South African lightweight boxer Simiso Buthelezi is in an induced coma at King Edward VIII Hospital in Durban, South Africa, after starting to shadow box, with his back to his opponent, during a WBF All Africa title fight on the weekend.
Buthelezi was in the final minute of a 10-round bout for the WBA Africa lightweight title against Siphesihle Mntungwa on Sunday when he went on the attack, and his opponent stumbled backwards between the ropes.
Buthelezi, untouched for most of the bout, then turned his back on Mntungwa and began to shadow box towards the corner of the ring, at which point referee Elroy Marshall quickly called the fight off and called for the medics.
Buthelezi, a recent university graduate in botany and zoology, was taken to hospital, and was placed into a coma in ICU at 11 p.m. He remains in a coma, with doctors indicating a bleed on his brain as the cause of his condition.
I was at the #boxing in KZN yesterday and this is one of the strangest and saddest things I've seen in the sport. Thoughts and prayers with Simiso Buthelezi who is now in an induced coma in hospital 🙏🏿🙏🏿 @SABC_Sport #SizenzaZonke pic.twitter.com/1097yFtKmY— Tracksuit (@ThabisoMosia) June 6, 2022
Dr Buyi Mabaso-Dlamini, who was ringside during the fight, told local publication The Sowetan on Tuesday morning: "He is not in a good health condition at all; he is critical but stable.
"We discovered that he bled on the brain and sadly his condition does not allow the doctors that are treating to operate at the moment due to the condition."
The mystery is now not what caused Buthelezi's disorientation, but rather how he got the bleed in the first place. He endured no heavy blows to the head during the fight, and his trainer said afterwards that he was fine ahead of the bout.
Trainer Bheki Mngomezulu said on Monday, per News24: "There wasn't anything untoward in the fight and in training. He was leading the fight on points before the unfortunate incident occurred.
"I really can't explain what happened, to be honest. It was bewildering, but in his training and in the build-up to the fight, there was nothing untoward with regards to his condition. He was in good nick before the fight."
Ring announcer Sipho Mashego told ESPN that Buthelezi had been in full control of the fight, and that the arena was 'dumbfounded' by Buthelezi's sudden change in demeanour: "Simiso was dictating terms, he was actually controlling the fight from round one. He didn't take any punishment from his opponent.
"But this was the last round, with 14 seconds to go, and his opponent fell out of the ring. [Buthelezi] then started swinging wildly, and no-one understood what was going on. Luckily the ringside physicians were quick. It was bizarre."
Dr. Mabaso-Dlamini added that the brain injury could have been a long time coming: "Another suspicion is that he may have suffered an injury before Sunday's fight.
"It could be injuries building up all the years. His condition deteriorated when he was rushed to the hospital. But he was worse on his arrival at the hospital than when he left Greyville [the fight venue]."
Fight promoter Zandile Malinga joined the boxing community in expressing his shock at the situation, saying in The Sowetan: "As brutal as boxing can be, but this is the last thing you expect. Everything was fine; no weight issues ... basically no signs of anything to look into in that direction."
Mntungwa was awarded the win, and thus the title, when the fight was called off.