By Ivan G. Goldman
Are there really any fans out there who enjoy seeing a fighter with a broken, grotesquely swollen, bloody face compete in a prizefight all the way down to the final bell? The New York athletic commission seems to think so. Further, it believes that such fans must be obeyed.
But medical science says otherwise, and early Monday morning Mago Abdusalamov, 32, who lost a savage heavyweight contest to Mike Perez Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, was in a medically induced coma after surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain. He’d complained of severe headaches.
Those of us who viewed it on HBO could see only as much as the cameras would show us, but viewers who actually know boxing – unlike the inspectors and others working the fight for the commission – could tell something was very wrong and the fight should be stopped. It’s possible ring physicians climbed over the ropes to inspect Mago in the corner, but cameras showed them checking him out from the ring apron.
The HBO team told us ring physicians were looking Mago over from time to time, but we are left to wonder just what sort of exam was conducted.
About halfway through the brutal ten-rounder we could see that a bone had to be broken in Mago’s face. We could also see that he couldn’t close his jaw, a strong indication that his nose was severely broken, which means he was unable to breathe properly. Because he was breathing through a very open mouth, he was in serious danger of having his jaw broken too. He also suffered a broken left hand early in the contest.
When tough Israel Vazquez suffered a crushed nose in his second contest against Rafael Marquez, he wisely gave up after six rounds. He said he couldn’t breathe through his nose and that he’d fight Marquez another night. He underwent surgery after the bout and fought him twice more in a history-making series of four contests against Marquez.
In the corner between rounds, Mago, clearly concerned, asked about his injuries repeatedly, and each time his cornermen mopped him up and sent him back out there to face one of the most severe beatings seen on television in a long time. By the end of the bout, Perez was also busted up, though not as severely. Mago never stopped trying to win and threw strong punches almost to the end, but those responsible for his safety very clearly failed him. This includes both the corner and the commission.
This is the same New York state commission that sat around with its thumb up its collective ass in June 2001 when light heavyweight George Jones methodically beat Beethavean Scottland to death on the deck of the U.S.S. Intrepid docked in the Hudson River off midtown Manhattan. It was televised by ESPN2. Surgeons operated on Scottland twice but couldn’t save him. He was 26. The referee, Arthur Mercante, Jr., sent me an ugly letter about a week before the death castigating me for complaining in print about his allowing an earlier fight to continue, even though it cried out to be stopped.
I thought New York referee Mercante might learn something from Scottland’s very avoidable death, but in 2010, contrary to rules, he wouldn’t let the corner of Yuri Foreman quit against Miguel Cotto when Foreman’s knee gave out in their Yankee Stadium contest. Foreman, who couldn’t get any weight behind his punches with his gimpy leg, had to endure several hopeless rounds until rock-fisted Cotto stopped him in the ninth. Members of the commission sat and watched out-of-control Mercante overrule a surrender.
Less than two weeks ago, Mexican featherweight boxer Frankie “Little Soldier” Leal, 26, died after suffering a brain injury in a bout in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, against Raul Hirales. Leal was flown to a San Diego Hospital but couldn’t be saved.
It served no purpose to keep the Perez-Mago fight going. There are ghouls in this sport who believe a fighter should always get the chance to make it to the final bell, but you didn’t have to be terribly discerning to see that the possible gains against the possible losses weighed heavily in favor of a stopped contest. Mago, like Marquez, should have been given the chance to fight his opponent another day. Yes, Abdusalamov looked like the kind of guy who could take his man out with one shot, but keeping such a horribly busted-up fighter in there on the off chance that he could land that shot was impossibly foolish. This isn’t hindsight. It was clear at the time.
Until it turned into a horror show, Perez-Abdusalamov was one of the best heavyweight contests seen on TV in recent years. They both showed courage and skill, but Perez, 20-0 (12 KOs), was quicker and trickier and mounted a more thorough body attack. Perez, originally from Cuba, now lives in Ireland. Abdusalamov, hailing from the Russian Caucuses, campaigns out of Florida. They fought the lead-up bout to the Gennady Golovkin’s-Curtis Stevens middleweight title bout, which ended when Stevens’ corner surrendered after eight hard-fought rounds. Perez, 28, won easily on all three cards.
Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag, by New York Times best-selling author Ivan G. Goldman, was released in June 2013 by Potomac Books. It can be purchased here.