Time to ask tough questions
Death came amid push for body to govern boxing
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.”
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.
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.