Joe Higgins is still haunted by the death of Patrick Day. The Long Island boxer died Oct. 16, 2019 from brain trauma, four days after suffering a knockout loss against Charles Conwell. Higgins was Day’s trainer and working his corner.
“A day doesn’t go by I don’t think about what happened that night,” Higgins said, “because it happened on my watch.”
Higgins made the statement to correspondent Jon Frankel as part of a segment on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” that premieres on Tuesday. The segment tells the story of how Day grew up across the street from Higgins, a fireman and a boxing trainer, and how the 14-year-old boy wanted to start hitting one of the heavy bags in Higgins’ garage. After a few private lessons Day began showing up at Higgins’ gym in Freeport, N.Y.
Though Day came from an educated, financially secure family, he pursued the sport as an amateur and then as a professional, compiling a 17-3-1 record with six knockouts before he faced Conwell in a super welterweight bout in Chicago on Oct. 12, 2019.
Day had been knocked down two times during the bout before referee Celestino Ruiz stopped it in the 10th round after a third knockdown. Day was taken from the ring in a stretcher. He lapsed into a coma and died four days later at the age of 27.
“I looked him in the eye right before the round started and I said, ‘You need a knockout to win, Pat,” Higgins tells Real Sports. “But don’t get reckless and get knocked out yourself.’ And those were my last words to him.”
The segment not only talks about Day, but reveals how Higgins followed his father and brothers into a career as a firefighter. Higgins talks about the death of his brother Tim, who was on duty and killed on Sept. 11, 2001.
“He was the superstar of our family,” Higgins says, “and he was the bravest person I’ve ever met in my life.”
The fight and its tragic aftermath are also chronicled in the segment.
“By the time they got him out of the ring, I was extremely concerned,” Higgins says, “because I can hear him trying to breathe and he’s seized already.”
A mother that didn’t want her child to box would never see her boy alive again, and Higgins is left with a horrible reality.
“I wish I could reverse it all,” he says. “I wish I could have discouraged him from boxing somehow and went with what his mother said. That’s what stays with me right now because in the long run, she was right.”