BOXING is, by its very nature, a sport fraught with danger and risk. One could even argue that its inherent danger and risk is what ensures it is both a niche sport and a profession appealing only to a minority. Most, given the obvious risk involved, would never set foot inside a boxing ring once, let alone do so on a regular basis. Meanwhile, there are many more, given the potential of death or permanent injury, who would think it foolish to consider it a viable and healthy way to make a living.
Indeed, the best you can hope for, should it become your living, is that you are protected. You are protected, first of all, by your training team, your own defence, and the referee. Then, if the worst-case scenario sadly becomes your reality, you are protected at that point by an insurance policy, which, should you meet the criteria, will provide you with a financial cushion most people in other walks of life do not receive from their place of work.
One boxer in this position currently is Mexico’s Alejandra Ayala, who last week informed Boxing News of her pursuit of insurance money a year on from suffering a bleed on the brain following a fight in Glasgow against Hannah Rankin. As expected, the 34-year-old spoke to us about this issue with no small amount of impatience and frustration and, in doing so, focused more on what she was still waiting to receive as opposed to what, during a month’s stay in Glasgow, she had already received.
“I’ve probably spent around 30,000 dollars so far on my recovery,” Ayala told BN last week. “We don’t have the best neurologists and therapists in Tijuana, so I have to go to Mexico City for that. I can’t fly alone, so my husband has to fly with me, and he has to take time off work to do it. He is a policeman, which means it is difficult for him to do that. I thought I would be back working by now – maybe doing some matchmaking, or working with the commission – but because of the epileptic fits I won’t be able to do that for a while.
“I now don’t know what to do. I’m feeling frustrated. I’m not even asking for a lot. If they could just help me out a bit, it would mean so much. I just want to pay off my debts and continue getting better.”
In response to Ayala’s comments, Robert Smith, General Secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC), said to Boxing News, “We are disappointed in comments made in the original article. Comments are incorrect which have been attributed to the Board and actions already taken by the Board.
“We have been in constant communication with her father, Vince, and kept him updated as to the process. We have donated money outside the insurance policy and are awaiting a final decision by the insurance company. The boxer’s own commission does not a have an insurance policy in place and the BBBC is one of the very few commissions that do.”
A protracted and complicated matter, not unlike any other insurance claim, much of Ayala’s frustration likely stems from that fact. After all, as she now struggles to return to some form of normality, her ability to fully make this transition lies squarely in the hands of people tasked with deciding whether she fits the criteria (death or permanent injury) for insurance money.
“Unfortunately, insurance matters take time – in relation to future medical prognosis, etcetera – and qualified consultants are considering all medical reports received and will advise accordingly,” said Smith. “In addition, the medical cover on the night of the bout, by both BBBC medical officers and hospital doctors, was exceptional.”
One year on and the wait continues for Ayala. In fact, with every passing day, week and month, the harsh reality of what happens when her profession – this sport she loves so dearly – goes wrong moves more and more into focus.
“The problem is, we live alone,” said Ayala, who suffered her most recent epileptic seizure in May. “My family doesn’t live in Tijuana with me. My husband’s mum and brother live here but not with us. So, when he’s working and I’m alone, that’s a problem. The other problem, too, is that I wanted to go back to work, at least a little bit, but now it looks like it’s going to be six more months before I can do that.”
As well as being unable to work, Ayala, despite improving physically, has not been able to train as she would like. “I couldn’t train,” she said, “because of all the head movement involved and I also couldn’t run because of the head movement involved. I could only do basic workouts. For a while my head would hurt a little bit so I would need to sit down and give myself time to rest.”
Often, we tend to romanticise the boxer’s life and journey, even when the worst happens and it all unfortunately goes wrong. We consider them heroes in need of protection, both during battle and long after it, and offer this view without taking into account the logistics, finances and reality of a given situation. For instance, aftercare in any line of work is and forever will be deemed a privilege; one enjoyed by only a few and never a guarantee. As with most things in life, it is something that costs money and, in a sport like boxing, where danger is not only rife but the red flag that puts many off, the price of an insurance policy is understandably high.
Nothing is fair and nothing is perfect – in boxing as in life. Yet there is an argument to be made in the case of Alejandra Ayala that her pursuit of insurance and aftercare would have been a far more arduous task had the final fight of her career taken place somewhere other than Great Britain. Moreover, one suspects there is every possibility her recovery, which she attributes to the wonderful treatment she received in Glasgow that May, would have been an altogether different experience had the Hannah Rankin fight taken place within another jurisdiction.
Even so, none of that makes the life she must now lead any easier.