The 25-year-old boxer was carried from the ring on a stretcher after a fifth-round loss to Dale Evans in a St Andrew’s Sporting Club fight in Glasgow on Thursday night.
Towell, from Dundee, was rushed to the city’s Queen Elizabeth University hospital by ambulance accompanied by his promoter, Tommy Gilmour. His management said Towell passed away 24 hours later with his family at his bedside.
His death comes less than seven months after a bout between Chris Eubank Jr and Nick Blackwell ended the latter’s career after he suffered bleeding in his skull. That fight was stopped in the 10th round.
The brain injury charity Headway called for boxing to be banned. “This was a young father in the prime of his life and quite rightly, the focus at this time should be on supporting the family,” said Peter McCabe, Headway’s chief executive.
“But the question remains: how many more lives have to be damaged or lost before this senseless sport is banned? As long as boxing is allowed to continue, more and more young lives will be damaged or lost as a result of opponents deliberately trying to cause neurological harm to each other.”
Paul Flynn, the veteran Labour MP who has attempted to ban blows to the head in boxing through failed private member’s bills in 1998 and in 2005, described Towell’s death as a terrible tragedy. “We ought to change the rules in many sports and realise that the head is a very delicate part of the body and to protect it, and minimise the number of blows the brain suffers.”
Flynn added that although there were many dangers in sports, the worst example was boxing. “The whole purpose of the sport is to render the opponent unconscious.”
In recent years, the British Medical Association (BMA) and the World Medical Association (WMA) have also called for boxing to be banned. Dr Otmar Kloiber, the WMA’s secretary general, told the Press Association there were two main types of head injuries associated with boxing. The first involves small bleedings around or in the brain that develop over time. “That may take hours,” he added. “Pressure within the skull compresses the brain down to the brain stem, which finally kills you.”
In addition, “by hitting your head time after time after time it has been shown there are alterations in the brain. We are more and more aware that this is silently going on and producing damage to the brain.”
Towell’s partner, Chloe Ross, said the boxer had died peacefully shortly after 11pm on Friday evening, 12 hours after he was taken off life support.
“Michael had severe bleeding and swelling to his brain. He had been complaining of headaches for the last few weeks but we put it down to migraines with the stress of his fight,” she wrote on Facebook. “I’m absolutely heartbroken.”
Towell’s management team said on Friday it was not aware of any headache complaints by the fighter before the match. The fight at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Glasgow, was being broadcast on STV Glasgow when Towell was fatally injured. The boxer had been undefeated going into the bout – which was an eliminator for the British welterweight title – with 11 previous wins and one draw on his professional record.
According to the BoxRec database of professional fights, Towell was knocked down in the first round and again in the fifth prior to the stoppage.
The bout was refereed by Victor Loughlin, who was also in charge of the British middleweight title fight in March between Eubank and Blackwell.
Evans has yet to comment on his opponent’s death, but described Towell as a “true warrior” in a statement issued after he was taken to hospital.
“The ingredients were there for an entertaining fight and it was that, we are both punchers and so sadly for Mike he came out the wrong side. I never wanted to see my opponent being stretchered out of the ring. Who would ever want that sight?”