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07th Mar 2019

What it’s like to almost die in the boxing ring

On 12 September 2014, Jerome Wilson's life changed forever

Darragh Murphy

“Congratulations for beating me fair and square. You got the win. But the conduct that you showed afterwards, that’s unforgivable.”

On 12 September 2014, Jerome Wilson’s life changed forever.

Wilson was brutally knocked out in a second bout against Serge Ambomo and was left fighting for his life when he was rushed out of Ice Sheffield and placed in a medically induced coma.

After dropping a points decision to Ambomo four months earlier, Wilson agreed to do it again but his decision did not come without reservations as, for the first time as a fighter, he sent a message to his stepson ahead of the rematch due to concerns that something might go wrong in the ring.

His partner of six years at the time, Michelle Boyce, had made it known that she didn’t want Wilson to set foot in the ring with Ambomo again and knew early on that the fight was not going to go their way.

In the latest episode of TKO, Carl Frampton and Chris Lloyd were invited into Wilson’s home in Bradford, where he and Michelle discussed everything from his remarkable recovery to how difficult they found it to forgive Ambomo for his post-fight celebrations.

“I didn’t know at the time what Serge had done because I didn’t see that but obviously the crowd saw what he’d done afterwards so the crowd was going absolutely mental and I was just trying to get through them to get to somebody who could get me to the hospital,” Michelle recalled.

“More importantly, the celebrations stopped medics getting to him at that vital time when he needed oxygen. He was in the way, showboating, when Jerome needed medical attention.

“It took somebody to grab hold of him and push him aside and say ‘what are you doing?'”

In hospital, Wilson had to have a piece of his skull removed in order to remove the pressure on his brain, a procedure called a cranioplasty, and lived with that open space in his skull for a year.

Four and a half years on, he is displaying few physical signs of the damage that was done but he still experiences pain and struggles with short-term memory.

Now that he has had plenty of time to reflect on the fateful fight and life-threatening injury, the only animosity that Wilson feels towards Ambomo is due to the needless post-fight celebrations, not the injury itself.

“From what I was told and I’ve seen the footage, I was gone. I looked dead,” Wilson said. “I remember watching myself and when I landed on the canvas, I said to myself, ‘that person looks dead.’ The way I landed and my head bounced and I was just still with my gumshield in my mouth.

“For him to come over to me, to a body that was on the canvas – my eyes weren’t open – he leans over, kisses my forehead and then makes the cutthroat gesture to the crowd.

“I’ve got my mum in the arena, I’ve got my brother, I’ve got my partner, I’ve got my daughter and I’ve got other supporters there. For them, who care for me, for them to actually witness somebody doing that in a professional sport, even talking about it now is sickening.

“I could never do that to any other fighter. I’ve knocked people out badly, in sparring and in fights. I could never jump up and down when somebody has been badly knocked out like that.”

When asked how he reacted to Ambomo’s attempt to reach out on social media, Wilson said: “I don’t have no feeling towards him but I did say: ‘The fight happened. Well done, congratulations for beating me fair and square. You got the win. But the conduct that you showed afterwards, that’s unforgivable.’ I can’t forgive that.

“I’ve got this injury from boxing but I don’t have any animosity towards him for that. My life has changed forever and it’s due to that fight and due to this injury but that’s boxing. I’ve always been aware of the risk.

“I have to manage the best I can with what I’ve got and still be grateful that I’m still alive. But to forgive that, I find it very difficult and I’m a very forgiving person.

“When someone is sincere and apologises for what they’ve done… But it’s not being sincere going on social media and saying ‘sorry’. He’s not really gone out of his way to say ‘I’m very sorry what I did and my conduct.’

“He doesn’t need to apologise for me getting an injury. I just don’t think I can forgive that.”