'Not just a fighter': Edmonton MMA community remembers 'gentle giant' dead after boxing match

Alberta's mixed martial arts community is reeling after the death of Tim Hague who suffered a fatal brain injury during a boxing match in Edmonton.

'We lost such an amazing person. I'm just heartbroken. A piece of me is gone'

Tim Hague, 34, had a nine-year-old son. (GoFundMe)

Alberta's mixed martial arts community has been shaken by the death of Tim Hague, who suffered a fatal brain injury during a boxing match in Edmonton. 

The former UFC heavyweight was left in critical condition after being knocked out Friday by former Edmonton Eskimos defensive end Adam Braidwood at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton. He died Sunday.

Jordan Bittner was in Hague's corner that night. The two trained together and Bittner said Hague, 34, was like a brother to him.

Hague, who fought out of Edmonton, also fought in the UFC. His nickname was "The Thrashing Machine."

"I just hope that people remember him for the person he was, not just a fighter," Bittner said.
"It's a big part of my heart that's gone," Jordan Bittner (left) said about his best friend, Tim Hague (right). (Jordan Bittner)

When Hague hit the mat, Bittner said he didn't realize how serious his friend's injuries were. 

Video of the fight shows Hague being knocked down several times before the bout was stopped for good in the second round.

Hague was taken to hospital in critical condition.

"I figured it would be an overnight stay and we'd be having lunch the next day," Bittner said.

"It's a big part of my heart that's gone," he added. "We lost such an amazing person. I'm just heartbroken. A piece of me is gone."

Tim Hague, who died after a boxing match Friday, was a Grade 4 English teacher in Beaumont. (Supplied/Jordan Bittner)

The Edmonton Combative Sports Commission, which regulates professional combative sporting events in the city, will be conducting a full investigation.

The city says it will conduct a third-party review, Rob Smyth, deputy city manager of citizen services, said at a news conference Monday afternoon.

"With this major incident, we want to go to a third party to do the review," he said.

The city hopes to learn whether existing policies go far enough to ensure fights are as safe as possible, or if there are ways to make them safer, Smyth said. 

Hague had a nine-year-old son who wasn't at Friday's match. Bittner said the two shared a close bond.

"Tim was the best dad in the world," he said. "I'm going to do whatever I have to do to try and fill Tim's shoes, but I'll never be able to."

Hague, who grew up on a farm in Boyle, Alta., was a heavyweight trained in jiu-jitsu. He was 21-13 as an MMA
fighter before switching to boxing last summer.

A former kindergarten teacher, Hague taught Grade 4 English at École Bellevue School in Beaumont, Alta.

His students loved and looked up to him, the school's principal Jennifer El-Khatib told CBC News.

'A massive heart'

An online fundraiser for Hague's family nearly doubled its $5,000 goal within an hour of being posted Sunday.

"We got him covered," said Victor Valimaki, who trained alongside Hague for nearly a decade.

"Anything we can do to help him, we will do," he said.

Valimaki sat in the change room with Hague minutes before the fight. Though Hague had suffered concussions in the past, Valimaki said he was alert and focused on his match.

"He was motivated," Valimaki said. "He begged the promoters for this fight, he wanted it."

Hague agreed to the fight on short notice when he learned Braidwood didn't have an opponent.

Victor Valimaki, left, trained alongside Tim Hague, right, for nearly a decade. (Victor Valimaki)

The outcome left local fighters reeling, Valimaki said.

"Now that it's hit home, and it's someone so close to us, it definitely becomes more real," he said. 

"I've talked to quite a few fighters since [Friday] and a lot of them are considering retirement now."

Valimaki said he's struggling to accept his friend's death, but added he wants to hold on to positive memories.

"He was so soft-spoken — he's that gentle giant," he said about Hague.

"He's got a massive heart, and I think that's what people are going to remember about him."