Blood On Their, And Our Hands

The Continuing Tragedy Of Magomed Abdusalamov

by Bobby Franklin

To most boxing fans the events of November 2, 2013 are a distant and faded memory. Those who watched the Mike Perez vs Magomed Abdusalamov bout on HBO that evening will remember that it was a brutal fight and that Mago, as Abdusalamov is more often referred to, took a brutal beating. They also may recall that after the bout the courageous heavyweight lapsed into a coma. The tragedy of that evening was in the news for a very short time, and boxing continued as usual without missing a beat. There was very little outcry about this. Nothing like the days when, in a supposedly more callous time, there were investigations and calls for banning the sport after Benny Kid Paret died after taking a beating from Emile Griffith. Or, November 13, 1982 the afternoon Duk Koo Kim died after being kayoed by Ray Mancini. After that bout their were in depth investigations into the cause of Kim’s death and changes in rules such as changing championship fights from 15 rounds to 12 rounds. The public saw this as a terrible tragedy and it was talked about for months afterwards. It was disturbing to people that they would witness a man being killed on live television and there was a dialog about what should be done including whether or not boxing should be banned.

Mago and Family
Mago and Family

Fast forward to 2013 and we are experiencing a very different reaction to an event that in many ways can be seen as worse than a fighter dying in the ring. Mr. Abdusalamov did not die from his injuries. The husband and father who received all of $30,000.00 for the beating he took lies in a family friend’s home in Connecticut partially paralyzed and unable to speak. Boxing continued uninterrupted after this horrific evening, and nothing has changed. If you watched boxing on TV shortly after that night you will have noted there was very little said about Mago other than a brief update on his condition. Some boxing writers, including me, did write about what we believed to be the negligence that occurred on so many levels that evening in New York City.

Well, thanks to New Times writer Dan Barry who has written a piece entitled “A Fighter’s Hour of Need”, we now have some more insight into the events of that night and just how terrible things were handled o so many levels. Mr. Barry’s piece can be read by going to:

Though I must warn you, what you will read is positively nauseating. Barry pieces together the events from transcripts of interviews given under oath during a continuing investigation being conducted by the New York State Office of the Inspector General. It is a lurid tale of neglect, incompetence, passing of blame, and cold heartedness that is truly unbelievable.

Between Rounds
Between Rounds

Mago, who had been on the receiving end of a terrible beating, is given a total of 15 minutes medical attention in the dressing room after the bout. He is asked through an interpreter if he has a headache. He responds that his face hurts, the same thing he was saying between rounds during the bout. Because, and even though his response is through the interpreter, he doesn’t specifically say he has a headache, the doctor decides he does not have serious enough injuries that would justify having an ambulance take him to the hospital. There were two on site. Mago’s trainer John David Jackson thought he should go to the hospital, but did not pursue the matter. In this age of cell phones it seems insane that nobody dialed 911. Why didn’t someone just approach one of the EMTs and demand they take the fighter to the hospital?

Dr. Gerard Varlotta was the doctor who examined Mr. Abdusalamov after the bout. Varlotta is a sports medicine specialist. As far as I have ever known sports a medicine doctor’s focus is usually on muscle, bone, and joint injuries. There was a neurologist in attendance that evening, but he remained seated at ringside and Varlotta reported his findings to him. The neurologist, Dr. Barry Jordan, had witnessed the Abdusalamov Perez fight and never once stepped into the ring to examine Mago even though it was obvious even from watching on television that the fighter was taking terrible punishment. Dr. Jordan also seemed not to feel there was any reason for him to leave his seat at ringside to spend a few moments in the dressing room examining the gravely injured fighter.

There is so much more contained in Dan Barry’s article. Clearly there was no one in authority around Mr. Abdusalamov that evening who would step forward and see the injured warrior was cared for. Eventually, Mago was taken by cab to a local hospital where he fell into a coma. His brain had most likely started to bleed during the fight, and certainly had in the dressing room after. It should also be remembered that Mr. Abdusalamov was complaining about “face pain” to his corner men during the fight. It was clear from watching the fight that there were problems early on. Time was of the essence.

If only the chief second had stopped the fight after the 4th round. If only Dr. Jordan had bothered to step into the ring to examine the fighter. If only Mago had been taken to the hospital immediately after the fight. If only the officials and medical people in charge that night were better trained and not just political appointees. If only there was an adult in charge. If only, if only…If only someone gave a damn.

Mr. Abdusalamov’s family has been filing lawsuits but they have an uphill battle suing the government. I do not know what culpability HBO has, but I would think they have at the very least a moral obligation to see Magomed Abdusalamov is not forgotten.

And what about the public? After all, it is our desire to see men step into a ring with the sole objective of inflicting head injuries on one another that makes this all possible. Are we culpable as well?

Please read Dan Barry’s piece. It is important that the public has the facts. It is important that we not allow this to happen again.