On November 2nd, 2013, Dagestani heavyweight boxer Magomed Abdusalamov lost a brutal, punishing unanimous decision to Mike Perez on an HBO-televised co-feature. The effects of the beating were noticeable during the fight, and it nearly cost him his life. Doctors at Manhattan’s Roosevelt Hospital discovered a small blood clot in his brain. Abdusalamov was placed in a medically induced coma, but then suffered a stroke. While Abdusalamov survived, the severe brain injuries he suffered have not only ended his boxing career, but rendered him partially paralyzed and otherwise unable to properly speak or care for himself. Mounting medical bills left Magomed and his family more than $2 million in debt and last year they were in danger of losing their home.
The New York State Athletic Commission’s handling of Abdusalamov’s medical crisis has been under heavy scrutiny, with Magomed’s family filing a lawsuit against the NYSAC in 2014. Earlier this week, New York Office of the Inspector General released a 48-page investigative report that highlights not just the complete mishandling of Abdusalamov’s bout, but widespread corruption, conflicts of interest, ethical violations, incompetence, and numerous other improprieties.
For the purpose of this article, we’re going to emphasize Catherine Leahy Scott’s major findings from the night of November 2nd, which are undoubtedly damning of the athletic commission’s systemic failure to protect its athletes. Below is an excerpt of the report from the document itself.
The investigation revealed that Abdusalamov left the arena after the bout on his own accord at approximately 11:50 p.m. Just outside the arena, however, Abdusalamov vomited. When Abdusalamov became ill, his manager found Abdusalamov’s promoter and together they informed Athletic Commission Chair Melvina Lathan that Abdusalamov needed to be taken to a hospital. Lathan directed them to Chief Medical Officer Barry Jordan. In sworn testimony
before the Inspector General, Jordan stated that no one impressed upon him that it was an emergency, and he believed Abdusalamov was going to the hospital to have his facial injuries examined. Jordan testified that he advised them to take Abdusalamov to Roosevelt Hospital.
Although there were ambulances at Madison Square Garden available to transport Abdusalamov to the hospital at that time, the Inspector General found that the Athletic Commission lacked a formal tactical emergency plan. Consequently, Athletic Commission staff, the boxers, and their teams were unaware of what steps to take in the event of an emergency after a post-bout examination and in the absence of a physician.
As a result, Abdusalamov’s team lacked any knowledge of the availability of ambulances outside the arena. Instead, Abdusalamov travelled by taxi cab to Roosevelt Hospital. Abdusalamov arrived at the hospital within approximately 15 minutes of leaving Madison Square Garden.
The report found that NYSAC inspector Matthew Farrago, who was assigned to Abdusalamov, “failed to alert
a physician, and instead directed Abdusalamov to find a taxi to take him to a hospital of the driver’s choosing.”
Doctors Gerard Varlotta and Anthony Curreri performed the post-fight medicals for Abdusalamov, which included the post-fight King-Devick concussion test, as well as testing his balance by having him stand and sit. Magomed was listed as having suffered a facial laceration and a possible nasal/cheekbone fracture, but there were no findings of even potential neurological damage.
Curreri recalled that, after the suturing, Varlotta remained in the locker room to conduct further medical examination of Abdusalamov. According to Curreri, he told Varlotta, in substance, that Abdusalamov “may have a nasal fracture, and there’s always the possibility of the zygoma [cheekbone fracture] because of the swelling, which we cannot assess, and that [he] would recommend imaging study.” Curreri explained that, because the case involved bony structures, “imaging study” meant a CAT scan. Curreri testified that he asked if Varlotta could complete any remaining tasks, and Varlotta responded, “I got him” or “I got it.” Curreri then departed the locker room.
Varlotta’s account as to who left the locker room first was slightly different. According to Varlotta, he left Abdusalamov’s room following his examination and Curreri sutured his laceration. Varlotta told investigators that he returned briefly to provide Curreri with surgical tools, but did not perform an additional examination of Abdusalamov. Varlotta recalled that, after completing his examination of Perez, he “did look in” on Abdusalamov. An “older gentleman,” told him Abdusalamov was “fine and there’s no problems, and he’s in the bathroom.”
Curreri testified that he proceeded to ringside and completed an Athletic Commission “Accident Report” there. 18 As the “Description of Injury,” Curreri wrote, “Laceration[.]” Under the section “Recommendations[,]” he wrote, “possible nasal/zygoma [cheekbone] f/x [fracture].” For “Final Disposition of Case[,]” he wrote, “To Hospital[.]”
Dr. Barry Jordan, NYSAC’s Chief Medical Officer, interpreted “to hospital” as needing to have the nose checked out, but otherwise did not deem it as a medical emergency requiring immediate hospitalization and that “[t]here was nothing here to suggest that there was anything neurological going on.” In Jordan’s testimony, he said that “if, by ‘To Hospital,’ Curreri had meant that Abdusalamov needed to go to the hospital in an ambulance, ‘he would have been put in the ambulance.'”
Curreri’s testimony claims that Magomed said that he did not experience any head pain, but that he gestured that his face hurt. He also testified that when one of Magomed’s team asked Abdusalamov in Russian if he had any headaches, the same response was given. However, Magomed’s brother (Abdusalam) and his trainer (John David Jackson) had presented different stories in their testimonies, stating that Magomed had complained about head pain in the locker room and needed immediate hospitalization.
The Inspector General described the NYSAC’s staff as “inadequately trained to appropriately address medical issues,” and that a proper training program should be developed. She also recommended “that the Athletic Commission develop standard pre-fight and post-fight physical and neurological examinations.” Scott also faulted the commission for failing “to establish a centralized point for emergency communications or to issue communication devices or emergency directives to its staff, as well as the boxers and their teams.”
NYSAC chairman Thomas Hoover resigned from his position following the report, which implicated him for “friends and relatives to obtain ‘credentials’ allowing them to attend boxing matches free of charge.” He also attempted to appoint his otherwise unqualified friend to be licensed as a boxing judge, with an application that “included a handwritten cover note from Mr. Hoover.” During the investigation, Hoover’s predecessor Melvina Lathan resigned last year. Lathan testified to the Inspector General that she’d received improper gifts from promoters, including “eight bottles of red wine” near Christmas 2013, and also admitted that she’d received jewelry from a promoter in 2011.
The NYSAC will soon be in charge of regulating professional MMA, including UFC 205 in Manhattan on November 12th. This is merely another chapter in the much-maligned history of the NYSAC’s regulatory practices (or lack thereof).
About the author