South African Boxer Dies Days After Fighting Phantom Opponent In Ring | The Tragic Cost Of Combat

Screen Shot from boxing video

You cannot play boxing, and whenever the world tragically is reminded of this, it reminds us that these athletes are warriors with their lives on the line for sports entertainment.

In South Africa, lightweight boxer Simiso Buthelezi (4-1) died on Tuesday after being disoriented during a WBF All-Africa lightweight title fight in Durban.

The fighter was reportedly a recent university graduate who studied zoology and botany.

Phantom Opponent

On Sunday, the 24-year-old faced Siphesihle Mntungwa and was winning the fight. But in the 10th and final round Buthelezi suddenly turned away from his opponent and began swinging at a phantom opponent.

Ironically, he had knocked Mntungwa down just seconds earlier and was cruising towards a decision victory. After he took a stiff jab while knocking down his opponent, the strange behavior began once the referee entered Buthelezi’s line of sight.

The referee waved off the bout due to Buthelezi’s non-responsive behavior.

Tragedy Strikes

Unfortunately, once Buthelezi was taken to the hospital he fell into a coma. Although the boxer was reportedly relatively “untouched” for most of the fight, doctors indicated that he had a “bleed on his brain.” It explained Buthelezi’s confusion even though the cause of the bleed was not readily known.

Doctors in South Africa reportedly have “another suspicion that Buthelezi may have suffered an injury before Sunday’s fight,” Dr. Buyi Mabaso-Dlamini said to ESPN.

Buthelezi, unfortunately, lost the fight for his life, as announced by a joint statement from his family and Boxing South Africa.

Rest In Power

“It is with great sadness for Boxing South Africa and the Buthelezi family to announce the passing away of Mr. Simiso Buthelezi who passed away last night the 7th June 2022 at hospital in Durban.

“Boxing South Africa will conduct an independent medical review of the injury and will then make public the results of that medical review.

“The Buthelezi family and Boxing South Africa acknowledges warm words of condolences of the Minister of Sport, Arts, and Culture. The Buthelezi family and Boxing South Africa will, in due course, make announcement on funeral arrangements.

“Boxing South Africa and the Buthelezi family wishes to request members of the public and the media to give them space while mourning the passing away of this great boxer who was exemplary both outside and inside the ring.”

The Tragic Case of Patrick Day

Boxing has seen similar fatalities from in-ring combat. In the U.S., the most notable recent case is that of Patrick Day, who died four days later after being knocked out.

Day suffered a knockout during his 2019 bout against Charles Conwell after succumbing to a traumatic brain injury on fight night, said a statement from his promoter, Lou DiBella of DiBella Entertainment.

Day was a highly decorated amateur who won two Nationals titles in 2012, the coveted New York Golden Gloves tournament, and became an Olympic team alternate.

A Curious Case

However, Day was losing the fight against Conwell, a 2016 Olympian who knocked Day out in the 10th round.

In contrast, Buthelezi was in control of the fight and knocked his opponent down.

It is not known whether the damage occurred in training throughout his short career or the minor damage he took in the fight caused the outcome, but the world has lost another brave athlete to the dangers of the squared circle.

Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhettย hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.