Maxim Dadashev died yesterday from injuries he sustained during his junior welterweight match with Subriel Matias last Friday night on a card televised on ESPN+. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth, and their 2 year old son, Daniel. Dadashev was 28 years old.
After the 11th round, trainer Buddy McGirt pleaded with Dadashev to let him stop the fight. Dadashev protested, but by that time he was far behind and taking a beating. He had, in fact, taken over 300 punches, the vast majority being power shots. McGirt motioned to referee Kenny Chevalier they’d had enough, and Dadashev remained on his stool until after the official verdict had been read. He looked sick. Unable to make it down the ring steps on his own, Dadaeshev was helped to the dressing room before being taken by ambulance to the hospital. In the early hours of Saturday, he underwent brain surgery to stop a bleed and was placed in a medically induced coma, where he remained before succumbing to his injuries.
Death is the most natural part of life. It is an experience that all living creatures will share. And because of that, it is our favorite cause for reflection. We cannot help but see ourselves and our own actions in the person who has died. In the case of tragedy, and the death of Maxim Dadashev is truly tragic, we always want to know if we are somehow responsible even if only on a moral level, and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. We are the paying customers of a bloodsport, so these are questions worth asking.
Since Brent Hedtke was covering the card live, he wrote the questions for this roundtable.
- Let’s start off with some role-playing. You’re from outer space and you’re sent here to gather information about the beings that inhabit this dump. In a vacuum, with zero context what is your first impression of boxing? The noblest sport or human cockfighting?
Swain: I would probably think it was some form of elaborate religious ceremony. And that humans were savages. I would appreciate the skill, bravery, and talent, but more or less wonder what the point of it all was.
Langendorf: I’d assume it was a terrifying, Thunderdome-style sacrificial ritual, and — much like right now — I’d want absolutely no part of it while being inescapably drawn in by its tractor beam. Every entrenched observer of the sport must make his or her peace with it, but if you aren’t constantly uneasy about that relationship, you’re probably a sociopath.
Starks: This question is one I ponder often, about almost everything we do. I’d compare it to other animals’ behavior (some of them murder rival packs, or children of the same pack who might one day challenge the leader), and the other horrible things humans do to each other (even when they love each other, sometimes they beat each other, often on far less even terms). It would take some time to gain a better understanding; it would look downright mild compared to, say, war. I’d probably land somewhere north of human cockfighting and somewhere south of noblest sport. Probably, ultimately, that humans were barbaric to get any enjoyment out of it, but, per Swain, impressed by the skill/bravery/talent.
Hedtke: Even a cursory investigation into everyday human behavior would reveal that, boy, there sure is a lot of hitting. The majority of this hitting is done out of anger though. So why are these two guys hugging and taking pictures together after? I think an alien would ultimately be confused by the motivations behind it. Hell, I’m not totally sure I even understand them anymore.
- What more, if anything, can be done to further avoid incidents like what Maxim Dadashev went through on Saturday night?
Swain: Medical screenings need to be uniform and a lot more frequent. Boxers should undergo brain imaging before and after fights. I know it’s expensive, but it’s necessary. And it needs to start in the amateurs. Dadshev had 300 amateur fights to go with the 14 professional bouts. Brain trauma accumulates over time.
I would also institute same-day weigh-ins with a hard maximum of 5 percent bodyweight rehydration. A lot of what damages fighters over time is the strain that making weight puts on the body, particularly the kidneys. Also, when fighters undergo extreme dehydration, they’re not just damaging their kidneys. At a certain point, cerebrospinal fluid also has the water pulled from it. It takes the body two to four days to fully rehydrate the CS fluid, so a fighter who did an extreme dry out has a brain without its padding. That fluid is what keeps the brain in place within the skull. You don’t want your brain rattling around in your skull while someone punches you.
Langendorf: What Swain said. (Seriously, it’s perfect.) The only thing to add: Create a national commission that relies on a third-party board of experts to sanction fights. The Nevada Athletic Commission, for instance, is now directly funded by boxing and MMA fight gate revenues. Think the NAC didn’t have a vested interest in pushing through the ridiculous (and, yes, dangerous) Floyd Mayweather vs Connor McGregor spectacle from a couple of years back? And what if that esteemed body had somehow discovered its collective moral compass ahead of a sanctioning decision? The circus would’ve found a faster and looser state in which to set up its big top. A national commission might be a pipe dream, but it’s one worth striving for.
Starks: Generally speaking: Definitely more screenings, definitely national commission. The jury’s still out on same-day vs day-before weigh-ins, for me. Same-day weigh-ins also have associated health risks. I’ve never been persuaded one way or another that either method has clear advantages. The ultimate answer is that we don’t know, in this case, how to prevent incidents “like” Dadashev’s death. There hasn’t been the kind of review of the circumstances yet to lead us to many conclusions.
Hedtke: Trying to follow up Swain’s medically precise and spiritually prescient response with my bullshit here would be like The Spin Doctors going on after Cannibal Corpse. I will second the need for a national commission to provide strict oversight of fighter’s pre-fight screenings and also one with the ability to hold teams, trainers, physician’s and the like accountable where missteps occur. That’s not to say that there were missteps in Dadashev’s unfortunate passing but wherever you find professional boxing, a person willing to take a shortcut to make an extra buck isn’t too far behind.
- Without fans, the fighters would have no reason to fight. Do fans have any moral responsibility for the fighter’s health?
Swain: You have to make the decision that is best for your conscience. Typically what happens to damaged fighters is that the crowds disappear, but they keep fighting. Meldrick Taylor comes to mind in that regard. Some scum bag would pay him to fight, and he’d grease the palm of some commission official to make it happen. That HBO Legendary Nights is brutal to watch, and that’s not an isolated tale. I think if fans want to take responsibility for their own place in the sport and how safe it is, they need to find out about the boxing commission where they live. The commissions are the people we forget about in these things. Bad judges and referees get excoriated, but the commission is who appoints these incompetents.
Langendorf: Speak with your wallet — don’t support fights (or cards) that feature mismatches that could get someone hurt. Beyond that, just … speak. Certain government officials are receptive to feedback from citizens. John McCain helped create the Ali Act, which had real-world effects protecting boxers’ short- and long-term safety. Retweets ain’t enough, Chumley.
Starks: Absolutely. Macro, in an ideal world, boxing doesn’t exist, because there’d be no money in it since no one would want to watch it. Yet, let’s say we just outlawed it suddenly, or the crowds went away suddenly. Think of how many boxers who have said the sport saved their life, kept them off the streets, gave them an outlet for their violence, gave them the path to the kind of living they wouldn’t otherwise get. So, it exists, and the utilitarian in me says it does more good than harm, and combined with the following condition — that while here’s some part of me that is ill at ease with my appreciation of the sport, I’m also ultimately too impressed by what high-level boxing looks like as a monument to what man can accomplish — I watch.
On the micro-level, our attitudes always shape perceptions somehow in the ring and with the people work in the sport. I don’t agree with every word of this long-ago Alex McClintock TQBR column, but much of it, I do: For instance, if boxers quitting when they didn’t feel right was not something so looked down upon, if boxers didn’t worry about their reputations in a situation like this, maybe lives are saved. Also, Jason mentioned the Ali Act. Perhaps if it were routinely enforced it would help more than it has.
Hedtke: Hypocrisy is boxing’s biggest supporter. Nobody wants bad things to happen to fighters except for the slight caveat that that’s exactly what we’re tuning in for. Next time you’re watching a fight with a large room full of people and somebody gets brutally knocked out, see if anyone goes “Oh no, I hope he’s okay” before they yell “Daaaaaaaamn!!!” It’s literally never happened once. A fighter’s health is important to us only after we’ve gotten what we want out of them. And that’s where the cognitive dissonance starts becoming a problem for me.
I’m strongly against the death penalty. Not for any particularly moral reasons or anything – I don’t really care about my own life let alone someone else’s. I’m against it because it’s a flawed system. Innocent people are still being executed every year and until you can get that number down to a concrete ZERO, you simply can’t take the risk. One innocent person being killed by the state invalidates the entire process. So why am I unable to apply that level zero-sum thinking to boxing? This is a sport after all and sports are supposed to be fun. So if even one person is dying in the name of dumbass entertainment, why doesn’t that invalidate it for me. The answer to that question is “I have no earthly idea.”
More than almost any existing sport, boxing is consumer-driven. The advertising and licensing dollars aren’t there the way they are for the NFL and NBA etc. So fans have a financial say in the health of the sport. If a fight is made that you know poses health risks to an aging or outmatched fighter, don’t watch or attend it. If enough people actively apply that mentality the numbers will start to speak for themselves.
- Some fights are excessively brutal yet the fighters suffer no ill effects. Conversely, like Subriel Matias vs Maxim Dadashev or Mike Perez vs Magomed Abdusalomov, some fights aren’t noticeably violent yet have drastic consequences. What factors do you believe determine these outcomes and is there any way for trainers to detect them early?
Swain: I’m sure within the next 10-15 years they’ll have handheld devices that can diagnose concussions between rounds. And that will be a good thing. But brain trauma isn’t just concussions. The most recent research has all indicated that it’s the accumulation of blows, the mini traumas, that do the lasting damage. In the case of Dadeshev, he was losing, but he was still fighting and seemed compos mentis. Buddy McGirt was right to stop the fight when he did, but there weren’t really any clear moments for him to do so prior. I think that because the amount of punishment that each individual can take is so wildly divergent, you can’t really have a standard. I think the ringside physician probably needs to have examined them thoroughly before he examines them in the ring during a fight. You can add in all the precautions in the world, even having sensors in the fighters giving live data, and the danger will still be there. Getting punched in the head is traumatic to the brain and really fucking dangerous. That’s part of why we watch boxing.
Langendorf: Over the years, I’ve drifted away from football — mostly because of its dangers combined with the cynical and disingenuous approach to the problem among the sports’ power brokers. Say this for boxing: No one involved makes any bones about its devastating effects. It’s up to you to take them or leave them. Are we anywhere close to accurately determining, in real-time, a threshold of danger that shouldn’t be crossed in the ring? I don’t think so. But even if we were, those levels can change in an instant. The sport isn’t safe. It isn’t supposed to be.
Starks: Let me first take issue with one premise of the question. There were ample signs that something was wrong in Perez vs Abdusalamov. There were signs in the very first round. Yours truly remembers thinking it should’ve been stopped well before the final bell. Sickeningly, one of the first things that pops up in a web search about the fight is a video that labeled it an “underrated war.” It looked exactly like the kind of fight where something like that could happen. John David Jackson absolutely should’ve known to stop that fight, as should have the ref and doctor.
Still, aside from that, I largely agree with Matthew and Jason. I don’t personally watch boxing because I’m drawn to the danger; it’s more something I accept, somewhat ashamedly, as a part of it. But there’s no way this sport can ever truly be safe. Even if you set aside the Abdusalamov example where things truly were evidently extra-dangerous, even if something turns up later about bad doctors or bad thises or thats that contributed to Dadeshev’s specific situation going south, it’s just going to be the case that sometimes people are going to seemingly arbitrarily get badly hurt in a boxing match. It’s weird that way. A guy like Carmen Basilio, who took ridiculous punishment in the ring, lived to 85 and still had plenty of his faculties intact in elderly ESPN Classic commentary appearances. Another guy might die after facing a boxer with little power. It’s sad, but we don’t have the capacity as of yet to suss out these situations 100 percent of the time.
Hedtke: I have a good friend whose age still starts with a “3” but recently suffered a terrifying stroke. That’s not something we generally associate with young, relatively healthy people. He lost his speech, bi-lateral movement in his right arm and left leg as well as numerous other cognitive functions and as his recovery now enters its fifth month a lot of the talk amongst his friends turned to “how” and “why” this happened and what signs were ignored. Most doctors will though will tell you though that the first sign that you may be prone to having a stroke is that you’re having a stroke. There’s no prolonged warning signs or build up, just a crescendo. Knowing your body and your genetic history is the key. This same mentality applies to fighters and trainers. Fighters need to be open and honest with their medical histories and those histories need to be disclosed to all requisite commission and medical officials. In light of Dadashev’s passing, hopefully there will be a bit of a wake-up call for full transparency when it comes to fighter health.
I have zero confidence that there will be though.
- Lastly, this sport is littered with deaths, ruined lives, and unpaid medical bills. What would have to happen for you to finally say “fuck this” and walk away?
Swain: I honestly don’t know. And that kind of bothers me.
Langendorf: I’m not sure. I guess I’m the kid who brings the mangy, stinking, dumb-as-rocks mutt in from out of the cold to give it a home. Boxing is flawed and gross and incredible, and I happen to believe it’s worth trying to clean up and nurture. I’ll probably keep covering it that way until I wake up one day and decide it can’t be done anymore.
Starks: I strongly agree with the conclusion of the aforementioned McClintock piece that boxing’s powers-that-be should put an end to those unpaid medical bills. But, yeah, like the others, I’m not sure. My passion waxes and wanes, with incidents like this diminishing my desire to keep watching, but incredible nights like Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder and the like making me willing to accept the tradeoffs.
Hedtke: There was no moment in the fight where it seemed like Dadashev was in a particularly dire situation and short of owning a time machine, there was nothing that could’ve been done differently after the fight. All the requisite protocols were followed and it was still gut-churning to watch unfold. Upon learning of his passing on Tuesday I’d be lying if I said I had any real desire to watch boxing in the near future.
Of course, I will though.
I think the only thing that would really ever threaten that recurring capitulation would be to see a fight in which a demonstrably outclassed fighter was offered no help from either his corner, the ref or the ringside doctors to exit the fight and succumbed to his injuries. Seeing a fighter beat to death because of mass incompetency might finally force me to pull my shoot and jump.