New Brunswick Boxer David Whittom Dies Following Brain Injury

David Whittom (left) in his final fight with Gary Kopas. Photo courtesy of Ellen TS Photography

Boxing has sometimes been called the cruel profession. When writers like the present can stop romanticizing the fights, it can be remembered that boxing is a horrible way to make a living, even for the passionate.

David Whittom died this week, his family confirmed, following a traumatic brain injury suffered in a fight last May. He had been in an artificially induced coma ever since. His opponent at the time, Gary Kopas, said he knew the fight was over in the tenth round, but the referee did not waive off the bout. Instead, Kopas moved in and landed some more heavy blows, finally prompting the referee to call a halt to the fight.

An internal review conducted by The New Brunswick Combat Sport Commission found that there was “no gross misconduct done by any official … Our staff handled themselves in a professional manner and we did everything according to our regulations.” There was some question at the time about the referee, 285 fight veteran Hubert Earle, not stopping the fight sooner, but Earle did not do anything outwardly wrong. Whittom was alert and rather game at the time of the stoppage, and Earle stepped in as soon as he stopped defending himself.

Referee Hubert Earle (left) and David Whittom (right) at the end of his final fight, photo courtesy of Ellen TS Photography

The nature of brain injuries like the one suffered by Whittom is such that little can be said of the cause. Surely, a blow stricken during the match on May 27 caused the bleed which ultimately led to his death, but one shot does not short circuit the brain in this way. It takes a lifetime of percussion to get to this stage, and no one can say for sure when the damage had become inevitable.

The news of Whittom’s death comes just weeks after Scott Westgarth, a light heavyweight prospect from the UK, collapsed in his dressing room and later died after winning a match on February 24. Boxing can be cruel and beautiful, but it is important to keep in mind that the consequences of this sport are very real.

Whittom, survived by his girlfriend Jelena Zerdoner, has been described as loving the sport his whole life. His obituary reads, “David was a professional boxer and spent a great deal of his time in the ring. It was the greatest passion of his life.” Zerdoner told CBC, “He was always the person who was so strong, and he always showed me how to be stronger than I am.” It is worth asking if a career in the ring is worth leaving behind those who so clearly loved him.

Protect yourself at all times is the phrase last heard by every boxer before a fight starts. What is never said but understood, is that a fighter will keep going long after he is physically spent, because fighters are prideful to a fault. It falls to the referee and the trainers to recognize when a fighter can no longer suffer. Looking at Whittom’s record – he had been stopped in five of his last twelve fights – it should be asked if this fight should ever have taken place. Similar questions were raised following the death of Tim Hague last year, and it was found that the bout should not have been sanctioned given Hague’s recent history of knockout losses.

This was due to be Whittom’s retirement fight, and while he had some very wonderful moments as a boxer, they ring hollow in the face of what is left behind.

David Whittom was 39. His memorial service will be held March 26, in Fredericton at the Église Sainte-Anne-des-Pays-Bas Catholic church.

Whittom (left) VS. Kopas (right), photo courtesy of Ellen TS Photography

All photos in this article are courtesy of Ellen TS Photography.
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