"I had a concussion and I didn't know it. I knew I had something because I kept seeing spots," said Clem Florio, horse-racing handicapper and survivor of 85 professional middleweight fights.
"What I would do so my parents wouldn't know is I would go into the bathroom late at night and put hot and cold compresses over my eyes. I'd feel queasy and nauseous. But one day it just went away."
Florio, who started fighting in his hometown of Ozone Park, N.Y., at the age of 14, was one of the lucky ones. When he refers to himself as "punch drunk" he is only kidding, for he escaped the ring relatively unscathed.
But the "punch-drunk" fighter is not simply a creation of the movies. While he is less in evidence today, when fights are usually stopped when one boxer is clearly unable to go on, many fighters of Florio's generation - he fought his first round in 1944 and his last in 1964 - suffer from traumatic ancephalopathy.
These persons experience tremors, slurred speech and a shuffling walk, among other things, said Dr. Irving Ochs, an Annapolis ophthaemologist who will be the official physician at ringside at the Ali-Evangalista fight here Monday night.
It is no coincidence that Ochs is an ophthalmologist, a physician specializing in diseases of the eye. For in boxing, the eyes tell the story.
"The eyes are an important part of the (prefight and postfight) exam," said Ochs, who has been working for the Maryland Athletic Commission for 2 1/2 years and was a lightweight fighter in college.
"The eyes are an important mirror of the intercranial status. I tell the other physicians to check these things. One of the important indications of brain damage is unequal pupil size," said Ochs, who said that it is important to know before a fight if a boxer has unequal pupils in order to know after the fight if a change in size is meaningful.
According to Dr. Ira McCown, medical director of the New York State Athletic Commission and the physician who oversaw the Duane Bobick-Ken Norton whatever-it-was Wednesday night, "most injuries occur by mismatch. One boxer is extremely good and another is not adequate to meet him."
Most ring injuries are the gory but superficial facial cuts. They produce blood, but not in any quantity to cause problems, and they hurt, but generally not enough to stop a fight.
The problem, said both McCown and Ochs, is that if the cuts are in the area of the eyes, the blood can run into the eye and the fighter may be temporarily blinded.
If it seems surprising that a soft boxing glove striking a smooth surface like the face causes such bloody cuts, it should be remembered that the glove is striking the fact at about 25 times the normal force of gravity. And, secondly, there are sharp, bony ridges under the skin, and the force of the punch on the skin over the ridge is what frequently causes the cut.
The brain and the eyes are the too most vulnerable areas in a fight, despite the occasional ruptured spleen and stories of fighters urinating blood - "that's a common occurence in many contact sports," said Ochs, "and usually clears itself up without permanent damage."
One of the most common problems with the eyes is what is known as a "blowout." The force of a punch shatters the very thin bone at the bottom of the orbital cage - the eye socket - and the bony splinters interfere with the action of the muscles of the eye. Until this damage is repaired, the fighter suffres from such problems as double vision.
Blows near or around the eye also can cause bleeding within the eye, which can lead to detached retinas, dislocated corneas ans blindness.
Any blow to the head can damage the brain, for every time the head is jarred the brain is slammed against the skull. This repeated slamming, and scarring, is what may eventually cause a fighter to become punch drunk, said Ochs.
When a fighter is knocked out by a punch to the jaw, his loss of consciousness has nothing to do with his jaw, but rather, it is related to the way the force of the blow is transmitted through his head to the brain.
According to Ochs, "Neurologists think it is the torque (twisting) to the brain stem" that causes a fighter to loose consciousness after a blow to the jaw. The question is not whether a fighter has a glass jaw, but whether he has a glass brain stem.
Was the punishment worth it, Florio was asked.
"The punishment is always worth the money," he said. "The greater punishment is when you want to be somebody and there's no way to do it."
"That's the pain."