Oliver's good omens
Spencer Oliver tells Ringside how - and why - he is still in love with a sport that almost cost him his life.
Last Updated: 11/02/11 12:13pm
On a fateful night in May 22 years ago, Spencer 'The Omen' Oliver lay unconscious in a hospital bed, his life in the balance.
Earlier in the evening of Saturday 2nd, the then-European super-bantamweight champion had been knocked out in the 10th round at the Albert Hall by Ukrainian challenger Sergei Devakov.
Oliver, aged just 23, lay motionless in the ring for almost 15 minutes in a coma induced by paramedics and fed by oxygen - something that was not there when Michael Watson was in the same, stricken state seven years earlier - before being stretchered to a waiting ambulance.
It was the knowledge, preparation and ultimately the presence of cutsman Eddie Carter, a nurse, that kept Oliver alive. He told the medics to sedate him there and then to minimalise the damage. And as Carter, a student of the sport and its dangers, well knew, this was another neccesity not there for Watson.
Oliver was soon on his way to Charing Cross Hospital and salvation. He was transferred to London's National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, where the operation to remove a blood clot from his brain was a success.
He would never box again, he would never go on to fight for the world title that was just a couple of fights away, but he would make a full recovery. And if he had his time all over, he would do it all again.
That was The Omen's stirring admission as a Ringside special edition relived the horror stories he, Watson and fellow Brit Paul Ingle had to go through all those years ago.
All three suffered near fatal brain injuries because of boxing, all three are at differing stages of their inspiring recoveries, but all three are, somehow, still in love with the sport today
"I have no regrets at all," said Oliver. "I would take the risk again every day of the week, and twice on Sundays.
"Boxing is my life, it's my passion and I still have the same passion for the sport today as I did when I boxed. That's why I stayed in the gyms and do the TV work - because I love it.
"There's no point in being bitter about it, no point in being twisted about it. We know what we are going into when we step through the ropes.
"When we step through those ropes you know there's an element of risk - and that's what makes boxing exciting.
"I was unfortunate that happened to me, but you have to accept it and get on."
Oliver is the first to admit that Watson, who almost paid the ultimate price in doing so eight years ago, saved him from death as much as his cutsman that night.
It was Watson's plight, his fight, and his bold legal action against the British Board of Boxing Control that meant there was even adequate medical staffing at the Albert Hall to carry out Carter's instructions.
And it meant that that Oliver was able to survive an operation to remove the blood clot and after almost two weeks in a coma, to recover and to eventually rediscover his love for the sport that almost took his life.
In the ring, it was a life that couldn't have been going better. In the run-up to Devakov fight he had just been named the British Boxing Writer's Young Fighter of the Year, a recognition of the ease with which he had won and defended four times the European title.
A regular sparring partner with Naseem Hamed - who he still fancies he could've beaten - he was destined to fight for a world title. So much so that the Barnet man admits he was looking beyond what appeared to be a routine defence.
"That is the frustrating thing; going into the fight thinking 'this is going to be a walkover'," he admits.
"Everything was there, I looked past the fight and that was the problem.
"I saw this as just a stepping stone, I was bored at European level. I looked beyond that - and that was part of the problem."
It was though, ultimately what kept Oliver involved in the sport. Deprived of the chance to become a world champion and the career-long ambition unfulfilled, he never again lost that drive and determination. That is why he is still as close to the sport as he was then.
And that is why, little over five months later, he was sat ringside commentating on a fight involving Sergei Devakov.
His recovery complete, he watched his own fateful meeting with the Ukrainian for the one and only time - because he "couldn't remember a thing about this kid" - as he prepared to watch him defend Oliver's old belt against Manchester's Michael Brodie.
"The first couple of years were really hard for me but I've learned to accept it," he said.
"I'm not bitter about it, I'm not twisted about it, that's how my career was meant to be.
"Now I've got a whole new career panned out. I'm still in love with boxing, that's how I make my living and I love it as much today as I did then."
If then was now and time had been turned back, would he climb into a professional ring for the first time since leaving one with his life in the balance?
Would he fight for that world title given the chance? Given all he's been through? Would he, as he says, do it all again tomorrow?
"I'd fight for it today."