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ESPN’s Timothy Bradley apologizes for unknowingly making light of boxer’s tragic death

Bradley was unaware of Simiso Buthelezi’s passing.

ESPN boxing commentators Joe Tessitore and Tim Bradley.
ESPN boxing commentators Joe Tessitore and Tim Bradley.
Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

Earlier this week South African boxer Simiso Buthelezi passed away at just 24 years old from a brain injury sustained in a match against Siphesihle Mntungwa. Disturbing video of the ending of his fight surfaced on social media, with a clearly disoriented Buthelezi seen going away from his opponent and towards the referee, throwing punches in the corner until the fight was stopped.

On Saturday’s Top Rank on ESPN broadcast, it was apparent that the commentary duo of Joe Tessitore and Timothy Bradley were unaware of what transpired.

In the Top Rank main event, Roamer Alexis Angulo had twice inadvertently gone to a neutral corner instead of his own corner between rounds, and on one of those occasions almost walked to opponent Edgar Berlanga’s corner. He didn’t appear to be hurt or anything, but it was noteworthy and lead announcer Tessitore made light of it. Bradley then brought up the video of what sadly proved to be the final moments of Buthelezi’s life.

“I’ve seen worse. There’s a video circulating right now where a guy actually knocked another guy out of the ring,” Bradley said. “He got back in the ring and the other guy actually started boxing a ghost in the corner.

After Tessitore laughed, Bradley finished his thought by saying “I’m serious. He was boxing somebody in the corner when the ref said ‘box.’ I’m telling you.”

By this point, many who watched the event immediately took issue with that very insensitive dialogue. Two rounds later, Bradley apologized.

“I want to take the time out right now and apologize for that last statement that I made about that guy that was actually punching someone in the corner. He actually passed away a few days ago. I had no clue that he passed away, and I just want to give my utmost apologies to his family and to his loved ones,” Bradley said.

“I was unaware of the video you were referencing,” Tessitore responded. “I know you were just telling the story, but there was the news this week that Simiso Buthelezi passed away in South Africa after a fight. Obviously our thoughts, as is always the case with this sport, are very aware of the dangers that can come from it — the risks that all fighters take. Timmy we appreciate you apologizing.”

This story made headlines across all major combat sports sites, as well as more mainstream outlets including ESPN, CNN, and the BBC. There was a moment of silence and a ceremonial 10-count for Buthelezi on the Golden Boy Boxing card on DAZN, but there was no such thing on the Top Rank card. Perhaps such a gesture could’ve spared the ESPN crew the backlash they received for not knowing the context behind that video (or in Tessitore’s case, knowing that this tragedy happened at all).