In the aftermath of Patrick Day’s passing, his longtime trainer is struggling with guilt over the fighter’s death and how, if at all, he will continue in the sport.
“It was my job to protect him and I let him down,” said Joe Higgins, who had trained Day since he was 14 years old.
Day, from Freeport, died on Wednesday from traumatic brain injuries suffered in a junior middleweight title fight on Saturday in Chicago.
“I know there is no fault,” Higgins said. “But this is devastating. I feel responsible.”
Day, 27, a world-ranked junior middleweight, was knocked out by Charles Conwell in the 10th and final round of a USBA title fight at Wintrust Arena. Day was an alternate on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team and, as a pro, won the WBC Continental Americas title.
“This was a case where we have a horribly dangerous sport,” said Day’s promoter Lou DiBella. “This was one of those fights where most people were split. 50-50, on who would win. There is no one to blame. But that’s no consolation to Joe Higgins or Patrick’s family. The entire New York boxing community is devastated.”
Higgins, 58, is a retired New York City firefighter who has run the Freeport PAL boxing gym since 1995. A sign placed on the gym door Sunday night read, “Freeport PAL Boxing Gym is Permanently CLOSED.”
“I will probably take the ring out,” Higgins said. “I don’t want another a kid in that gym taking punches. I can’t do that anymore. I will probably keep it open, and replace the ring with heavybags and weight lifting equipment. I can’t give up on the kids of North Freeport. This place is for them.”
Day grew up across the street from Higgins and they rose through the professional boxing ranks together. While Day was respected in his sport for his talent, he was beloved by his boxing peers because of his kind nature. “How many 27 year olds have you met who have never cursed?” asked Higgins.
Day would often tell Higgins that he was going to change the world. Higgins now wants to change the sport of boxing.
“God said to Patrick, ‘you did your job, now I am going to take you home,’” Higgins said. “It’s up to me to finish that job. Patrick will not be just another boxer that gets injured or killed and they sweep it under the rug. I’m on a mission to change the sport’s ills.”