By ALLAN MAKI
Saturday, June 24, 2017
CALGARY -- Questions surrounding the death of Alberta fighter Tim Hague extend beyond the referee, who could have stopped the onesided bout, to what may be the most troubling query - why was Mr. Hague allowed to box when he should have been medically suspended?
Mr. Hague, who died last Sunday in Edmonton after being knocked out by former Edmonton Eskimos defensive end Adam Braidwood, had taken multiple head shots in his three previous fights, two of which were knockout losses, the other a technical knockout loss. According to Edmonton Combative Sports Commission (ECSC) regulations, a boxer who has suffered two knockouts or technical knockouts from blows to the head within a six-month period will be suspended for at least six months. If a boxer has suffered three KO or TKOs from blows to the head within a one-year period, he will be suspended for at least one year.
Mr. Hague's recent fight record shows a KO loss to Michal Andryszak in just 33 seconds of the first round of a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) contest at Absolute Championship Berkut in Sochi, Russia, on July 15, 2016. That was followed by a KO loss to Mladen Miljas in a boxing match in Edmonton on Dec. 2, 2016. Then, on April 7 of this year, Mr. Hague lost by TKO to Jared Kilkenny in just 40 seconds of the first round of an MMA Super Boxing bout in Lethbridge.
It is possible the ECSC didn't know of or didn't count Mr. Hague's Sochi loss since it didn't occur in a boxing event. The City of Edmonton has called for a third-party investigation of Mr. Hague's death, meaning no one involved in what transpired at the Shaw Convention Centre is talking publicly, other than Mr. Braidwood, who is emotionally crushed by what has happened.
Erik Magraken, a partner with the MacIsaac Group law firm in Victoria, will be a keen observer of how the investigation plays out. Mr. Magraken is author of the blog Combat Sports Law, and is a combat-sports law consultant.
While the referee should have called the fight off after issuing three standing eight counts in the first round, there are other matters that need to be addressed.
"I think the biggest issue was the licensing decision [allowing Mr. Hague to fight] in the first place," Mr. Magraken said.
"If it's a legitimate safety policy, the question is why does it matter what sport the concussion was sustained in? If you're saying you don't want a person boxing in Edmonton that has three KOs in one year, who cares if the predicate KO was in Russia, Lethbridge or Edmonton? It comes down to safety."
The ECSC, in tandem with the city, released a statement this week saying it has "mobilized quickly and are working together to review the circumstances surrounding this incident and will determine the next steps following the evaluation of the information."
One area to be explored is whether the waiver that Mr. Hague signed is strong enough to deter a legal challenge. After examining a copy of the waiver used by the ECSC, Colin Roberts, a Calgary personal-injury lawyer, suggested the "waiver itself would likely be a complete defence to any claim brought by [Hague's] family. I think the only potential claim here might be medical negligence in the event that Hague's treating physicians misdiagnosed his brain injury or were negligent in clearing him to fight."
Mr. Hague volunteered for the main event of the KO Boxing promotion after Mr. Braidwood's slated opponent, Mexico's Jesus Paez, pulled out two weeks in advance. Mr. Hague, 34, and Mr.
Braidwood, 32, knew and respected one another. But halfway through the first round, it was clear Mr. Hague was overmatched. He was knocked down with a right hand to the head and drew an eight count from referee Len Koivisto. Then came a second knock down, when Mr. Hague was forced to the floor by a succession of eight unanswered punches that drew another eight count. Seconds later, Mr. Hague caught a left and right and fell forward, grabbing Mr. Braidwood's legs for support. Then a stiff left jab dropped Mr. Hague again. A third eight count was issued.
Many have argued the fight should have been stopped at that moment. Instead, Mr. Hague drew one last eight count before being put on his back, his head thudding against the canvas. The crowd cheered. The referee signalled to the ringside physician for assistance. Mr. Hague was helped to his feet and walked to his dressing room. He was then rushed by ambulance to hospital, where he died Sunday without regaining consciousness.
Mr. Koivisto is a seasoned referee who has worked professional fights around the world.
In 2011, he was critiqued for his handling of the Kim CoutureSheila Bird MMA bout. Ms. Couture was choked out in a legscissors hold and was rendered unconscious for 10 seconds before Mr. Koivisto instructed Ms. Bird to let go.
The Calgary Combative Sports Commission investigated the Couture-Bird fight and determined "no further action or investigations into the officiating of Mr. Koivisto will be required."
Dale Walters, a former Olympic boxer who referees fights in British Columbia, watched the video of the Braidwood-Hague bout and was not impressed.
"The refereeing that was done, it was very poor, I thought ... [Mr. Hague] was down three times with the referee giving him a standing eight count. At that point, the fight should have been stopped," said Mr. Walters.
Asked why Mr. Hague was allowed into the ring in the first place, Mr. Walters said there will always be fighters willing to test their limits by tempting fate.
"Boxing has all these [guys] hanging around and promoting fights. There are mismatches all the time ... And I can say, it's not going away. You have guys who are willing to step in against someone else. That's boxing."