As an Edmonton elementary school mourned the loss of a beloved teacher on Monday, Tim Hague's death from injuries suffered during a boxing match sparked calls for stricter licensing requirements and better protection for fighters in the ring.
Hague, 34, was injured in a second-round technical knockout loss to Adam Braidwood in a heavyweight bout on Friday night.
He was taken to hospital after the one-sided loss. His friends reported on social media that he underwent surgery to relieve bleeding on the brain. His death was announced Sunday by his sister Jackie Neil.
Hague, a former kindergarten teacher whose nickname was The Thrashing Machine, taught Grade 4 English at Ecole Bellevue School.
"It is with deep sorrow that we must inform our Black Gold family that Mr. Tim Hague, a beloved teacher and staff member at Ecole Bellevue School, has passed away," the school said in a statement. "This is a tragedy for everyone — his family, his friends and the school community that he was such an important part of.
"Supports have been put in place to help the school family during this difficult time. We encourage everyone to remember the wonderful qualities Tim possessed and to respect the family and school's need for privacy during this time."
Hague's death came less than a month after boxer David Whittom went into a coma with bleeding on the brain after a knockout loss in Fredericton, N.B. The two cases have raised calls for improvements in rules to ensure the safety of fighters in boxing and mixed martial arts.
Hague (1-3 as a boxer, 21-13 in MMA), a heavy underdog who accepted the fight on only two weeks notice, was knocked down three times, while another trip to the canvas was ruled a slip, in the first round against Braidwood, a former CFL player with an 8-1 record. Referee Len Koivisto stopped the bout after two more knockdowns in the second round.
The Edmonton Combative Sports Commission, which regulates professional combative sports events in the city, issued a statement that it and the City of Edmonton are "conducting a comprehensive review of the incident."
"There are many people and organizations involved in putting on these complex events including promoters, referees, ringside judges, physicians, chief inspector, paymaster and the presiding inspectors assigned to the fight. We have mobilized quickly and are working together to review the circumstances surrounding this incident and will determine the next steps following the evaluation of the information."
The city said such a review is standard.
"We do our internal reviews after every fight," Rob Smyth, deputy city manager for citizen services, told a news conference Monday. "There's sometimes lessons learned there in terms of how that particular fight evolved and changed, and we'll fine-tune our practices."
But in this case, Smyth said the city wants to take it a step further and get a third party to conduct an independent, separate review.
"Our thinking ... is that the review will have to get input information from all of the different individuals who were part of organizing the event."
He said the details — including who would conduct it, and when it would be done — haven't been decided yet.
Braidwood's camp declined to comment on Hague's death.
Veteran boxing trainer Stephan Larouche said fighters often have to be protected from themselves because they won't stop even if they are losing badly, and they want to continue their careers even if they've lost a few bouts in a row.
"A fighter always believes he's OK," said Larouche, who took Lucian Bute, Eric Lucas and other boxers to world titles. "They believe that if they stop for a year or whatever that they're OK, but the punches they took remain."
When he was fighting for UFC, Hague once said: "You can turn my face into mashed potatoes and I'll keep going.''
Whittom, who had not fought for more than a year and had lost 18 of his previous 20 fights before he was injured against Gary Kopas of Saskatoon, would not have been allowed to fight in Quebec, Ontario or many other jurisdictions in North America, Larouche said.
He said fight commissions need to be co-ordinated across Canada so that suspensions and medical records are upheld in all provinces and cities. Individual cities have their own commissions in Alberta, while provincial commissions govern the sport in other provinces.
"If all the provinces followed what we do, it could save lives," he said.
He also said referees and judges should be tested every five years or so to keep their licenses.
Former World Boxing Organization middleweight champion Otis Grant of Montreal said boxing commissions need strict rules in place that would bar fighters who have suffered a run of knockouts from getting back in the ring.
"Sometimes you've got to save the boxer from himself," said Grant, adding that boxing commissions have a duty to "do a little research into who fights in their jurisdiction and if they see a guy has two or (knockout) losses in a row, then refuse him."
A heavyweight trained in jiu-jitsu, Hague put his teaching career on hold to make his pro MMA debut in 2006.
His first UFC fight came in May 2009 at UFC 98 — a submission win over Pat Barry in the first round. He competed on three more UFC cards by May 2010, dropping all three bouts. His last UFC event was a Fight Night show in January 2011 and his final pro MMA fight was in July 2016. He compiled a 21-13 MMA record before switching to boxing.
He had been knocked out in his previous boxing match in December.
Boxing deaths are rare in Canada. The most notable was Cleveland Denny, who died 16 days after being knocked out by Gaetan Hart on the undercard of the Brawl In Montreal between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran in 1980.
A family member of Hague's has started a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money for funeral expenses.
-- with files from CHED