Anatomy of a combat sports tragedy: Who killed Tim Hague? – MMAjunkie.com
The first time Tim Hague went down against Adam Braidwood was a little over a minute into the first round. Backed into the corner, he took a pair of right hands and ended up kneeling on the canvas, rising to his feet as the referee’s count hit seven.
Roughly a minute after that Hague went down again. Then shortly after he took a few more hard shots and went lunging toward Braidwood’s legs – not a knockdown, according to referee Leon Koivisto, but still it prompted a brief pause in the action. As soon as it started again, Braidwood put Hague down for a third time with the first punch he threw – a jab.
That probably should have been the end of the fight. If it had been, Hague would probably be alive today.
Hague had looked out of his depth from the beginning. A veteran of more than 30 professional MMA bouts, he came into this fight just 1-2 as a boxer. With his labored, lunging punches, he never seemed to threaten the 7-1 Braidwood, who battered Hague with heavy right hands throughout the first round, before knocking him out cold with an uppercut early in the second.
Hague was clearly in bad shape as he lay on the canvas. He never recovered. As Braidwood told an interviewer for Canada-based CTV News days later, “I knew, man. I knew in the ring.”
Two days later, Hague was taken off life support, dead at 34.
This isn’t supposed to happen, even in combat sports, but we know that it can. When human beings trade head trauma for sport, the risk of a worst-case scenario becoming reality is never that far away.
According to Braidwood, Hague’s death was “nobody’s fault.” That’s true in the sense that death is a possibility that can’t be completely removed from sports like boxing and MMA.
But in this case we also see several small mistakes that piled up on top of each other. It’s hard to blame Hague’s death entirely on any one of them – certainly we’ve seen fighters live through worse, and even thrive afterward – but together they created the atmosphere that made a possible tragedy much more likely.
For starters, there’s the question of how they got in the ring together in the first place. Braidwood was 7-1 with six knockouts when he met Hague, who was 1-2 as a boxer, but 21-13 as an MMA fighter.
The damage had started to pile up late in Hague’s MMA career. He lost three of his last four MMA bouts, all by knockout. Between boxing and MMA, he was knocked out three times in 2016. And his one win as a professional boxer? It was in 2011, the same year he had his final fight with the UFC.
A fight with Braidwood wasn’t exactly unsanctionable, even if the matchup seems different now that we know the outcome. He was riding a six-fight winning streak compared with Hague’s two-fight losing skid as a boxer, but then there was also Hague’s MMA experience to consider.
Just as the Nevada State Athletic Commission can justify allowing Conor McGregor to box Floyd Mayweather based on his experience in a similar combat sport, the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission could do the same here. But a fight like that should still warrant in close look in action, just in case a marked skill discrepancy shows up right away.
Which, of course, it did. Braidwood was clearly the better boxer, a fact thoroughly established by the time he drops Hague with a jab for the third knockdown of the first round. That’s where Koivisto, the referee, could have intervened. When Hague went back to his corner after the bell, his corner had a similar chance to step in.
Nobody did. They let him go back out for the second round despite seeing little in the first to suggest that the fight would be the least bit competitive. Hague’s balance, along with his ability to defend himself, were visibly compromised. He seemed doomed to defeat. So why let him get off the stool and walk back out there?
There’s more than one answer to that question, and I suspect most of them are familiar to longtime followers of the fight game. They let him go back out there because it was his choice, because he wanted to. Because he trained so hard and this was his chance. Because it wasn’t over yet, and more shocking turnarounds have happened before. Because anything can happen in a fight, right?
They also let it continue because a certain amount of trauma and damage is to be expected. This is fighting, after all. We take some degree of imminent physical danger for granted. A willingness to take a beating every now and then is the price of entry. It’s quitting that’s a mortal sin.
Those underlying assumptions don’t mix well even a few small mistakes. A ref who regards three knockdowns in the opening round as no great cause for concern. A commission willing to greenlight a risky pairing. A corner that won’t tell their fighter when he’s had enough.
They’re all pieces of the puzzle here. It’s just that we seem to have a hard time seeing how they fit together until it’s too late.