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Casualty in the Ring

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"Sure, there have been injuries and deaths in boxing, but none of them serious."
Alan Minter, former British boxing champ

Ten seconds and our boxer is down for the count. He's knocked out, but he'll get back on his feet eventually, right? No, he won't. He's crippled for life if he's not outright dead. You can stop applauding the victor now. Deaths like this might seldom happen in Real Life, but it's nonetheless Truth in Television, as demonstrated by the Real Life folder below.

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A form of Fatal Method Acting. Compare and contrast Blood Sport, where death or carnage is the intended outcome.

Not to be confused with people who die in The Ring movies.

As a Death Trope, several if not all spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • At least two characters in the boxing manga Tomorrow's Joe die in the ring, or immediately after a fight.
  • In Reborn! (2004), this trope is the reason why Knuckle, the Sun Guardian for the First Vongola Boss, swore off boxing and became a priest.
  • Hajime no Ippo:
    • Subverted. While Randy Boy Sr. sustained fatal brain damage in his fight with Miyata's father, said damage didn't manifest itself until several days after Randy Sr's world championship fight. He didn't die in the ring per se, but the fight with Miyata Sr. caused his death nonetheless.
    • Also subverted with Jinpachi Nekota, who was a victim of a "rabbit punch" that caused him punch drunk disease (see below), but that happened sixty years ago and he's still alive. He did have to retire, though.
  • Used in the backstory of Karate Shoukoushi Kohinata Minoru. Ibuki Kengo's older brother Satoru, a martial arts genius, dies from intracranial hemorrhage due to the injuries he sustained in a match against an even greater Muay Thai fighter, Samart Sirinto. Ibuki Satoru had a cerebral arteriovenous malformation, a congenital disorder which placed him in great danger should he experience heavy head trauma, which had not been formally diagnosed before his death, but his fiancée believes that the medical examiners discovered it in his pre-fight medical examination and allowed him to fight anyway at the behest of the director of the fight promotion.
  • Ratings Games, the team arena combat used to settle disputes between devils in High School D×D, are designed to be as non-lethal as possible, but accidents can happen. Riser loudly boasts that he could finish off a weakened Issei and get away with it. He was bluffing, using Issei's life as leverage to make Rias surrender.
  • Considering the setting, this is surprisingly rare in Tiger Mask, and Justified by the wrestlers going through extremely harsh training well before being even considered for stepping on the ring, hence being tough enough to survive it. That said, it does sometimes happen, and Tiger's Cave does it on purpose to wrestlers who try to rebel (such as the title character) and those who fail to inflict the intended punishment to traitors, the former being killed on the ring or suffering such injuries that they kill themselves and the latter being forced to a fight against multiple opponents.
    • In the manga this happened in Mr. Kamikaze's backstory: he was originally a rising karateka but had to leave the sport and move to Paris when, during a match, his kick killed his best friend and father of his fiancee by shattering his ribs. Years later, during the story, Tiger Mask tanks two of the same chest kicks and realizes just how Kamikaze's best friend had died, also thanking his more complete physical conditioning and his stronger pectoral muscles for saving his life.
  • In one of the stories in Confidential Confessions, the Love Interest has a Heroic BSoD after his opponent collapses following a match. The opponent's father doesn't hold a grudge, but it doesn't make it easier on him.
  • Dragon Ball: A consistent rule of the numerous Martial Arts Tournaments in the series is that killing your opponent is forbidden, and grounds for immediate disqualification. On a few occasions, the trope has been played with:
    • In the original Dragon Ball, Goku refused to kill Piccolo Jr. because they were technically still in a Tournament match. Everyone else had ceased caring about the rules at this point (and in fact, the ring had been destroyed during the fighting), and are baffled that Goku is still thinking that way.
    • In the Buu Arc of Dragon Ball Z, Videl is almost disqualified when she accidentally breaks Spopovitch's neck, making it appear that he has died. The match continues after Spopovitch stands up and rights his head, showing that he was unharmed.
    • In Dragon Ball Super, when Goku uses a Spirit Bomb against Jiren in the Tournament of Power, Jiren deflects it back and it appears that Goku has died in the explosion. The Grand Priest rules that since it was Goku's own attack that killed him, this would be considered a form of "self-destruction" and Jiren would not be held responsible for the death. Naturally, it turns out that Goku barely survived the explosion anyway. The same reasoning is used later when several other fighters appear to self-destruct by their own energies, rather than their opponent's attack. This particularly includes Android #17 after he blows himself up to save Goku and Vegeta from being eliminated by Jiren.
  • Major. Goro's father Shigeharu was hit by a deadball from Joe Gibson in the head, at 160 km/h. Somehow he managed to get back up and continue playing, but the damage manifested the next morning, resulting in his death. Especially tragic given that the newspapers were all over talking about how he was the hero in the match and Goro didn't realize he was dead until he grabbed his hand and noticed that it was cold.

    Comic Books 
  • Judge Dredd: There's a story where the corrupt Judges of post-apocalyptic Las Vegas strike a deal with Judge Death (an undead Omnicidal Maniac) to participate in several boxing matches in exchange for weapons of mass destruction so he can wipe out humanity. Predictably, every fight only lasts several seconds and ends with a Gorny death in the ring.
  • Combat Kelly and his Deadly Dozen: Combat Kelly killed his opponent during the Army boxing championships and was arrested for manslaughter. He later learned that his opponent had been drugged and the referee bribed not to stop the fight.
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    Fan Works 
  • In the pro wrestling story, A Ring Of Their Own, Michelle McCool faces wrestler-turned-broadcaster Ivory in the ring. Michelle tries for a Faith Breaker but her hands are so sweaty she drops Ivory on her head, seriously injuring her and her being taken to the hospital.
  • The wrestling short story Strong Fighting Champ has Eddie Guerrero dying in the ring after delivering a Frog Splash to his opponent to win the match.
  • In Four Deadly Secrets, Pyrrha tells Melanie about a mishap during her second tournament where the referee misjudged her strength and she broke her opponent's aura, accidentally dealing a deadly blow.
  • In the pro wrestling story, The Return-Remixed, there is a "Casualty Beside The Ring", as Eve Torres winds up receiving THREE triple powerbombs on the unpadded floor from DEAR.

    Film 
  • 1931 Tearjerker drama The Champ, remade in 1979, ends with the boxer winning the fight, only to die in his locker room afterwards while his son weeps by his side.
  • In Million Dollar Baby, Maggie is hit from behind, lands on a corner stool and breaks her neck, leaving her a quadriplegic. Her mentor ultimately has to make the painful decision to end her life before leaving boxing for good.
  • The plot of Kickboxer is kicked off by the antagonist Tong Po beating Eric, the protagonist's brother, so badly that he's paralyzed from the waist down.
  • Happens offscreen in Pulp Fiction in "The Gold Watch", with the protagonist as the winner. This gets him in serious trouble with Marsellus Wallace, because he was supposed to throw the fight for him.
  • The fate of one of Catherine Trammell's fiancées in Basic Instinct.
  • A major plot point in The Quiet Man. John Wayne's character killed a man in the ring and swore off boxing forever. He also decides that money is simply not worth fighting over, after all, what good does it do to die or live with killing someone else over money? Because of this belief, he refuses to physically fight for the dowry his Irish wife should inherit, not fully understanding the importance of it to her as a symbol. If not for this, the cross-country donnybrook with his churlish brother-in-law would have probably happened in the first reel, instead of the finale.
  • Cinderella Man shows this happening to two of Max Baer's other opponents. (Someone points out that Primo Carnera's huge height advantage saved him - instead of dying, he only got mauled.)
  • In 1956's The Harder They Fall, Humphrey Bogart's last film, Max Baer plays bloodthirsty boxer Buddy Brannen, a character based on himself. After another boxer dies in a match with Toro Moreno (whose character was based on Primo Carnera), Brannen is intent on proving that he, who badly injured the boxer in his previous match, is really responsible for the death.
  • The 2008 film The Wrestler has an implied example of this right at the end when the main character wrestles with a fatal heart condition and takes one final plunge into the ring. Unusual in that his opponent isn't responsible for his death (even accidentally) and in fact tries to get him to end the match early once he realizes that he is not well.
  • The protagonist of Superargo contro Diabolikus does this accidentally during a wrestling match.
  • Ong-Bak has this as part of the back story for the main character's master, which is the reason he tells him never to use Muay Thai for anything other than self-defense.
  • Ip Man 2 has the Twister's fatal No-Holds-Barred Beatdown of Master Hung. Notable in that Hung absolutely knew what was going to happen. The ref calls off rounds multiple times when it appears the fight is becoming too one-sided and asks Hung if he's okay before letting it continue, and Ip even attempts to throw in the towel to save him, only for Hung to shoot him a silent look that basically says "no, let me die as a warrior."
  • Rocky IV: Apollo Creed agrees to an exhibition match with the Soviets' boxing machine Ivan Drago. Despite being severely beaten by Drago, Creed refuses to concede the match. Creed is clearly exhausted by the dance number he did with James Brown five minutes earlier. And before the second round is over...that's it.
  • An atypical example in Here Comes Mr. Jordan. "K.O." Murdoch dies in the ring when he is shot after refusing to throw the fight. After the soul of body-surfing Joe Pendleton inhabits Murdoch's freshly available body, he (they?) wins the fight.
  • The revenant plot of Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies is kicked off by Shane Douglas either intentionally or negligently spiking the piledriver on Angus's brother during a match.
  • Fear City: The main character Matt Rossi is still haunted by his accidental killing of an opponent in the ring, which led him to quit his career as a boxer.
  • In the Mexican film Pepe el Toro (Pepe the Bull), the titular character accidentally kills his best friend in the ring during the semi-final match of an amateur tournament. The cause of death was Commotio Cordis a blow to the chest that disrupted the normal heart rhythm and caused a heart attack.
  • In Knockout, Sandra is left comatose and paraplegic after her bout against Tanya "The Terminator" Tessaro, though she at least wakes up from the coma.

    Literature 
  • The book Flash Forward, upon which the TV series was very loosely based, invokes this. One character who didn't have a flash-forward was told by someone who heard a report about his death that he had died in the ring, and he goes through the rest of his life wondering how that's going to happen since he's not really into boxing. Subverted in the end. Turns out it was the ring of the particle accelerator at the physics lab where he worked. Someone tried to sabotage it, he went in to try to stop them, and the man had a gun...
  • The Saint story "The Masked Angel" has a boxer die in the ring while being beaten up by a rival, all of whose opponents have mysteriously fought very poorly. It is eventually revealed that the killer boxer's manager was applying a drug to the man's gloves without his knowledge that entered his opponents' bloodstreams when their skin was broken and sedated them. The death, however, is explicitly described as entirely due to physical injuries and not the drug.

    Live Action TV  
  • CSI had an episode where this happened. It turns out the dead guy died because his opponent was using loaded gloves and someone had gotten a hold of his coach's medkit.
  • One episode of Leverage relied on faking one of these in order to snare a corrupt local fight promoter.
  • One season of Oz features a boxing tourney, climaxing with the death of one of the combatants.
  • Cold Case had an amateur boxer dying in the ring while fighting against a clearly superior opponent. Decades later, the referee confessed on his deathbed that he took a bribe to not stop the fight.
  • Happens more than once in 1000 Ways to Die. The most notorious case is Mariah, a cheating female wrestler who tries to cheat in her match, falls off the ring and gets the bell impaled on the back on her head.
  • Seems to happen in Ellery Queen but it turns out to be a poisoning disguised as an accidental death.
  • Played for laughs in a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch where boxers hit each other so hard that their heads fall off.
  • An episode of Quantum Leap has Sam trying to prevent this. In the original timeline, a wrestler (the brother of the wrestler Sam leaped into) is due to die in the ring in an upcoming match. Sam decides to wrestle the opponent instead and saves the man's life.
  • The episode "No Holds Barred" of The Adventures of Superman. A wrestler learns about pressure points from an Indian "swami" and uses them to cripple his opponents. Seven have wound up in hospitals. At the end of the episode, the Indian agrees to use his knowledge to heal them.
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries: An exhibition boxing match turns sour when one of the boxers is seemingly beaten to death in front of hundreds of witnesses in "A Lethal Combination". It ultimately proves to be a case of Weighted Gloves.
  • Monk: The episode "Mr. Monk Takes a Punch" is about Monk taking the case of a bombing attempt against a professional boxer just weeks before his title fight. The intended victim narrowly avoids the bomb planted in his heavy bag at his boxing gym, a washed-up drunk accidentally killing himself on the booby-trapped bag instead. With him surviving, the hired contract killer tries to shoot him with a sniper rifle during the fight, but Monk manages to spot him in time and runs up to subdue him. The hitman is then fatally shot by Stottlemeyer and Disher when they get up to the box.
  • Invoked on Taxi. Tony's doctor told him he couldn't box anymore without risking serious brain damage, possibly death. Tony is willing to take the risk, but Alex convinces him to quit by pointing out that his opponent would have to live with it on his conscience.

    Music 
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    Opera 

    Video Games 
  • Fallout 2 has a boxing sidequest. The rules for winning a match are a little obscure, but death is definitely a possibility. Especially if you find the plated gloves and maybe pop a couple Buffout.
  • The main character's tag team partner would eventually meet this fate courtesy of the Big Bad in Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special. It can happen to the main character as well if he loses.
  • Grand Prix Legends has this as its tagline:
    In 1968, they changed the rules of Grand Prix racing to cut down on driver fatalities. Welcome to 1967.
  • EA's Mutant League series of sports games revolved entirely around this, where players could be blown up on the court, bisected, etc.
  • Mortal Kombat has this as a game mechanic. After winning two rounds, the fighter can perform a special move called a "Fatality" which kills or maims the defeated opponent in over the top fashion. This has inspired other games to do so as well.
  • Even as clean it is when it comes to portraying martial arts and street fighting, Street Fighter has this side to it as well.
    • Balrog used to be in professional boxing until his ruthlessness got the better of him and killed one of his opponents. This got him banned from boxing and became an enforcer to Shadaloo.
    • The titular Street Fighter tournaments are no holds barred, and even though outright death of the opponent is not allowed, participating in the tournaments is essentially going into an underworld style martial arts competition with a good amount of positive publicity on a world scale- Survival of the fittest and no mercy on the weak definitely comes to mind, and whatever happens in each fight is essentially the outcome, no more, no less. While there are plenty of good-natured and honorable fighters who participate, there are just as many morally dubious and even villainous and bloodthirsty fighters who enter in seeking the title of World's Strongest as well, and this does not even count the martial art or discipline they will wield, be it styles rooted back in assassination or even raw merciless pragmatism. It also doesn't help that the tournaments and events of the series are also an opening for meeting grounds with those of rivalries rooted in bad blood, and to where the hosts of these tournaments are criminal organizations and probably have something more sinister in store with these events, making them truly a death-defying competition where only the best of the best can thrive in its intensity.

    Web Original 
  • Part of Bobby Jacks' backstory in Survival of the Fittest is that he accidentally killed an opponent in a boxing match.
  • In RWBY, fans knew that the rigged match-up between Penny and Pyrrha wouldn't end well, but the question was which girl would die. Ultimately, some manipulation by Emerald results in Pyrrha using a strong magnetic force to deflect what she thinks is hundreds of swords (but is really only a few), sending them flying back where the wires connecting them to Penny's body wrap around her and cut her into four pieces. Pyrrha, for her part, is horrified when she realizes what she's done, but she doesn't get much time to dwell on it, both because all hell breaks loose, and because she herself is killed by Cinder Fall later that night.
  • Given the nature of Death Battle, the fight between Balrog and T.J. Combo, while presented as a regular boxing match, had to end in one of these, with Balrog on the receiving end - a superpowered uppercut from T.J. ripped his head off. In fairness to T.J., Balrog was the first to both play dirty and turn it into a death fight by deciding he was going to murder T.J. for showing him up and rankling his pride.

    Western Animation  
  • In Justice League Unlimited, Green Arrow faked his death in a fight in order to shock his opponent, Wildcat, out of competing in underground prizefights.
  • Happened in an episode of The Boondocks with a street fight between Grandad and Stinkmeaner, where the latter dies from his injuries. Grandad avoided jail time because Huey was smart enough to go get the fight licensed and approved by the state boxing commission first, which waives Grandad of legal consequence for the death.
  • The Family Guy episode "Baby, You Knock Me Out" has Deirdre Jackson, a female boxer who killed three of her opponents in the ring and planned to make Lois her fourth.

    Real Life  
  • On November 13, 1982, Duk-Koo Kim lost to Ray Mancini by TKO in the 14th round at Caesar's Palace. Minutes later, Kim collapsed, went into a coma, and died five days later. This event led the three main boxing organizations of the 1980s to reduce the maximum length of title fights from 15 to 12 rounds and make pre-fight health checks more thorough.
    • This incident not only cost Duk-Koo Kim his life, but also that of his mother (who died of suicide), and the referee (who also died of suicide). It also ended the career of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini — he was never the same after the death of his Worthy Opponent and retired from boxing just 2 years later, despite being considered one of the biggest stars in the sport and still only being in his early 20s.
  • Max Baer did, in fact, kill an opponent in the ring. However, contrary to his movie depiction in Cinderella Man, he felt really bad about it, and made amends to the man's family. Unlike the movie, which claims Baer had killed two men in the ring, this only happened once, although another opponent died in his next fight after fighting Baer, and apparently suffered from frequent headaches and other health woes after the bout with Baer. Those injuries led many people to attribute the man's death to the injuries he suffered against Baer.
  • Sadly, this happens more than just a few times in Real Life:
  • Charlie Mohr was an amateur boxer for the University of Wisconsin-Madison; his death at the 1960 national championships led the NCAA to discontinue the sport.
  • Professional wrestler Alberto Torres, then another named Ray Gunkel, died in matches against Ox Baker after taking his "hurt punch" finisher.
  • This happened to British pro wrestler Malcolm "King Kong" Kirk after being on the receiving end of a signature splash from Big Daddy (easily the biggest name in British wrestling at the time), who was devastated by the incident despite an autopsy revealing that Kirk had a serious heart condition that cleared Big Daddy of any responsibility for his death.
  • JWP wrestler Plum Mariko died in 1997 after taking a Ligerbomb from Mayumi Ozaki. It was a routine spot, however, Mariko's history of untreated concussions led to a brain abscess and taking the Ligerbomb caused her to fall unconscious and her brain to bleed. She died a few hours later.
  • Due to the nature of many professional wrestling moves, one small slip-up can result in horrific injury. "Iron" Mike DiBiase suffered a fatal heart attack while wrestling; the incident was played into the origin story for his son, the "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase.
  • Rookie ARSION jobber Emiko Kado died of a spinal injury she suffered on the promotion's first-anniversary show in 1999, just three months into her career.
  • This happened to Professional Wrestling legend Mitsuharu Misawa after landing on his neck on an otherwise routine "backdrop" suplex, fatally injuring his spinal cord and suffering an in-ring heart attack at Pro Wrestling Noah.
  • Perro Aguayo Jr. died due to a neck injury at a The Clash event in 2015 after almost taking Rey Mysterio Jr.'s 619, the same 619 he had been doing nearly 300 days a year for a decade beforehand. Mysterio noticed something was wrong with Aguayo while doing the move and avoided hitting him; Aguayo had taken a dropkick in the back to the ropes to set it up immediately beforehand, which was the actual cause of the fatal injury.
  • In the case of Mixed Martial Arts, 30-year-old Michael Kirkham died from a brain hemorrhage after his pro debut, a TKO loss after being taken down and ground-and-pounded — all legal strikes. but it would be later revealed that only a month before he'd been medically suspended (for thirty-days, this was after the suspension) after a TKO loss from strikes to the back of the head in his last amateur bout; on top of that, he was fighting in South Carolina where the sport had only recently become formally sanctioned but where neither a full physical nor a neurological test were required for a fighter's license, and most noticeably, he was fighting at lightweight (155 lbs) despite being six foot nine, making him dangerously lanky (and possibly having dehydrated, or "dried out," to make 155).
  • Even Medieval re-enactment can prove dangerous.
    • A re-enactor was killed on a joust in UK 2011.
    • Happened also in Russia in 2010, on a foot fight with poleaxes. A re-enactor smashed his opponent's helmet (and his head inside). Actual Medieval poleaxes were designed to pierce armour and helmets while knights fought on foot.
    • Not surprising, as it happened in the actual jousts, themselves contests in which the death or injury of the opponent were not, after all, the point (the general melee was rather rougher — people don't try to re-enact that part of a tourney, at least not with real weapons as it was fought back then). King Henry II of France died in a jousting accident.
  • On 25 November 2014, Australian Cricketer Phillip Hughes was hit in the neck by a bouncer, during a Sheffield Shield match at the Sydney Cricket Ground, causing a vertebral artery dissection that led to a subarachnoid haemorrhage. The Australian team doctor, Peter Brukner, noted that only 100 such cases had ever been reported, with "only one case reported as a result of a cricket ball". Hughes was taken to St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, where he underwent surgery, was placed into an induced coma and was in intensive care in a critical condition. He died on 27 November, having never regained consciousness, three days before his 26th birthday.
  • In March 2014, Dennis Munson Jr. died during his amateur bout. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put together a ten minute video about all the warning signs that had been missed and all the things that had been wrong (i.e. not heeding any one of those warning signs) during the bout. In addition, Munson had been severely dehydrated to make weight and was suffering from rhabdomyolysis when the bout happened.
  • Not only boxers and wrestlers are at risk. On July 28th, 1982, fencers Matthias Behr of West Germany and Vladimir Smirnov of the Soviet Union were facing off in the team foil events. Both attacked into each other, and during the action, Behr's blade broke, pierced Smirnov's mask, and went through his eye orbit into his brain. Smirnov was kept on life support for nine days so he would not die during the tournament. Since this incident, safety standards have been increased dramatically.

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