Connor Coghill column: The fight that nearly killed me and ended my career

Source: BBC Sport

BRITISH featherweight Connor Coghill suffered a bleed on his brain and was forced to retire from boxing after October’s defeat by Hopey Price in Sheffield.

Fighting on the undercard of the world-title contest between Leigh Wood and Josh Warrington, Coghill was dropped four times as the fight was halted in the 12th round.

In his BBC Sport column, Coghill reflects on what ended up being his last ever professional fight.

At the age of 28, my boxing career was over. As stupid as it sounds, my last ever professional fight – one which could have ended my life – was the highlight of my career.

I was in the meeting room with the doctor and my girlfriend. He shut the door behind him and said: “I don’t really know how to tell you this… you’ve got a bleed on the brain.”

“Will I be able to fight again?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

I didn’t ask him anything about an operation or what was next. As selfish as it sounds, I wasn’t really worried about the injury. I was more worried about boxing.

He said I might need it draining and part of my skull removing. That’s when I began to panic. OK, I may not be able to fight again but also I may never walk out of here.

I was in a waiting room for two hours, wired up to these machines. They eventually came in and said it was a minimal, controlled bleed and I won’t need an operation.

I knew I would never box again but I was grateful that a small kid from a council estate in Hull fought on the biggest stage – in front of 20,000 fans on a world-title undercard and live on DAZN.

That can’t be taken away from me. To end on that note, though it’s a bitter pill to swallow, makes me proud.

I’ve not watched the full fight back yet, just the highlights, although I do want to. It might be a bit difficult watching it back but the positive is that I’m here and I’m talking.

I was undefeated in 14 fights but Hopey Price was without a doubt my toughest test. He started well but then slowed down in the second round and I was putting him under pressure, winning the fight. I could feel his shots but they weren’t hurting me.

In the sixth round I got a bit carried away and walked on to a two-punch combination. It was just a flash knockdown. I got up, recovered straight away and then waved him on to say ‘come on, let’s have it’.

There were no headaches. Nothing to suggest what was going to happen to me in the week that followed.

After 10 rounds, despite the knockdown, I was still in the fight. My trainer, Stefy Bull, was telling me I’m two rounds away from winning it.

In the 11th I was boxing well but in the last 10 seconds Price caught me. I fell on to the ropes and he hit me again. That last punch hit the side of my head and I couldn’t recover.

Everyone has said he shouldn’t have hit me when I was down, but you’re in a fight and your adrenaline gets the better of you. I’d have probably done the same thing.

By now I knew I needed a knockout to win the fight. He bombarded me in the 12th round and dropped me twice. The second time, with just 90 seconds of the fight left, it was called off.

At the time I felt like the referee could have let me carry on, to finish the fight on my feet.

But if it had continued I would have had a minute and a half of punishment, and who knows what further damage that could have caused.

So I am thankful for the referee Bob Williams. It was a great decision.

The doctor checked me over when I was sitting on the stool after the fight and again in the dressing room. I felt absolutely fine. I was a bit tired but that’s understandable, I had just been fighting for nearly 40 minutes.

When I got to the hotel I had a bit of a headache but nothing which I felt was serious. I was walking normally, talking normally, I knew where I was.

Just two days later I was at an amateur boxing show in Hull to hand out trophies. I even went to the Hull Fair. I was being so active, around loud noises and lights, which my doctor later said could have made the bleed worse.

I booked a little place in Blackpool for a family getaway and I took my nana, mum and sister. I was playing basketball in the amusements with my sister’s boyfriend on the Friday and later that night I started to get really bad headaches.

It got worse the next day so I took myself to the hospital. I thought I would be diagnosed with concussion but I ended up being stuck in a hospital in Blackpool for six days. I just wanted to get home but the pain in my head was excruciating.

To be honest, it is all a bit of a shock and probably hasn’t fully sunk in.

I had never before suffered from headaches because of boxing. I didn’t cut water for the fight – if anything I was underweight. There was no tough sparring.

For anyone who has seen me fight, I’ve always been a boxer who tries not to get hit. I don’t engage in tough fights. I was a hit and move boxer. It’s not like I had a career where I’d been in tough wars.

Could it have been prevented? Maybe. But how?

To gain your boxer licence, you have to have annual MRI brain scans. I’d had mine just eight weeks or so ago, and this was my first fight since the scan.

Nobody knows what caused the bleed on the brain. It may have even been a punch nobody has picked up on.

The way I look at it is that it was a freak accident. Nobody caused it. It just happened.

I recently went to a professional boxing event at City Hall in Hull, where I’ve headlined before, to watch a couple of friends fighting. I was backstage and I was a bit emotional.

But I’ve got new goals and ambitions which I’ve written down and I’m positive I’ll work towards.

When I was training in Doncaster I set up a little project to train kids from the local estate, and I want to do that now.

Eventually, I’d like to train and manage professional fighters. The support from the boxing world has been incredible and their fundraising will also help me set up a gym in Hull.

I’ll admit that training a fighter, having gone through what I have, is scary and I’ll need to trust myself.

I’ll be building a relationship with someone, putting them into the ring, knowing there is always the possibility of what happened to me.

Knowing when to throw in the towel, to pull my fighter out – that will be a big challenge. But I’ll need to trust myself.

But ultimately I want to use my experience to lead my fighters to titles. I couldn’t achieve my dream of becoming a champion. Now my new dream is to create champions.

Connor Coghill was speaking to BBC Sport’s Kal Sajad


November 15, 2023 @ 6:59 GMT|