'I didn't want to hit him again:' Boxer regrets putting opponent in hospital

In the 10th round, Gary Kopas knew the fight was over, but the referee kept telling him to box. So he threw a few more punches. Now his opponent, New Brunswick-born boxer David Whittom, is in hospital in Saint John with a traumatic brain injury.

Gary Kopas says he questioned the referee but he also wanted to win the Fredericton fight

David Whittom, on the left in this picture, suffered a traumatic brain injury in a fight Saturday night in Fredericton. (Ellen TS Photography)

In the 10th round, Gary Kopas knew the fight was over. But the referee kept telling him to box, so he threw a few more punches.

Now his opponent, New Brunswick-born boxer David Whittom, is in hospital in Saint John with a traumatic brain injury.

Kopas said he feels bad the fight Saturday night in Fredericton didn't stop sooner.

Kopas, from Saskatoon, and Whittom, who now lives in Quebec City, were fighting at the Aitken Centre for the Canadian Professional Boxing Council cruiserweight championship.

"He really looked in trouble," Kopas said. "I was really surprised that the referee kept it going."

Early Sunday morning, Whittom was rushed to Saint John Regional Hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery to remove a portion of his skull to give his brain, which was swollen from a hemorrhage, room to heal.

He remained heavily sedated and breathing with the help of a respirator on Monday. Doctors scheduled a CT scan for Tuesday.

Kopas said he questioned the referee about keeping the fight going when he saw that Whittom was in bad shape. But he also wanted to win, so he threw a few more haymakers punches to Whittom's head —​ until the referee jumped in, he said.

"I was mad but at the same time I was obviously pumped," he said. "I wanted to win there, but at the same time, I didn't want to hit him again either."

Last fight

Whittom, a native of Saint-Quentin in New Brunswick, started boxing when he was a teenager. (David Whittom/Facebook)

Whittom, a 38-year-old native of Saint-Quentin, grew up in Fredericton and started boxing when he was a teenager. 

He started his career with wins in seven of his first nine fights and became a journeyman opponent for a number of notable fighters, including current world light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson of Montreal and Quebec-based contender Eleider Alvarez.

His overall record was 12-24-1, with eight knockouts. But he lost 18 of his last 20 bouts.

Saturday's fight was supposed to be his last, his trainer, François Duguay, told CBC News.

Whittom was in good shape

Kopas, 37, said Whittom trained hard for the fight, which he knew "meant a lot to him."

"That made me train harder because I knew he's in tip-top shape."

He added that it's always difficult to point blame in boxing when someone gets hurt.

People used to say the boxer was at fault because he decided to fight in the first place, he said.

"Obviously, everybody wants to knock their opponents out, but you want them to wake up right away and be fine," Kobas said. "Never wish no bad physical health on anybody. … It's a horrible feeling for sure."

With files from Rachel Cave