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South African boxer Simiso Buthelezi dies after unusual ending to title fight

Simiso Buthelezi has died from a brain bleed following his fight in Durban, South Africa which saw him visibly disoriented in the ring.

Simiso Buthelezi vs. Siphesihle Mntungwa for the WBF African lightweight title
Simiso Buthelezi vs. Siphesihle Mntungwa for the WBF African lightweight title

Boxing South Africa (BSA) announced that Simiso Buthelezi died Tuesday due to internal bleeding from a brain injury incurred during his WBF All Africa title bout Sunday against Siphesihle Mntungwa in Durban, South Africa.

The fight ended in bizarre fashion. After leading through ten rounds Buthelezi forced Mntungwa back to, and through, the ropes.

After the referee stepped in to restart the action, it became clear that Buthelezi—who was caught by Mntungwa coming in—was not aware of what was happening around him. The fighter can be seen turning towards the referee, adopting his fighting stance, and then advancing into an empty corner where he starts to throw punches.

The referee called the contest off after seeing this, giving the win to Mntungwa. Prior to the bout, Buthelezi was undefeated at 4-0.

Sowetan Live spoke to promoter Zandile Malinga, who revealed that Buthelezi could not be transported to the nearest hospital to the fight venue, since that hospital does not have a neurological unit.

“I am still in shock; we did not anticipate this,” he said. “As brutal as boxing can be but this is the last thing you expect. Everything was fine; no weight issues... basically no signs of anything to look into in that direction.”

Brain bleeds are an ever-present danger in combat sports and have taken the life of dozens of fighters over the past decade, including UFC veteran Tim Hague and pro MMA fighter Joao Carvalho.

Earlier this year amateur MMA fighter Christian Lubenga died of a suspected brain bleed after suffering a TKO in a fight in Massachusetts. In 2021 at least three fighters died of brain bleeds.

In September Luis Gabriel Peres died after an MMA fight in Brazil. That same month Jeanette Zacaria Zapata died after a boxing match in Montreal. In October Justin Thornton died after a bare knuckle fight in Mississippi.

Brain bleeds can occur when the brain collides with the inner side of the skull. These collisions cause tears in blood vessels, which then result in pools of blood forming between the brain and the skull. Blood does not drain from these areas, so the pool of blood continues to swell and cause pressure on the brain which often proves fatal.

Often there are no symptoms of a brain bleed immediately after it occurs. Sufferers can start to feel unwell hours after the injury has been sustained. These lucid intervals are the reason why many fighters have died from brain bleeds despite appearing fine after the fight. Some have died after giving coherent post-fight interviews or even returning home after the contest.

Brain bleeds require immediate surgical intervention. However, due to lucid intervals, many sufferers make it to hospital only after it is too late to perform the surgery.

The infrascanner is a handheld device that was designed to detect brain bleeds before any symptoms are present. The device can detect blood flow in the brain and can determine if there are any hemorrhages. The infrascanner is available for use at combat sports contests administered by the California State Athletic Commission. It is also used by a handful of NFL teams.