Time to ask tough ques­tions

Death came amid push for body to gov­ern boxing

National Post (National Edition) - - POST SPORTS - DAN BARNES

In hind­sight, the ques­tion is eas­ily asked and an­swered. Should Tim Hague have been al­lowed to fight Adam Braid­wood on June 16 in Ed­mon­ton? Of course not. With a record of 1-3 as a boxer, Hague was over­matched.

The 34-year-old made his bones in Mixed Martial Arts, dab­bled only re­cently in the sweet science, and took the fight on short no­tice.

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Braid­wood, a for­mer Ed­mon­ton Eskimo, was 7-1 and a le­git force in the boxing ring.

“In hind­sight, it’s easy for me to say I never would have al­lowed it be­cause the matchup isn’t there,” said Dar­ren Met­se­laar, vice-chair of the Grande Prairie Com­bat­ive Sports Com­mis­sion.

“But I know a lot of com­mis­sions would have let it go. I un­der­stand why Ed­mon­ton let it go.”

Hague was knocked down three times in the first round, knocked out at 2:08 of the sec­ond.

He col­lapsed af­ter the fight and died of a brain in­jury in an Ed­mon­ton hospi­tal two days later.

Cit­ing a pend­ing re­view led by an in­de­pen­dent third party — who has yet to be named — of­fi­cials with the Ed­mon­ton Com­bat­ive Sports Com­mis­sion (ECSC) have re­fused com­ment on the fight specifics.

All in­quiries are fielded by a City of Ed­mon­ton com­mu­ni­ca­tions spokesper­son, who says a re­view is com­ing.

Hague’s fam­ily is ea­ger to see the re­sults.

“We know that this won’t be an open and closed case of some­one pass­ing away. Tim was killed,” his sis­ter, Jackie Neil, wrote in a July 16 Face­book post.

“There are on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions, pos­si­ble crim­i­nal charges, and hope­fully some changes to be man­dated. We know that Tim’s death has shined a light where it needed to be shone.”

In re­sponse to a July 19 re­quest from Post­media for fur­ther com­ment, Neil was more re­served.

“I can say our fam­ily is left dev­as­tated from los­ing Tim,” she wrote in a Face­book mes­sage.

“Our goal is that no other fam­ily goes through this. We are await­ing the re­sults from the re­view from the City be­fore mak­ing any other pub­lic state­ments.”

The re­view will have to ad­dress Hague’s med­i­cal readi­ness for the bout.

Dur­ing MMA ac­tion in 2016, he won once, suf­fered a knock­out loss in March and a TKO loss in July.

As a boxer, he lost by TKO in De­cem­ber.

And on April 7 of this year, Hague was knocked out again just 40 sec­onds into the first round of an MMA fight in Leth­bridge. In ac­cor­dance with ECSC rules, Hague was placed un­der a 60-day med­i­cal sus­pen­sion that ex­pired June 6, 10 days be­fore his fight with Braid­wood.

A larger med­i­cal is­sue re­lates to his string of de­feats in the two sports com­bined. Af­ter be­ing knocked out in Leth­bridge, Hague had lost by KO or TKO three times in 10 months. ECSC rules state a boxer who loses three times by KO or TKO from blows to the head in a cal­en­dar

year is sub­ject to a med­i­cal sus­pen­sion of not less than one year. The rules are dif­fer­ent for an MMA fighter who loses three times by KO or TKO from blows to the head. He or she is sub­ject to a med­i­cal sus­pen­sion of not less than 90 days.

“I’ll tell you what the dif­fer­ence is,” said Met­se­laar. “In MMA, punch­ing to the head is not a pri­or­ity. Guys can get knocked out with a kick or a punch but a boxer will some­times take 200, 300 shots to the head in a sin­gle fight. And that doesn’t in­clude spar­ring. In MMA, there is strik­ing, grap­pling, so the con­cen­tra­tion isn’t on punches to the head.”

There does not ap­pear to be an ECSC pro­vi­sion for com­bin­ing records in both sports for pur­poses of de­cid­ing on a med­i­cal sus­pen­sion. How­ever, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Pat Reid did not re­spond to a Post­media re­quest for clar­i­fi­ca­tion. A City spokesper­son said in an email that “we are com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing the re­view process is ob­jec­tive and in­de­pen­dent. It would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate for us to com­ment fur­ther at this time.”

In Canada, boxing is al­lowed un­der an ex­emp­tion to a Crim­i­nal Code statute that bans prize­fight­ing.

While Boxing Canada is the reg­u­la­tory body for the am­a­teur side, there isn’t a sin­gle fed­eral au­thor­ity to reg­u­late pro­fes­sion­als. In­stead, com­bat­ive sport com­mis­sions are granted au­thor­ity un­der pro­vin­cial statute. That is, ex­cept in Al­berta, where mu­nic­i­pal com­mis­sions op­er­ate in Ed­mon­ton, Cal­gary, the Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Wood Buf­falo, Grande Prairie, Cold Lake, Lloy­d­min­ster, Leth­bridge and Medicine Hat.

De­spite re­peated calls from com­mis­sions in Ed­mon­ton and Cal­gary, from the Al­berta Ur­ban Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties As­so­ci­a­tion and, most re­cently, from may­ors in Ed­mon­ton and Red Deer, suc­ces­sive Al­berta gov­ern­ments have re­fused to cre­ate a pro­vin­cial com­mis­sion to fa­cil­i­tate stan­dard­iza­tion of rules and reg­u­la­tions.

“The rules are all dif­fer­ent. It would be the equiv­a­lent of ev­ery NHL city hav­ing dif­fer­ent rules for ic­ing and off­side,” said long­time ring­side physi­cian Shelby Karp­man, who works with the Ed­mon­ton com­mis­sion. “You can’t do that. It’s got to be con­sis­tent. That’s an is­sue in Al­berta.”

There are rules vari­a­tions across Al­berta, but the larger is­sue is con­sis­tency of de­ci­sion-mak­ing when it comes to ap­prov­ing matchups and dis­pens­ing med­i­cal sus­pen­sions.

“With a pro­vin­cial body, the best thing is con­sis­tency across the board,” said Met­se­laar. “You’d have the same rules.”

But he said the most im­por­tant fac­tor is ad­min­is­tra­tive in­tegrity.

“There are al­ways fight­ers who tell you they lost their blood work or it hasn’t come back yet, can you let it go? Those are very com­mon. It will never hap­pen on my watch. But some com­mis­sions may be more dili­gent than oth­ers.”

Most Cana­dian com­mis­sions have adopted the rules and reg­u­la­tions of the U.S.based As­so­ci­a­tion of Boxing Com­mis­sions, but adop­tion is not manda­tory and there are dis­crep­an­cies. For in­stance, Man­i­toba, Nova Sco­tia and New­found­land rec­og­nize only 12 weight classes for male box­ers, while Saskatchewan has adopted the ABC’s full com­ple­ment of 17. While Nova Sco­tia and New Brunswick re­quire two ring­side physi­cians, Man­i­toba calls for at least one and New­found­land re­quires “a med­i­cal doc­tor.”

For the first time, an ef­fort is be­ing made to har­mo­nize com­bat­ive sport rules and best prac­tices across Canada, and fa­cil­i­tate com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween ju­ris­dic­tions. The Com­mit­tee of Cana­dian Ath­letic Sport Com­mis­sions is a blend of govern­ment and com­mis­sion mem­bers, and in the case of Al­berta, a Cal­gary com­mis­sion rep.

“We have been man­dated to de­velop pan-Cana­dian min­i­mum stan­dards that each ju­ris­dic­tion

could use,” said chair Joel Fin­gard, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Man­i­toba Com­bat­ive Sport Com­mis­sion. “The idea is to look at ev­ery­thing, soup to nuts. Ob­vi­ously that is a huge un­der­tak­ing.”

The 15-mem­ber com­mit­tee has pri­or­i­tized is­sues like con­cus­sion pre­ven­tion and ef­fi­cient data­base re­port­ing, is form­ing a per­ma­nent sub­com­mit­tees to tackle ma­jor is­sues, and will bring in ex­perts for guid­ance.

For­mer fighter Mickey Mac­Don­ald has chaired the Nova Sco­tia Boxing Au­thor­ity for over a decade and took the job be­cause he wanted to im­prove con­di­tions for ath­letes.

“When I was fight­ing back in the day, when they did the med­i­cals and stuff like that, it was kind of skipped over,” said Mac­Don­ald, now 65.

“But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was you had pro­mot­ers who would kind of set you up to fail, right. I mean, I was 168 pounds. The fight­ers I was fight­ing were 196, 198 pounds. I was very for­tu­nate I didn’t take any beat­ings, but there were a lot of other fight­ers who weren’t as lucky as me. There was per­ma­nent dam­age I’ve seen caused . ... Now our med­i­cals and ev­ery­thing else are more strin­gent and our matches are scru­ti­nized by our com­mis­sion­ers to make sure they’re equal so that one guy hasn’t got 100 fights and the other guy’s got two.”

The Nova Sco­tia au­thor­ity main­tains as­so­ciate mem­ber­ship in the ABC. Though mem­ber­ship is not manda­tory, it pro­vides valu­able ac­cess to a list of box­ers on med­i­cal sus­pen­sion and to two data­bases, BoxRec and Fight Fax, that track the ring per­for­mance of all pro­fes­sional box­ers and MMA fight­ers. The sta­tis­ti­cal in­for­ma­tion should help com­mis­sion mem­bers de­cide whether to sanc­tion or refuse a fight pro­posed by a match­maker or pro­moter.

Com­mis­sions in Ed­mon­ton, Cal­gary, Grande Prairie and other Al­berta mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are as­so­ciate mem­bers of the ABC. So is the Man­i­toba com­mis­sion.

“Over the years in boxing and kick-boxing we’ve turned down many, many fights,” said Man­i­toba’s Fin­gard. “In more re­cent years we’ve turned down more fights be­cause we’ve got a lot more in­for­ma­tion avail­able to us. We look at the vari­ables, ev­ery­thing from their records to who they fought, how did they lose, how did they win, what other com­bat­ive sport back­grounds do they have, how long have they been train­ing, what type of gyms are they from, be­cause some train­ers are bet­ter than oth­ers, what are their ages, what are the weights they’ve been fight­ing at, how many missed weights have they had?”

Gain­ing pre­lim­i­nary ap­proval of a matchup is just the first phase of the process. The fight­ers still have to make weight, usu­ally within 12 to 24 hours of the bout, at an of­fi­cial weigh-in. Fight­ers who show up over­weight are given time to lose the ex­tra pounds and there are al­lowances made for small over­ages at fight time.

The goal is to elim­i­nate mis­matches. How­ever, rules have al­lowed box­ers to em­ploy se­vere de­hy­dra­tion as a weight-loss tac­tic. In ad­di­tion to the health prob­lems de­hy­dra­tion causes, quick re-hy­dra­tion af­ter the weighin con­trib­utes to mis­matches in the ring.

“In some ju­ris­dic­tions, you weigh in at 145 at 11 o’clock the day be­fore and you can weigh 165 the day of the fight,” said the ABC’s Maz­zulli, who called weight-cut­ting a “huge prob­lem.”

He said he lec­tures fight­ers on it when he can, and has added weight cat­e­gories, at five-pound in­ter­vals, to limit the need for dras­tic weight loss.

Karp­man said boxing needs leg­is­lated re­stric­tions on pre-fight weight loss.

“We need to fig­ure out what a boxer’s stan­dard weight is, or what a mixed martial arts (fighter’s) stan­dard weight is, and then leg­is­late it. Say OK, you’re al­lowed to lose two per cent of that weight in or­der to make weight.”

Man­i­toba and New­found­land have lim­ited weight loss to three per cent, but most ju­ris­dic­tions have no max­i­mum.

Given time, the com­mit­tee charged with ar­riv­ing at pan-Cana­dian min­i­mum stan­dards will is­sue rec­om­men­da­tions aimed at bol­ster­ing fighter safety. It will be left to in­di­vid­ual ju­ris­dic­tions to com­ply.

And de­spite all their best ef­forts, chances are Tim Hague’s won’t be the last boxing-re­lated death in Canada.

“I firmly be­lieve any­body who runs a com­mis­sion truly has the safety of the sport in mind,” said Met­se­laar. “When there is a tragedy like the one in Ed­mon­ton, the mi­cro­scope comes out. How did it hap­pen? How can we pre­vent it? Some­times we can’t. It just is.”

ED KAISER

Adam Braid­wood con­nects with Tim Hague’s jaw dur­ing the KO 79 boxing event at the Shaw Cen­tre in Ed­mon­ton on June 16. Hague col­lapsed in the ring and died shortly af­ter.

AM­BER BRACKEN / FILES

Ed­mon­ton MMA fighter and boxer Tim Hague, pic­tured train­ing in 2011, had suf­fered sev­eral knock­outs and tech­ni­cal knock­outs — in both sports — prior to his fa­tal fight in June.

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