It’s not a topic talked about much in the sport, but a fighter’s eyesight is probably the most important tool they possess in the ring and something that, if failing, could put a promising career, or life, in danger if not addressed.
Constantly getting punched in the face is hard enough to swallow as it is, although without perfect 20/20 vision it becomes impossible to defend yourself and see those life-threatening hooks and uppercuts coming. Not many of the past, present or future world champions may be willing or even able to admit if they were suffering from even a slight eye deficiency, although there is one legend of the sport where it is no secret.
‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier had failing vision throughout the latter part of his career, even competing against big-punching knockout artist George Foreman in a rematch using contact lenses in 1976 and losing via a fifth round stoppage. Rumours have since flown around the boxing scene that Frazier had his contacts knocked out during the fight and boxed some of the rounds with no help for his condition whatsoever. Yet another example of the fighting spirit the man possessed.
Frazier would promptly retire from the sport upon the hazardous defeat, maybe sensing in the cold light of day the danger he may be in by having the foreign bodies around his eyes whilst being hit by sledgehammer punches.
Saying that, five years later and Frazier would fight just once more, a draw with compatriot Floyd Cummings over ten rounds in Chicago, but he ultimately realised that the glory days were gone and moved on with his life.
A taboo subject little talked about in boxing circles though, the eyes can be a boxer’s most dangerous weapon, and for many sportsmen it’s also an option to have laser eye surgery to avoid using glasses or contact lenses.
The rigorous tests that the modern day pugilist has to go through should make it nigh on impossible for anyone to cover it up if they had a problem, although the mentality they possess would see a lot of them follow in the footsteps of the late great ‘Smokin’ Joe and fight on regardless.