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Review of Tim Hague’s death finds Edmonton Commission failed to follow policies

MNP LLP have published their long awaited report regarding the death of the former UFC heavyweight Tim Hague; who died in a boxing match in Edmonton, Alberta.

UFC 98: Evans v Machida Photo by Al Bello/Zuffa, LLC via Getty Images

On December 11th, 2017, accounting firm Meyers Norris Penny (MNP) LLP completed their Combative Sports Review Report for the City of Edmonton. The review, which was released in two volumes, was prompted by the death of former UFC heavyweight Tim Hague.

Hague died on June 18th, 2017 after suffering traumatic brain injuries in a fight with Adam Braidwood at KO Boxing’s KO 79 at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He was 34 years old.

Since Hague’s death both the MMA media (see Mike Russell) and mainstream media (such as CTV News Edmonton) have questioned the actions of the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission (ECSC) and its then director Pat Reid.

Much of the criticism of the ECSC and Reid has been over whether or not Hague should have been licensed to box last June, having suffered a number of KO and TKO losses in MMA, boxing, and ‘super-boxing’ in 2016 and 2017.

The ECSC’s own policy regarding the eligibility of fighters states that an individual should be suspended for a year if they suffer three knockouts or technical knockouts, from blows to the head, in a one year period.

Volume 1 of the MNP report claims that ECSC policies regarding suspensions “were not followed” at the event in which Hague sustained his fatal injuries. That volume’s Key Findings are as follows:

Based on our review of ECSC Policies and the policies of other combative sports commissions related to fighter safety, we concluded that ECSC Policies are generally aligned with practices from other organizations for combative sports events. However, it does appear that certain ECSC Policies were not followed for the June Event. MNP was advised by the Executive Director and ECSC officials that minimum medical suspensions for single bout injuries are based on medical opinions of the ringside physicians rather than ECSC Policy. As a result, it is possible for a contestant to receive a suspension that does not meet ECSC minimum suspensions requirements per its Policies

In addition, the Chief Medical Officer, weigh-in physician and ringside physician are not provided with a fighters’ fight and medical suspension history when they review the results of medical tests submitted by the fighter and/or examine a fighter at the weigh-in or after a bout. As a result, the assessment of whether a fighter has sustained two (2) or three (3) knockouts or technical knockouts due to head blows within a prescribed time period and the imposition of extended medical suspensions does not appear to be occurring following a bout.

ECSC Policies differentiate between minimum medical suspensions required based on the type of combative sport engaged in; for example, there are different suspensions applied for boxing versus Mixed Martial Arts (“MMA”). This appears to have resulted in some uncertainty as to which medical suspensions are applied when a fighter participates in both boxing and MMA events. Uncertainty also appears to exist on how to apply ECSC’s Policy on a fighter’s participation in an unsanctioned event, given that the Policy does not provide guidance as to how to determine whether an event in a jurisdiction outside of Canada is sanctioned.

It appears that ECSC Policies on licensing and permitting or promoters and contestants may not be consistently followed.

Volume 1 also included a diagram of Hague’s most recent fight and medical suspension history, spanning from June 2016 to June 2017.

MNP LLP

The diagram relays the fact that Hague suffered three KO/TKO losses due to blows to the head within a one year period prior to fighting Braidwood on June 16th, 2017. The diagram indicates actual medical suspensions Hague served (in blue), including a suspension which was not implemented, but could have been; based on ECSC policy. The potential suspension is shown in white, after Hague’s MMA fight in Russia in July, 2016. Had that suspension been enforced, Hague would not have been able to compete in a boxing match in September, 2016.

In a second diagram, MNP shows all the potential suspensions that could have been levied against Hague (based on ECSC policy) given his fight history. In addition to the 90 day suspension after the MMA fight in Russia, there are possible 60 and 180 day suspensions after Hague’s KO loss in an Edmonton boxing match in December, 2016.

MNP LLP

Not included in this diagram from MNP is a potential suspension of 365 days – which is mandated by the ECSC after a fighter suffers 3 KO/TKOs from head blows in one year. The reason MNP gave for not showing this suspension being potentially enforced is that the first of those three KO/TKOs occurred in MMA, with the remainder happening in boxing and super-boxing (boxing with MMA style gloves).

In doing so, MNP acknowledges that ECSC’s policies are unclear when it comes to whether KO/TKOs suffered across different sports are considered as cumulative when deciding the length of medical suspensions.

In the review’s Key Recommendations section, MNP suggests that the differences in sports should be ignored when calculating suspension lengths based on blows to the head. Other Key Recommendations include:

...fighters officially acknowledge, through a formal pre-fight sign-off, that the fight and medical suspension histories that were previously provided to the Executive Director and officials are up-to-date and accurate.

ECSC should also require its ringside physicians to suspend all contestants who sustain head injuries, in either a winning or losing effort, indefinitely.

Contestants should not be cleared to fight until they have provided the Executive Director or Chief Medical Officer with medical evidence that they have not sustained brain trauma due to repetitive head blows.

The report also recommends that the ECSC conduct “more stringent practices” when licensing matchmakers, providing training to officials, and clearly defining the required qualifications of officials. And that the commission establish an anonymous tip line for concerns about fighters’ fitness leading up to fights.

Added to that are suggestions that medical personnel be provided fighters’ fight/suspension history along with their recent medical records before deciding if they are fit to compete.

The MNP report will go before Edmonton city council on January 17th. The city will then decide what action, if any, they wish to take based on the review’s key findings and recommendations.

Prior to the review becoming available Tim Hague’s family retained the services of Assiff Law, for possible legal action against the city of Edmonton and/or the ECSC. Norm Assiff, speaking on behalf of the family, told CTV News Edmonton that, “From our preliminary investigations, the evidence is pretty clear that this is indeed the case – this fight never should have taken place.”

At this time of writing, no legal action has been taken against the city of Edmonton in relation to the death of Tim Hague.

Note: The entire MNP review can be read here: Volume 1, Volume 2.