FOUR months after 26-year-old Kash Farooq threw the final punch of his professional career, Arset Saakyan took the last blow of his. On January 7, Farooq announced his retirement following complications with his annual medical and Saakyan, also 26, died as a consequence of being knocked out 10 days before. A truly wicked twist of fate and, we hope, a reminder that the sport of boxing remains a perilous way to earn a living.
Our sport is full of feel-good tales and lives saved, no question. But it is fiercely unpredictable, too often cruel and only rarely delivers the riches that fighters almost always deserve. Which is why it’s understandable that Dillian Whyte, as he and his team attempt to wade through negotiations with Tyson Fury and co, is eager to get as much money as he possibly can from challenging for the world heavyweight championship.
It’s too easy for us, sitting on the outside, to criticise fighters like Whyte for not taking the money on offer. Exceptionally simple for us to presume that 20 per cent of millions is a huge sum that only a fool, or far worse, a coward, would turn down. If Whyte doesn’t feel it’s enough for him to step between the ropes and take on the best and arguably most dangerous heavyweight in the world, we should respect that. Because at some point in the not-too-distant future he too will throw and take the last punches of his career.
Though the narrative around Whyte – the 1,200-days-and-counting wait for a title shot, the hardest-done-by heavyweight in history – has become somewhat skewed by facts omitted by certain storytellers, there can be no question that he deserves his chance. Already Whyte has endured a punishing existence as a perennial contender; the blows taken from – among others – Anthony Joshua, Derek Chisora, Joseph Parker, Oscar Rivas and Alexander Povetkin point to the 34-year-old being closer to the end of his career than the start.
Yes, he turned down millions to engage in a 2019 rematch with Anthony Joshua and it’s true that eliminators with fighters like Luis Ortiz were also brushed over. It’s difficult, too, to forget the unproven accusations surrounding performance-enhancing-drugs. But Whyte has shown boundless courage each and every time he’s set foot inside a boxing ring and his ring record compares favourably to anyone yet to win a major belt. With the help of his promoter Eddie Hearn, Whyte has gone from an eight-round fighter with an uncertain future to one of the most famous and marketable boxers in the land. In short, he’s earned his position at the bargaining table.
It is a table Kash Farooq was just getting ready to sit beside. His future looked rosy in the extreme. Rarely do we see such talent in British fighters that the Scottish bantamweight exhibited so elegantly. He will not box again, the decision essentially being taken out of his hands when the results of his latest brain scan revealed a change from his last. At the age of 26, he now faces a future without the trade that defined him. Compared to Saakyan, he is exceptionally lucky.
The young Russian, who fought for relative peanuts during his nine-fight career, did not wake up after being thumped to sleep inside a boxing ring. Only death followed for him.
Never forget what this sport can do when reaching for your phone to type out a tweet in the hope it will gain approval in the fickle world of social media. Every man and woman who puts on the gloves and fights for our pleasure deserves to at least make a stand if they feel like they’re not getting their due.
Only Whyte can decide if the rewards are great enough for the risks involved.