Last November, boxing was struck by another tragedy. Hours after a bloody, 10-round fight against Mike Perez, heavyweight contender Magomed Abdusalamov, a married father with three daughters, underwent surgery at a New York hospital to remove a blood clot in his brain. Shortly after, he suffered a stroke. He was placed in a medically-induced coma. At various times, doctors gave him little chance to live.
Abdusalamov's life is no longer in immediate danger. He was moved to a rehab facility last month, but he is unable to walk or talk. He has a long road ahead of him.
The man who put Abdusalamov there has also dealt with the result of that night. For Perez, the Abdusalamov fight was supposed to launch him to the next level. The fight was televised by HBO and a high-profile fight for the winner loomed as the prize. Never did Perez imagine things turning out as they have, and the gut wrenching that has followed.
"I didn't think he was hurt that bad," Perez told SI.com. "He kept fighting hard. He was a warrior. I never thought he was that hurt. In every way it was a hard fight, a close fight. If he was hurt, it should have been stopped. That's not up to me. I don't know what the referee or his corner were thinking."
Said Perez's trainer, Abel Sanchez. "Those first couple of weeks after the fight were tough. He was blaming himself. It was a lot of 'How could I do this, how could I have done that to a man.' I know he was thinking that it could have been him."
Besides his own guilt, Perez was stung by the cruel commentary from fans.
"Unfortunately, there were a lot of [messages] that he was getting, Facebook messages that he was getting, blaming him for what happened," Sanchez said. "People were putting pictures of Mago on his Facebook saying, 'This is what you have done.' It wasn't fair."
As Perez moves forward with his career, Abdusalamov isn't far from his mind. At a recent press event, Perez had to step away from an interview briefly to regain his composure. He says that he asks his team members for updates on Abdusalamov every day. Perez (20-0) has dedicated his fight against Carlos Takam (29-1) on Saturday at the Bell Centre in Montreal (HBO, 10:15 pm) to Abdusalamov, and will wear his name on his trunks.
"All the people around the world who think they know everything about boxing, boxing is a very serious sport," Perez said. "People can see what happened to [Magomed], it could happen to anyone. It could happen to me. This sport is not a joke."