Fallen Warriors: Remembering Maxim Dadashev, Hugo Santillan, Patrick Day and Boris Stanchov
Many of us make a fresh start at new year, but it’s important to remember our fallen warriors. In 2019, there were four ring fatalities that cast a huge shadow over the sport. Four young men passed away doing what they loved, and the world of boxing was left shattered.
On July 19, Subriel Matias stopped Maxim Dadashev in the 11th round of their IBF junior welterweight title eliminator. Following the bout, a ringside physician diagnosed the Russian fighter as being severely concussed and dehydrated. Dadashev was initially alert and responsive in the ambulance but lost consciousness en route to the nearby UM Prince George’s Hospital. On arrival at the facility, he received surgery to reduce pressure on his brain.
Matias, who was celebrating at the time, suddenly realised that his career-best victory had come at a huge price.
“When I checked my phone, I realized that things were getting bad for Dadashev, and my team and I began praying for him and his family.” Matias told The Ring through Fernando Gaztambide.
Tragically, Dadashev succumbed to a subdural hematoma four days after the fight. He was 28.
Matias’ promoter, Juan Ivan Orengo, was tasked with delivering the heartbreaking news to his fighter.
“We came to Matias house to be with him and calm him,” said Orengo. “He was stressed out, but we calmed him down and talked to him about life and the sport. This is a sport and tragic events can happen in any fight when least expected.”
Matias has yet to speak to Dadashev’s family but admits that he’s struggling and had some words of respect for his former opponent.
“I told my team that I didn’t deserve my paycheck,” he said. “I thought I did something wrong, but they explained me that I didn’t do anything illegal; no illegal blows.
“I want to express my pain. I did not have the honor of meeting him, but what I am sure of is that he was a great person. Fly high great warrior. Only God knows the reason for things, you will always have my respect.”
Matias returned to the ring for the first time on November 30 and scored a fifth-round stoppage of Jonathan Eniz. He hopes to honor his former opponent by winning a world title.
Just two days after Dadashev’s passing, Hugo Santillan fought to a draw against Eduardo Javier Abreu in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Santillan lost consciousness after the scores were announced and was rushed to Hospital Agudos San Felipe, where he was treated for brain swelling and kidney failure. The swelling gradually worsened, which effected the fighter’s other organs, and he had surgery to remove a blood clot. He never regained consciousness and passed away on July 25 at the age of 23.
The previous month, Santillan had lost a wide points decision to Artem Harutyunyan in Germany and was banned from fighting in that country until July 30. Despite warnings from his coach, who refused to be involved in the Abreu fight, the Argentinian warrior decided to compete and paid the ultimate price.
On September 21, Boris Stanchov traveled to Albania and was stopped in five rounds by Ardit Murja. The Bulgarian journeyman had fought using his cousin’s boxing license and that decision tragically cost him his life. He died just hours after the bout at age 21.
Less than a month later, on October 12, Charles Conwell, a 2016 U.S Olympian, knocked out Patrick Day in the 10th round of a junior middleweight title fight.
Day exited the ring on a stretcher and was admitted to the Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He underwent emergency brain surgery but never recovered, passing away on October 16. He was 27.
An inconsolable Conwell took to social media and expressed his sorrow.
“I never meant this to happen to you, all I wanted to do was win,” said the 22-year-old. “If I could take it all back, I would. No-one deserves this to happen to them.
“I replay the fight over and over in my head, thinking what if this never happened and why did it happen to you. I can’t stop thinking about it myself. I prayed for you so many times and shed so many tears because I couldn’t even imagine how my family and friends would feel.
“I see you everywhere, and all I hear is wonderful things about you. I thought about quitting boxing, but I know that’s not what you would want. I know that you were a fighter at heart, so I decided not to. (I will) win a world title because that’s what you wanted and that’s what I want. I will use you as motivation every day and make sure I leave it all in the ring every time.”
Former unified junior lightweight titleholder and Hall of Famer Brian Mitchell can relate to these tragedies.
On March 2, 1984 the legendary South African defeated Jacob Morake for the third time in as many fights, flooring his countryman en route to a 12-round unanimous decision. Morake, 30, died from injuries sustained in the bout the following day.
“I knocked him down in the 12th round and he passed away in the early hours of the morning – it was tragic,” recalled Mitchell.
“In boxing, you’re there to knock the guy out, you’re not there to hurt anybody [permanently], it’s still a sport. It was a tough time in my life. I was thinking about retiring and I took it very hard. I just felt like I didn’t want to do it anymore because of what happened.
“Morake’s mother came to see me. She said it wasn’t my fault, ‘My son, died doing what he loved.’ That’s when I felt that relief that I should fight again. Those were powerful words a mother, who had just lost her son by my hands.
“She suggested that I didn’t come to the funeral, the way South Africa was at the time [apartheid]. I sent a big wreath of flowers to the funeral and condolence messages for Morake, his mother and the family.
“I’m still friends with her today. She’s 94 years old. I visited her about six months ago and took her some money and groceries. She still lives in the same house where Jacob Morake grew up. It’s sad visiting her, but it’s also great to know we’ve built up the friendship for so many years.”
Gabriel Ruelas is another ex-fighter that has experienced tragedy. On May 6, 1995 the Mexican-American slugger stopped Jimmy Garcia in the 11th round of a WBC junior lightweight title defense. Garcia, 23, died 13 days later due to injuries sustained in that bout.
The residue of that harrowing evening has long stuck with Ruelas and, in some ways, shaped his life.
“I was physiologically messed up,” he said. “I felt guilt, I felt sick, I felt responsible for what happened to Jimmy.
“I didn’t know much about trauma, but I guess I was traumatized. During sparring [nothing] would happen, but it came back to me once the fight (with Azumah Nelson) started. You can’t prepare yourself for that. Throughout that fight I saw Jimmy in one corner, laughing, as if to say, ‘This is what you get.'”
Hopefully, Matias, Conwell, Abreu and Murja can find inner peace as they continue their careers and, more importantly, their lives.