Michael Watson: 'I thought I was going to die - it was worse than the boxing injuries'

Gareth A Davies
Former Boxer Michael Watson (right) with his friend and carer Lenny Ballack - JULIAN SIMMONDS

Former boxer Michael Watson has been called "a walking miracle" by doctors ever since he suffered horrific brain injuries following his title fight with Chris Eubank in 1991. He required six life-saving brain operations, and was in a coma for forty days: his neurosurgeon Peter Hamlyn believed Watson would never walk or talk after a bleed on the brain.

He did suffer brain damage, but has been defying the odds for almost three decades. In 2003, his astonishing London Marathon walk, which took over six days, captured the nation, and he raised £300,000 for the Brain & Spine Foundation. The following year, Watson was awarded an MBE. 

Five weeks ago, Watson, 52, was the victim of a car-jacking. He was dragged hundreds of metres down a north London road hanging out of his car, trapped by the seat belt holding him as his assailant drove off. Again, he had a lucky escape.  

"I'm here for a reason, and I feel that there was divine intervention once more," Watson told The Sunday Telegraph in an exclusive interview. "It is about never giving up the fight." 

Watson and his carer Lennard Ballack meet me at the same restaurant in Hackney where they had been on February 16 before heading home to Chingford, Essex in his Volkswagen Golf. Just before 5pm, they were attacked. The car-jacking is still being investigated by police, and the perpetrators are still at large. 

Michael Watson. Watson was attacked with ammonia and car-jacked near his home in East London in February Credit: Julian Simmonds

Ballack, Watson's friend for more than 30 years, was driving, with Watson in the passenger seat. When they were attacked, it was  like "a western movie where the cowboy gets dragged by a horse".

Watson explained: "I thought I was going to die. It was worse than the boxing injuries, because I had no control over it whatsoever."

Ballack said: "It was a surprise attack. As Michael and I were driving in Chingford, I was stationary and a car gave us a thud on the back. I came out in a polite manner after pulling the car in and the other car also pulled in with us."

"As I went over to the driver's side of the car, I noticed the door didn't open and the windows didn't go down. They were tinted windows.

"Within a split second, the passenger came out and as he did that the driver's window most probably went down and that's how I got two chunks of ammonia sent my way. I was trying to wipe my eyes and more spray came. Then another guy went to Michael's car and Michael's was sat there not knowing what was going on. This man's gone into the driver's side and bent in. I heard Michael shout. I had to force my eyes open."

Watson shows a scar left by the attack  Credit: Julian Simmonds

By now, Ballack said that he was wrestling with the driver "Because I had hold of him he shouted and the other guy came with a nine bar, or whatever it was, and smashed me on the back of my head and I landed on my knees and my knuckles.

"I got a few kicks in the face and I was on my knees fighting thin air because my eyes were so badly burning. I got up staggering, dazed, running over, screaming due to the pain, and I saw that Michael wasn't in our car."

Watson, who has much reduced mobility on his left side, realised he was under attack, and was trying to get out of his car. But his arm had been trapped by the seat belt.

Ballack continued: "I tried to get in front of the car but he tried to run me over. I dived out the way. He sped off with the door open and to my surprise I saw Michael being dragged where he'd come out of the car and fallen. The guy has gone in and sprayed Mike. Luckily, he had his glasses on so it missed.

"As the guy drove off, Michael was being dragged because the seat belt had caught on to Michael's arm. He disappeared down the road. I saw the two cars racing away and Michael disappearing. It was like watching a western movie where the cowboy gets dragged on a horse. I felt very disheartened that I couldn't get to save Michael. I gave every last bit of my breath and everything."

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Watson, left with deep grazes on his back and elbow, said: "When the guy sprayed me, I had to get out the car. But I couldn't get away. I was dragged maybe 500 metres. I was bouncing around like a bouncing ball,a rag doll. It happened so quickly. I didn't have fear. I'm not a fearful person. I just passed out."

Realising that Watson was trapped, the assailant stopped the Volkswagen and abandoned it. 

Watson said: "It was amazing I didn't get my head smashed. They need to be dealt with. That could have been my life.  It was divine intervention. I'm here for a purpose."

Ballack said: "Michael has been through an ordeal with the fight with Eubank, and the brain injuries he had before. How Michael is alive I'll never know."

The boxing community has rallied around Watson since the attack. Messages from boxers Scott Welsh, Steve Collins, Colin McMillan, Andy Brace. They received 154 texts offering help. Hamlyn was on the phone immediately offering to come back from a holiday to examine his patient.

Watson said: "They deserve punishment for it so they're not on the streets to do that again. What goes around comes around. It will catch up with them. Time's a healer. We could have both died – without a doubt. I believe in fate. But I'm still a fighter. Once a fighter, always a fighter. That will never change."

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