By Thomas Hauser
Magomed Abdusalamov woke up in unfamiliar surroundings on Christmas morning. Quite possibly, he was unaware of the change.
On November 2nd, Adbusalamov suffered a life-altering brain injury in a fight against Mike Perez at Madison Square Garden. For weeks, he lay near death. He was at Roosevelt Hospital for 52 days.
On Christmas Eve, Magomed was transported to Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw, New York. The hospital specializes in physical rehabilitation for patients who have suffered catastrophic brain injuries. Russian tycoon Andrey Ryabinskiy has committed to paying for at least two months of rehabilitation. The cost of Magomed’s stay at Helen Hayes Hospital will be $51,000 a month.
“Rehabilitation” is a relative term.
The hospital’s literature states that its program “treats the complex effects of brain injury, such as difficulty walking, communicating, eating and dressing, limitations in memory and thinking skills, and social, emotional and cognitive issues.”
That has led some people to say, “Magomed will live . . . Magomed is in rehab . . . Magomed will be fine.”
Magomed won’t be fine.
The left side of Magomed’s head is grotesquely misshapen. There’s a crater where part of his skull was removed during surgery. The visual effect is as if the wax had dripped away from the top of an irregularly burning candle. A sign above his bed at Roosevelt Hospital warned health care providers, “No left bone flap.”
Magomed breathes through a tube that has been inserted in his trachea. His eyes gaze vacantly into space. It’s unclear how much, if anything, he comprehends.
He is alive.
Some people would choose to not continue living under the current circumstances of Magomed’s life. In his present condition, he is not capable of making decisions of that nature. His family has chosen for him.
It’s too soon to know what his condition will be a year from now. His doctors say that, whatever happens, there will be serious neurological deficits. Damage to the brain is more likely to be irreversible than damage to other organs. The younger a person is, the more likely it is that another part of the brain can compensate for the damage. The extent of permanent injury depends on the cause of the damage, which portions of the brain were damaged, and how extensive the damage is.
The hopes and expectations for Magomed are radically different now from what they were two months ago. The arc of his life has been reconfigured. The goal is no longer to become heavyweight champion of the world. The hope – although not necessarily the expectation – is that someday he will be able to think coherently and articulate his thoughts in a way that is understood by others. That he will be able to feed himself and control his bodily functions. That perhaps he will walk again.
This is a tragedy in the truest sense of the word.
Stepping up at the right time saves lives. Referees stop fights. Ring doctors stop fights. Athletic commission chairmen and chairwomen and executive directors stop fights. Cornermen stop fights. When no one steps up to stop a fight, a fighter’s life can change irrevocably for the worse.
There’s an issue of fact as to whether or not New York State Athletic Commission personnel suggested that Abdusalamov go to the hospital immediately after the fight. Had he done so, he might be on the road to a full recovery today.
Section 213.6 of The New York State Athletic Commission Laws and Rules Regulating Boxing references the duties of ring physicians and states, “Such physician may also require that the injured participant and his manager . . . report to a hospital after the contest for such period of time as such physician deems advisable."
In other words, commission personnel could have required that Abdusalamov go to the hospital.
Also, New York State Athletic Commission personnel concede that there was no offer of help to transport Magomed to the hospital.
This was a man who had just been beaten up – badly beaten up – as a designed component of a spectacle intended to entertain people. When his part in the spectacle was over, his nose was shattered. The left side of his face was disfigured as a consequence of cuts, bruises, swelling, and the likelihood of more broken bones. Taking NYSAC personnel at their word, he was in effect told, “Thanks; good job. Now go outside, find a cab, and get to the hospital on your own.”
Would any football team (high school, college, or pro) tell a player with injuries of that nature to take a cab to the hospital? If a tennis player was injured at the U.S. Open, would the organizers hand him an insurance form and tell him to take a cab to the hospital?
What happened to Magomed Abdusalamov will be used by some as an argument for the abolition of boxing. It’s certainly an argument for reform.
Here the thoughts of Bernard Hopkins are instructive.
“After I fought Roy Jones,” Hopkins says, “they made me go to the hospital. I stayed overnight. And I won that fight. No fighter wants to go to the hospital, lie on a gurney. It’s that macho stuff. But I have people around me who watch my back. Most fighters don’t have that. Or if they do, the people who are trying to watch their back don’t know how.”
“You hear how everyone is talking now,” Hopkins continues. “’Oh, we care so much about the health and safety of the fighter.’ But they don’t mean it. They don’t care. They – and you know who ‘they’ are – treat us like cattle. None of these people are thinking about the injured fighter. It’s not their kid. It’s not their husband or brother or father. The fight is over. The next fight is coming out. They just don’t care.”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at [email protected] . His most recent book (Straight Writes and Jabs: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press. His earlier in-depth investigative report on Magomed Abdusalamov can be read at https://www.boxingscene.com/magomed-abdusalamov-dark-side-boxing--71949