at 1:11
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    This is the most comprehensive I am aware of: ejmas.com/jcs/velazquez/index.html – Dave Liepmann Apr 26 '16 at 6:26
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    @DaveLiepmann: Could you write your comments as an answer? – Sardathrion Apr 28 '16 at 7:32
  • Maybe because of the pride. – Sahan De Silva May 30 '16 at 4:04
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There are fortunately not enough deaths in boxing (about 10 per year) to tell one way or another, hence no statistical correlation.

People consistently underestimate the importance of sample size requirements in statistics.

If the sample size is too small, that's the end of the discussion, as far as statistics are concerned, because any apparent correlation could easily be an expression of randomness.

Statistics only work on large numbers and if you don't have large enough numbers, you don't have a statistical correlation, or a statistical anything. Attempting to draw statistics anyway from a small sample size "because that's all we got" is a logical fallacy known as the "law of small numbers".

A classic example of that fallacy is the story of the traveler who enters a town and sees 3 kids at the entrance of the town. It should be obvious to a sane person that it doesn't mean anything, but people hate uncertainty and so the traveler makes up his mind:

"3 out 3 persons in town are kids. 100%. Therefore there are no adults in this town", concludes the traveler. Obviously, the conclusion is ridiculous because we know that kids don't happen out of thin air and that their parents are bound to be around, but it's not really that different from the "4 boxers died with their dad in the corner" train of thought.

When numbers are small, statistics are meaningless and can easily be misleading. When you have small numbers of data points you have to either get more data points (which isn't an option here unless you want to start killing boxers) or simply forget about it because you simply don't have enough to generate reliable statistics.

  • There are in fact a lot of observations (boxing matches) for a low probability event (deaths). Given a sufficient number of boxing matches of both father in corner and not, it is possible to make a statistical statement about the difference in the two groups, even if the overall number of deaths is small (but > 5 for all groups). See stats.stackexchange.com/questions/113602/…. – mattm Apr 29 '16 at 20:54
  • @mattm "GIVEN..." well, you don't have that data, do you? Assuming you were able to get enough data on the boxing fights with Dads in the corner or not, you might be able to get a good idea of Dads coaching style, but you still wouldn't have enough data about the actual event you are trying to predict (fighter death correlation with presence of the Dad in the corner) to validate your theory. And no, a sample size of >5 won't do. You can do maths all day long, but if you try to assign meaning to a statistic based on such a small sample, you are falling for the law of small numbers fallacy. – Sylverdrag Apr 30 '16 at 4:16

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