Edmonton

A fatal uppercut: The tragic death of Tim Hague

MMA fighter Tim Hague died in the summer of 2017 after a knockout during a boxing match in Edmonton.

The match that cost Hague his life raises questions about combative sports regulation

Tim Hague is shown at a 2009 UFC weigh-in. He died as a result of injuries from a boxing match June 16, 2017, in Edmonton. (Neil Davidson/Canadian Press)

MMA fighter Tim Hague died in the summer of 2017 after a knockout during a boxing match in Edmonton.

With his family expected to host a news conference today, we take a look back at the controversy surrounding the tragedy, and the chain of events leading up to it that continue to reverberate across the combative sports community.

Teacher, fighter, family man

More than a fighter, Hague was a beloved school teacher with a reputation as passionate educator and devoted family man. 

"He was so soft-spoken, he's that gentle giant," Victor Valimaki said shortly after his friend's death.

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

Hague grew up on a farm in Boyle, Alta., and made his pro mixed martial arts debut in 2006 after putting his teaching career on hold.

Fighting under the nickname The Thrashing Machine, he compiled a 21-13 record before switching to boxing after his final pro MMA fight in July 2016.

He spent 10 years in UFC and other mixed martial arts circuits before he was cut from the UFC roster in 2011.

After his release, he wrote on Facebook that he needed time to heal from a concussion.

A last-minute chance to fight in Edmonton seemed like a big moment for the underdog heavyweight.

It would prove to be his final match.

What happened on fight night?

Hague suffered a brain hemorrhage on June 16, 2017, after he was knocked out by Adam Braidwood during a boxing match at Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre.

Hague, who was 1-2 as a boxer, took the fight on short notice. He was knocked down four times by the former Edmonton Eskimos defensive end.

A left uppercut in the second round put Hague on the canvas. After the knockout, he managed to walk to his dressing room, then lapsed into a coma.

He was taken off life support two days later. He was 34.

"Tim was a warrior, and fought to stay alive," his obituary said. "His injuries proved to be too severe, however, and Tim never regained consciousness."

According to a lawsuit filed by Hague's family, an autopsy determined Hague suffered from "mild, early stage" chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease often found in athletes and military veterans with histories of repetitive brain trauma.

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

What went wrong?

Almost two years later, the circumstances of Hague's final moments in the ring continue to raise questions about the regulations that govern boxing in Alberta, and whether changes are needed.

Critics have questioned whether match officials should have intervened sooner. Some suggested Hague should not have been fighting in the first place.

Before the Braidwood bout, Hague had fought only three boxing matches. He lost two, and in early April 2017 lost by technical knockout.

Experts questioned why he wasn't under an extended medical suspension. Such restrictions are routine after a fighter suffers multiple concussions.

A 60-day suspension following his latest knockout had expired just 10 days before the fight with Braidwood. 

Did Hague's death change combative sports? 

News of Hague's death had a ripple effect on the regulations that sanction combative sports in Edmonton.

His death came less than a month after boxer David Whittom slipped into a coma with bleeding on the brain after a knockout loss in Fredericton, N.B.

The two cases raised calls for improvements in rules to ensure the safety of fighters in boxing and mixed martial arts.

The Hague-Braidwood match prompted a three-month ban on combative sports in Edmonton. A third-party report, commissioned by the city and released later that year, found several policies had not been followed during the fight.

The report, which didn't make findings of fault or legal responsibility, called for tougher rules around medical suspensions for all fighters who sustain head injuries. It recommended a provincial commission be set up to oversee combative sports.

Alberta is the only province that puts combative sports commissions under municipal jurisdiction. Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson has lobbied the province to create a single governing body.

What's next?

On Monday, the Hague family will hold a news conference to make an announcement about his death. 

The family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit seeking more than $5 million in damages for what they claim was gross negligence causing death.

The city, the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission, Shaw Conference Centre management and a handful of regulatory officials, referees and physicians are named in a statement of claim.

The lawsuit claims Hague should never have stepped into the ring that night and that the people responsible for his safety failed to protect him — neglecting his medical history and failing to provide adequate care in the moments following the knockout.

No statements of defence have been filed.

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

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