A major health scare caused by a brain bleed which caused him immense pain means Monty Betham will never get in the ring again as a professional fighter or even spar in training - a decision he feels grateful to be able to make.

The 38-year-old married father of two children, aged nine and seven, made the call late last week in consultation with his doctor Chris Hanna, an experienced physician who has been a medical director for the New Zealand Warriors and Kiwis league team. Betham made the call after a frightening sequence of events after a sparring session.

Betham, putting his final touches on the preparation of his defence of his New Zealand cruiserweight crown against James Langton in late June, suffered some disturbing side effects after an eight-round sparring session against first Leki Maka, a national welterweight champion, and then heavyweight Mokai Parahau. Both men are good friends of Betham's and were regular sparring partners.

The after-effects left him nearly paralysed with pain, and although Betham has been given the all-clear, he accepts fighting again, or even lacing the gloves, would too big a risk.

Advertisement

"I never got stunned, I never got dazed, by any of the punches at any time," said Betham of his final sparring session. "But that night I didn't feel quite right. I was coughing and I would feel a bit of pain behind the back of my head. There was no blurry vision, no headaches, nothing like that."

The next day Betham continued training on the heavy bag, but, "I didn't feel good. My head was sensitive and I was a little sensitive to light but nothing to associate it with concussion. Even when I hit the bag I could feel something in my head. I didn't feel right so I rang my doc".

Hanna advised him to get a concussion test from regular physio Jonathan Moyle, which Betham passed. But soon afterwards the serious problems began.

"Progressively, my body started stiffening up - my hamstrings, my glutes and through my back - to the point where I couldn't even get out of bed," he said. "Even turning over in bed was extremely painful.

"It was frightening. I have a high pain threshold but ... it felt like someone was stabbing me every time I moved, that's how bad it was.

"I had a brain bleed or head bleed, and the fluid leaked down the spine into the lumber area which just crippled me. The scary thing is if that hadn't happened, I would have fought because I had passed the concussion test. I would have fought a 10-round fight with a brain bleed. I could have been history."

The diagnosis was made after an MRI scan, which took almost two hours, following which Betham was told: "You're going to hospital straight away, but you can't drive - you need your wife to pick you up and take you."

Betham spent the night under observation at Auckland City Hospital. After he was sent home and the symptoms cleared, the Sky Television presenter travelled to Rio to cover the Olympics, all the while wondering about his boxing career.

I had a brain bleed or head bleed, and the fluid leaked down the spine into the lumber area which crippled me.

SHARE THIS QUOTE:

Late last week he came to his decision. The former New Zealand Warriors captain, who played nine tests for the Kiwis and played at the 2000 World Cup for Toa Samoa, is a professional sportsman no more.

When the Herald called at his Greenlane home there is boxing showing on the television, but Betham knows he can no longer be a fighter.

"It's hard," he said. "At the time when I was going through it, it was easy. I told my wife, Jaymie, 'I'm done. Don't worry about it'. But then as it went on, I went back to the gym and it cleared up, for that brief moment when I was told 'you're clear', I wondered 'can I fight?' I got a spring in my step again because there were a few more things I wanted to do. And then I thought 'just one more fight'. But then I thought 'that's what they all say, and if this happened in sparring with 16oz gloves and headgear, what it's going to be like with 10oz gloves?'

"You can't gamble like that. I tell a lot of people, 'if you think about what's important in life, there's nothing more important than family'.

"I am so grateful to all the medical staff who have helped me, and in particular Chris and Jonathan, and all my supporters everywhere."

Betham's father, Monty Senior, fought 53 bouts as a professional at both middleweight and light heavyweight, with 43 victories.

Among his son's fighting highlights are beginning his professional career in Samoa, his father's birthplace, winning the New Zealand cruiserweight title, and losing to Shane Cameron by decision, the only loss of his nine-fight pro career.

"Winning a New Zealand title was great, but I never felt as good as I did in that loss," he said. "I felt amazing. Shane was world-ranked at that stage and I took the fight on two weeks' notice. My trainer Lolo Heimuli was incredible. Shane is a hero of mine, and he was in a tough position too - he couldn't win either way - but he didn't knock me out."