Ringside Doc’ is Thankful for the Seat at the Table
Sitting ringside amidst what may appear to be complete chaos and calamity, Dr. Don Muzzi feels deprived of many of his senses. During and between rounds he gets mere seconds to make a decision whether or not a fighter should continue. Many people would not be able to respond when faced with this pressure. Muzzi reacts swiftly, relying on experience and instinct.
A few years ago Muzzi, a neuroanesthesiologist at Essentia Health in Duluth, Minnesota, was recruited to be a ringside physician by then-pro boxer Zach “Jungle Boy” Walters. Muzzi, a former competitive wrestler, gladly attended a few matches put on by local promoter Chuck Horton. The doctor realized that medically there was a lot going on at the events and began to study the medical aspects of boxing, eventually joining the Association of Ringside Physicians.
His commitment doesn’t stop at the end of the match. Muzzi has worked with the ARP and the American College of Sports Medicine to establish an exam and certification for ringside physicians. He is also on the medical task force for the Minnesota Office of Combative Sports. His goal is to help set the standards in combative sports, improve the quality of care, and most of all to protect the athletes.
One of the changes made to pro boxing is a reduction in the typical number of bouts a fighter will experience. This has helped to bring down the level of deteriorating brain function in professional boxers to around 20%. In discussing medical concerns amongst boxers, Muzzi is quick to point out that concussions, though very serious, are not the only worry. Over time the repeated blows to the head may lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, leaving the athlete with memory loss, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, movement disorders and eventually dementia.
Muzzi also notes that concussions are more prevalent in other contact sports such as hockey or football. The key to keeping the boxers safe, he feels, is monitoring the number of blows to the head. The ringside doctor must be attentive and stop the fight when necessary, since 95% of concussions in the ring do not involve the fighter being knocked out.
Given the background many of the fighters come from, Muzzi feels these gyms are not just teaching boxing, they are leading young athletes to a more productive life. By keeping these kids off the streets and in the gym, they’re steering away from less than desirable activities. “Boxing has given them an outlet, something to do. It is teaching them discipline both physically and mentally.”
It was that type of determination that Muzzi witnessed at his favorite ringside moment. This past June at Grandma’s Sports Garden in Duluth, Al “The Haitian Temptation” Sands was favored against Harley “The Sandman” Kilfian in one of the most brutal matches Muzzi has seen. With a USA Minnesota cruiserweight title on the line, both fighters were exhausted and hurt. “They dug down and found some inner strength that they didn’t know they had. It wasn’t a boxing match anymore, it turned into a fight.”
Muzzi cleared both fighters between the seventh and eighth rounds, leading to Sands’ getting the knockout in the eighth. Although he had seen over six hundred fights, the doctor watched with tears in his eyes as it ended. The match concluded around eleven that night, but he stayed with the boxers until after one that morning when he finally released them to others who would take them home and observe them for the rest of the night.
On Tuesday, November 4th, Muzzi will take his place on the fifteen-member board for the Association of Ringside Physicians. He brings with him the distinction of being one of only twelve certified ringside docs in the world. He finds the appointment flattering. “These are the best patients I’ve ever come across. When I patch them up and they look up at me and say, ‘Thanks, Doc’, it is both humbling and satisfying. It is absolutely priceless. Plus I have the best seat in the house!”
Congratulations and carry on, Doc Muzzi, carry on indeed.