In March, Nick Blackwell climbed into the ring to defend his British middleweight title against Chris Eubank Junior. Ten rounds later he was stretchered away and put into an induced coma, with many fearing for his life. Four months on, the Trowbridge boxer had recovered, then went in to a sparring session and was back in a coma in hsoptial.
Despite his enthusiasm, boxing was not Blackwell’s initial sport of choice. Playing at a junior level as a goalkeeper for Trowbridge Town, he had trials for Cardiff City. “I used to love playing football and the applause and everything after a game but when I moved up to adult football I didn’t really like the vibe,” he said, before adding that, by now, boxing had taken a hold. I had an unlicensed fight quite early on. I had two fights in the same night and people were coming up to me saying I could really do something in the sport.” From there, requests to spar with middleweight stars Matthew Macklin and James DeGale soon followed. He then caught the attention of renowned promoter Mick Hennessy with whom his career really started to take off. He won the British middleweight title in May 2015, making two successful defences, before the showdown with Eubank Junior, son of former world champion Chris Eubank. It was a fight that was to change his life forever.
To many it was a brutal contest, an old fashioned slug-fest in the middle of the ring. Blackwell, attempting to counter-punch his way out of trouble, endured physical punishment at the hands of one of the brightest prospects in British boxing, including some ferocious uppercuts to the head. Eventually the fight was stopped in the tenth round with Blackwell having significant swelling around his left eye.
Blackwell’s memories of the fight are hazy at best but he admits that the tactics he had worked on with trainer Gary Lockett pretty much went out of the window. “Watching the fight back now, I didn’t move my head enough”, he says ruefully, “I was just there to be hit. Everything I worked on in training, I didn’t do in the fight. Stuff I’d worked on for 15 weeks just didn’t happen. Gary didn’t have to speak to me afterwards, I knew what I’d done wrong". Boxers often talk about successful training camps being critical to having a successful fight but in retrospect the Trowbridge boxer pinpoints his pre-fight sparring as the reason the Eubank Junior fight did not go to plan.
“I didn’t feel right going in to the fight,” he admitted. “The Friday before, I was sparring with George Groves. We sparred for 13 rounds, I took some huge shots and afterwards I couldn’t really remember what happened. I felt concussed, dizzy and sick for three days. I still didn’t feel right on the day of the fight. Warming up in the dressing room, my arms, legs and head didn’t feel right and people have since said that I didn’t look myself as I was ready to go out in to the ring.”
Post-fight, things quickly took a turn for the worse. Unable to stand, a battered and bruised Blackwell was stretchered from the ring to be placed in to a medically-induced coma. As the boxing fraternity and wider public held their breath, reports started to emerge that Blackwell had suffered a bleed on the brain. “It was a bleed on the skull,” he is quick to point out. “That was the media twisting everything. They just heard a rumour and wanted to get a story out quickly. A bleed on the brain is much more serious, people don’t come out normal after that.”
Soon after being released from hospital, Blackwell announced his retirement from the sport and is now looking to open up a gym just down the road from where he lives in Trowbridge. “My plan is to open up a gym with a café serving healthy food,” said Blackwell, who will run the Bath Half Marathon for the RUH's Forever Friends Appeal in March. “I’ve always been one to keep in good shape and I want to encourage other people round here to do the same.”
Blackwell’s experience brought many to question whether boxing is safe and whether more could be done to protect fighters, a question he iss keen to answer positively. “The British Boxing Board of Control are really strict,” he said. “If they think someone isn’t fit and healthy enough to fight then they will take away their license. I can’t get a license to fight anymore but I could go abroad and probably get one easily. Elsewhere, you often see Eastern European fighters looking for a pay cheque who are happy to take a few shots as long as they get paid.” But does he miss the sport in which he made his name? At the time Blackwell asnswered that his futue looked good. “I’m glad I got out when I did, to be honest,” he counters. “It’s become a bit of a corrupt sport and is more of a business in many ways, but it’s brought me so much – friends who are like family, a career, a direction in life. I wouldn’t change anything.”