Friday 23 March 2018

Boxing: Cut man's minute to stem the flow and save a career

Tommy Conlon

Mick Williamson was a man in hurry as he climbed through the ropes in the Nottingham arena last Saturday night.

It was the end of the third round and Tony Bellew's face was a mess. A Liverpool light-heavyweight, Bellew was fighting an opponent by the name of Roberto Bolonti. It was the top bout on the undercard of a world title fight between the defending champion Carl Froch and the American Yusuf Mack.

Taller and packing more power, Bellew was already well on top after two rounds. But midway through the third, as he backed Bolonti into a corner, the Argentine caught him with a counterpunch, a left hook that opened Bellew's right eyebrow. "That's a horrendous cut," remarked Jim Watt on commentary for Sky Sports, as the blood spread down across Bellew's eye socket, nose and right cheek.

It was an important fight for Bellew. A win would bring the 29-year-old within reach of a world title fight and a big payday. It would establish him in the top ten rankings among all the sanctioning bodies. He'd been rebuilding his career after losing a world title fight in October 2011. A defeat at this point would have been a major setback.

"Now the most important man in the building suddenly (becomes) Mick Williamson," declared commentator Nick Halling as the bell rang at the end of the third. Williamson is a London cab driver by day. But Mick 'the rub' is an acknowledged master of an altogether more obscure trade. In the boxing business he is a cut man. His job is to staunch the blood and keep the swelling down when a wounded fighter comes back to his stool. He has worked in Ricky Hatton's corner many times and has patched up dozens of British boxers over the years. The top fight promoters like to have him on their payroll for the big-money contests.

He didn't learn this line of work in the college of surgeons. Williamson apparently started out as a cornerman after a chance meeting with one such promoter, Frank Warren, in a pub in Islington some 30 years ago. He learned on the job thereafter.

In a video clip on YouTube, Williamson discusses the tools of his trade. The endswell is a U-shaped metal object that sits in an ice bucket. It is applied to any swelling around the fighter's eye. Medical gauze is used to clean the wound. There is "the swab stick", essentially a Q-tip. The cotton bud on the end of the Q-tip is dipped in a coagulant, a pharmaceutical solution known as Adrenaline 1:1000. The bottle of coagulant is indispensable. And finally there is the jar of petroleum jelly – that old reliable, Vaseline.

Williamson had one minute between every round to do what he could with Bellew. Sky's cameras provided a close-up of the frightful mess that faced him at the end of the third. He first applied the medical gauze. He had two swab sticks, already dipped in the adrenaline solution, secured for handy access under a thick sweatband on his left wrist. He pulled one out, removed the gauze, and jammed the cotton end into the livid slit on Bellew's eyebrow. He pressed it in with his left thumb while towelling the fighter's face with his free hand. Within seconds the blood had soaked the cotton and was leaching down the stick. He replaced it with a fresh swab stick. As the bell went for round four, he smeared the cut with Vaseline and climbed out of the ring.

Bellew was barely back on his feet before the claret started flowing again. "That's a terrible cut," reiterated Watt, "and to ask a cut man to stop the bleeding for the next eight rounds or so – if they can't stop the bleeding then disaster is going to strike I'm afraid."

At the end of the sixth the referee, Victor Loughlin, went over to Bellew's corner to inspect the damage. He could've called in the ringside doctor at this stage and if the fight had been on Bolonti's home turf, another referee might have already done so. But Loughlin, an experienced official, didn't panic. He knew, in any event, that a top cut man was on the case.

Watt remarked that the damaging punch hadn't landed flush. "And that's why it tore the flesh. If it (had) landed more solidly there probably wouldn't have been any damage. It tore the flesh as it passed."

It helped that Bolonti was a plodder, durable and defensive but with few ideas going forward. Bellew kept him at arm's length after the third, picking him off with his jab and rattling him with occasional combinations.

Eventually the coagulant kicked in and the blood-flow dried to a trickle. Williamson was using just one swab stick now. Bellew controlled the final rounds and won a landslide unanimous points decision.

"Mick Williamson deserves my purse tonight," he said afterwards. "I kept waiting for the blood to get into my eye and to see red and have blurred vision. But it just weren't coming. I've got to put that down to Mick. He stemmed the flow."

Bolonti, he reckoned, had been "feeling every shot I landed. His nose must be real sore from the jabs, he's gonna have headaches and he's probably gonna be passing blood as well for a while."

And not even Mick could do much about that.

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