Buthelezi’s death was a horrific accident yet the treatment of his opponent sees the story take another grim twist, writes George Gigney
LAST WEEK, a video went viral. That, on its own, is nothing to shout about; videos go viral online all the time. The internet moves along at a frightening pace. But this particular video was of a boxing fight that took place in South Africa.
One fighter, Siphesihle Mntungwa, accidentally falls through the ropes of the ring and the referee steps in to allow him to find his feet. His opponent, Simiso Buthelezi, then becomes disoriented and turns to an unoccupied corner of the ring. He begins throwing punches at an opponent that isn’t there.
The referee rightfully stops the fight there and then as Buthelezi is clearly in some distress. This footage received millions of views across social media and while some made light of Buthelezi’s actions and sensationalised them, the boxing world crossed every finger possible that Buthelezi would be OK.
Sadly, he was not. He was hospitalised straight after the fight and tragically died shortly after. It was later confirmed that the cause of death was a bleed on the brain. He was 24.
Footage of the last actions of this man’s life were shared over and over and over again on social media. Unfortunately there’s no way of policing that, besides the platforms themselves stepping in. Buthelezi will forever be defined by an incident that will likely never be fully explained.
The same might also be true of Mntungwa. In the wake of Buthelezi’s passing, he spoke to South African newspaper Sowetan Live about how he has received swathes of abuse and threats.
It’s gotten so bad that he’s now had suicidal ideations. “When Simiso was hospitalised, I was subjected to a barrage of hatred and insults on social media sites and it has escalated now that he has passed away,” he told the paper.
“I can’t handle it any longer. There is only one thing left for me to do: kill myself.”
Since the interview was printed Mntungwa’s trainer, Mmeli Mkhize, confirmed that he is seeking professional help for the fighter. He also revealed that some of the threats against Mntungwa are so severe that he cannot even go to Buthelezi’s funeral through fear of being attacked.
It’s an awful situation. Buthelezi should never have lost his life in this way and Mntungwa will carry the pain of this with him for the rest of his days. It’s disgusting that he’s had to withstand abuse from strangers also; none of this is his fault.
As he explained to Sowetan Live, he wasn’t intending to hurt Buthelezi in there. He was just trying to win, to improve the lives of him and his family. Hopefully he gets the help he needs and this tragedy doesn’t claim another life.
BN contributor Craig Scott wrote an excellent piece for Boxing Social, looking at what happened in the fight and the aftermath of it. He spoke to South African trainer and manager Colin Nathan, who was providing colour commentary on the fight.
Nathan has clearly been deeply affected by what he saw, but he also highlighted how there were no real warning signs.
“I never saw him [Buthelezi] taking any major head trauma. He got caught here and there, but there were never signs of being buzzed, legs buckling, him not having his faculties or anything like that. Major fatigue had set in – that’s only normal when you’re setting a hard pace in a fight. In terms of physical issues and coordination, shape of his punches, then no. The only thing I could see was fatigue setting in, but it was for Mntungwa, as well,” he said.
Nathan also posited the notion that perhaps something had happened to Buthelezi in the lead-up to the fight during training. He also noted how, if that were the case, it would be extremely unlikely for someone who knew to now come forward and admit that.
Regular testing and health checks are needed to ensure fighters are in a fit state to compete. Relying on the word of boxers and their teams is not enough. These are systemic issues and policies that vary across the world, despite the inherent danger of this sport.
In his piece, Scott also touched on this subject. He spoke to Isaac Chilemba, a Malawi fighter who regularly boxed in South Africa during the early years of his career, about the health and safety provisions for boxing within the country.
The picture he paints is not an encouraging one, with brain scans and ECGs apparently not happening regularly and South African fighters only needing to undergo blood tests once a year.
However it is worth noting that Chilemba hasn’t fought in South African since 2011 and that Boxing South Africa has not formally commented on what safety procedures are currently in place.
Scott also reflects on how incidents like this affect fans and followers of the sport. They cause us to question why we invest so much time and energy into it and how we can justify our passion for it.
He also highlights an issue that was thrown into stark contrast this past week. As mentioned, the video of Buthelezi punching the air was shared far and wide. A question that Scott asks himself, as others should, is why?
Why share such a distressing video? One that includes images that will never leave the minds of Mntungwa, the referee, everyone at ringside and most importantly Buthelezi’s family.
Of course, this happens with any sort of tragedy that’s caught on film and shared online. Whether it’s morbid fascination or clout chasing, people share, retweet, like, comment and all sorts on videos like this one. It’s a problem with people in general rather than just boxing.
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JOSHUA SIGNS WITH DAZN
ANTHONY JOSHUA has, as expected, signed a long-term deal with DAZN after his previous contract with Sky Sports came to an end last year. Though DAZN were working with Joshua already, Sky Sports were the heavyweight’s exclusive UK broadcaster. That relationship, which began when Joshua turned professional, is now over. It follows Joshua’s decision to change his training team, with Robert McCracken being replaced by Robert Garcia.
Boxing News understands that the heavyweight will remain with DAZN for the rest of his career. The new deal will begin with Joshua’s rematch with Oleksandr Usyk, who clearly outpointed “AJ” in September, in the controversial setting of Saudi Arabia. It is believed that those in Saudi will have the final say on the date, with August 6, August 13 and August 20 all in play.
“I am entering a new phase in my career with a new training environment, new coaches and now a new broadcaster. Negotiations at this level take time so I am pleased to have it all wrapped up and now I can fully focus on giving the fans and DAZN what they want, knockouts in the glamour division.
“I’ve been working with DAZN and following its progress for a long time. We have enjoyed a really successful partnership in the US for many years and I know the team and understand the passion and drive of the business.”
Meanwhile, former Joshua opponent Joseph Parker has signed a multi-fight deal with Sky Sports.