The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches

The world of martial arts is an exciting, challenging, and fulfilling realm for those that participate and even for those that watch. For its practitioners, doing martial arts is a way of life that requires discipline, hard work, and blood, sweat, and tears. 

In some cases, all three are to be shed. Throughout the years, several fighters have been seriously injured while in the ring, while some have met their tragic ends right after leaving the ring, and for some, while inside it. Here are the most terrible moments inside the ring.

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
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Igor Zinoviev’s Broken Collar Bone

History occurred during Frank Shamrock and Igor Zinoviev’s fight at UFC 16. Shamrock picked Zinoviev up and dropped him on the head, which broke the Russian fighter’s collarbone. This injury was a career-ender for Zinoviev.

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
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This is a devastating moment in martial arts fighting because he had been undefeated in his fighting career. After competing in the Extreme Fighting organization with the middleweight title, he was able to secure four consecutive wins from 1995 to 1996 with two draws in UFC.

Unfortunately, his only loss was his last match ever because of the injury. After this, the fighter found a career as a trainer and bodyguard. He also coached the new International Fighting League (IFL) team Chicago Red Bears composed of Russian fighters. 

Anderson Silva’s Broken Leg

Another critical moment in MMA history involves Anderson Silva, one of the most legendary MMA fighters in history. His debut in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) became notable with a knockout win (TKO) within the first minute of his first fight. 

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
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Within that year, Silva was celebrated not only for his awesome debut but also for beating UFC veteran Rich Franklin and earning a UFC title. He defended this title against some of the most remarkable legends such as Forrest Griffin, Dan Henderson, and Demian Maia. 

However, his years-long reign was cut short when he fought Chris Weidman. This moment is one of the most tragic as it is when Silva broke his leg in half after Weidman checked his kick. The legend continued to fight after recovering but was never the same.

Dada5000 Fell to the Mat

Dhafir Harris or Dada5000 made his presence in the MMA arena known when he won against Cedric James within three minutes. He overcame James by TKO in the first round. This was his very first fight. Unfortunately, he would go on to fight only two games more after this.

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
Image Source: Bleacher Report

He emerged victorious in his bout against Tim Papp, which he defeated by TKO in less than one minute in the first round. However, his third battle with Kimbo Slice was his last as he fell to the mat, giving the win to Slice by TKO.

Apparently, Dada5000 had been eating only bananas to lose weight, which means he was not in good shape to fight. He collapsed due to severe health risks. The night of the competition, he suffered a cardiac arrest and was revived. The fighter remains active until today. 

Jameston Lee-Yaw Collapsed

Jameston Lee-Yaw was a kickboxer from Aberdeen who competed at the Brawl in the Mall in Washington state. This amateur MMA bout was sadly his last after he collapsed in the ring. He was carried by his teammates to the dressing room.

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
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During the match, the referee has been asking Yaw if he wants to tap out. In fact, he was asked twice. However, Yaw signaled his intention to continue until he collapsed on the mat. He was having trouble breathing and was taken to a hospital.

A few days later, Yaw died of renal failure. While his death is ruled to be caused by this condition and because of the match, it remains a tragic event in the ring. According to his family, the specific cause of his kidney failure is hard to pinpoint. 

Frankie Campbell’s Double Hemorrhage 

In the boxing ring, Frankie Campbell’s death is one of the most unfortunate events in a martial arts match. In this bout with Max Baer in 1930, the boxer sustained blows to the head which led to his demise later that night.

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
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According to the doctors, the fighter suffered from a double cerebral hemorrhage. The injuries were due to Baer’s blows as Campbell was walking to the ropes. Later, he told his corner that the hits felt like something broke in his head. 

The referee only intervened in the fifth round, while Campbell suffered the heavy blow in the second. Baer was arrested but was later set free after posting a $10,000 bail, while referee Toby Irwin and Baer’s corner teams were given a one-year suspension.

Jimmy Doyle was Knocked Out

Another tragic event in the boxing ring is Jimmy Doyle’s KO loss. He fought with Sugar Ray Robinson for the World Welterweight title for eight rounds before being knocked out of consciousness. Sadly, Doyle never woke up and succumbed to injuries after surgery.

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
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Before the bout, Robinson had been trying to cancel the fight. This was because dreamed he killed Doyle during the bout. After Doyle’s death, Robinson did a fundraising event that benefited the deceased’s parents. 

Doyle had previously been banned from fighting in California by the state’s boxing commission after sustaining heavy knockouts. This is referred to as second impact syndrome and is widely used in martial arts circles. Many states have policies against the second impact.

Sam Vasquez’s Death

Dada5000 may be considered the closest to death that a sanctioned fight has encountered, but Sam Vasquez is known as the first death in any sanctioned bout in the United States. He died after sustaining a knockout, which resulted in a subdural hemorrhage

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Before he died he underwent several surgeries to let his brain swell without compression or pressure. However, he suffered from additional brain swelling. In a successive turn of events, he was comatose for 48 hours and died.

Vasquez had been fighting professionally for only a year before that fateful match against Vince Libardi. He previously fought against Eric Madrid and Nick Biddle which resulted in a win and a loss, respectively.

Tyrone Mims’ Amateur Debut

Some of the most tragic moments in mixed martial arts involve fighters who have just professionally debuted on the ring. Tyrone Mims is one of them. Mims fought through the first round but was weak during the second. The referee intervened to consult a physician. 

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
Image Source: The Post and Courier

Once Mims reached the locker room, he collapsed and was taken to the hospital, which pronounced his death. The coroner noted that the cause of death is not apparent while autopsy reports returned inconclusively. 

The coroner stated that it could be due to an irregular heart due to some electrical dysfunction. However, this cannot be observed after death. This is only observable while the patient is alive, there is no evidence of this and the cause of death remains unknown

Michael Kirkham’s Professional Debut

Another fighter who died during his debut is Michael Kirkham. In his match against Carlos Iraburo, Kirkham suffered his first and final loss. Forty-one seconds into the match, Kirkham was TKO’d by Iraburo after landing a few hits to his head, which made him unconscious.

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
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Sadly, Kirkham did not recover and he died two years later. According to medical records, his death was due to subarachnoid hemorrhage. The doctor speculated that it could be from the second impact.

The second-impact syndrome refers to a blow that is sustained after suffering from a heavy knockout previously. Kirkham had just come off after his suspension for a previous technical knockout loss before this fatal fight, which may have caused his death. 

Rondel Clark

The most critical event in a martial arts match involved Rondel Clark competing at the Welterweight division with a 1-0 record. He was set to go against Ryan Dunn with 0-2. The match went into the third round until Clark became fatigued two minutes in.

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
Image Source: MMA Fighting

The match was won by Dunn by TKO. Meanwhile, Clark was reportedly having difficulty breathing. He underwent a post-fight evaluation and was taken to the hospital after. There, he suffered from kidney failure, which was caused by dehydration.

What made matters worse was that he was diagnosed with sickle cell disease, which made the degradation of his organs worse until it shut down. The records show that he died from rhabdomyolysis, which is the breaking down of muscle tissue due to exertion and dehydration.

The Blood Bath Hulks Survived

The event taking place at UFC 193 included two 265lbs+ men, who can easily qualify for giants, going at each other for at least 25 minutes. This breathtaking occasion has to be one of the greatest heavyweight fights that mankind has ever seen. 

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Big Foot is actually considered to be a huge guy, but he was himself having trouble dealing with Hunt’s punches and hits. There was a whole lot of blood and a whole lot of bruises, breakages, and deep cuts! In the ring of martial art matches, one may not have seen this much blood in their life. 

Royce Gracie’s Career’s Unfortunate End

With an incredible jiu-jitsu talent blessed upon Royce Gracie, he, as a small man, was able to defeat many huge opponents in the beginning of the UFC. The UFC was all about him because it was a very different scenario, and it brought a bunch of fan action. Everything was working out until the Day Gracie fought Sakuraba. 

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
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He brutally lost to Sakuraba and this was the first and official loss of his career. Gracie left the UFC for a while but when he did come back, his opponent was the top welterweight in the world, Matt Hughes. This was completely out of Gracie’s control and he lost to Hughes, marking an end to his once blossoming career.

Chris Leben’s Fall

Unfortunately for all the world, Leben’s last fight was at the age of 33. Leben was very popular throughout his career for taking vicious shots, but he never let it take him down. However, when he met with Uriah Hall, this was the last time he set any milestones in his career. 

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Uriah Hall was able to take Leben down with many shots in the very first round: Hall beat up Leben to the point where Leben could not even stand up for the second round. Leben’s career, his lifelong career of success, ended right away on his stool as he waited to stand up.

Leben did try to come back and build his career up again by taking Bellator, but he soon found out that his heart was already in a weak condition. He had to get a transplant for this very reason, and this was the end of his competitive career. 

CM Punk’s Overconfidence 

The fact that this fight between Mickey Gall and CM Punk actually took place is a tragedy in itself. Everyone knew and everyone told CM Punk that he would not be able to take down Mickey Gall: it was just not going to happen and Punk should not expect it either. 

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
Image source: Express.co.uk 

However, Punk was very delusional to believe it. He told the media that he would be able to earn a title shot after getting 3-4 wins, and nobody even stopped CM Punk to go in the ring with a martial artist. It was bound to end badly, but Punk let the risk get to him. 

Gall had to do nothing but get on top of Punk, and it was all over. It was upsetting to see Punk put up a fight while knowing that nothing was going to come out of it anyway. He realized that all of his hopes were shattered and even if Punk was a fighter, he was still not good enough for Gall.

Corey Hill’s Tragedy 

UFC Fight for the Troops 2008 brought about a disastrous injury to Corey Hill as he took on the fight with Dale Hart. Hart ended the game by crushing Hill’s leg in a fashion that everyone thought he wouldn’t be able to come out of. 

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
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Hill was never able to fight in UFC, but he did go on to small shows because he was very passionate about what he did. 

However, seven years later, Hill was diagnosed with pneumonia and needed a lung transplant. The lung transplant went unsuccessful and his body rejected it; he suffered a heart attack and passed away at 36. 

Randy Couture Calls its Quits 

More commonly known as a ‘natural’ in his game, Randy Couture was one of the most beloved names in UFC. He won multiple championships in his day, but age did a number on him and he just wasn’t the same as before. 

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
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Couture fought Lyoto Machida and the fight did not go as expected. Machida hit Couture with a terrible crane kick, and that left Couture unconscious within the next few seconds. 

Soon, Couture retired from his field and the hero of many was left to shreds and nothing else. 

Chuck Liddell’s Retirement

Being one of the biggest martial arts stars from the 2000s, Chuck Liddell brought life to the field itself. His fighting style was unmatched, and his fans loved his games to the point where they could not even think about missing one.  

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
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However, Liddell eventually had to step down from his throne as well. Out of the last 5 fights Liddell played, he lost 4 of them. He faced a brutal knockout at the hands of Rich Ace Franklin, and it became the end of Liddell’s career as he announced his retirement afterward. 

The Unfortunate Patrick Day

Charles Conwell ended the game for Patrick Day, a 27-year-old player then, with a disastrous knockout blow. The blow was not supposed to have the impact that it actually did, because it didn’t seem that bad. 

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However, Patrick Day was not regaining consciousness and it became a problem then. After entering a coma, day underwent brain surgery which was not successful, and he ended up passing away afterward. 

This unexpected yet highly tragic turn of events took the life of a young player, who had yet to see many fights. 

Becky Zerlentes’s Death 

The first-ever woman to die while a sanctioned match was going on, Becky Zerlentes took a forceful hit on her head in an amateur game. 

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
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She, unfortunately, lost all consciousness and passed away at the age of 34, and news confirmed that the real cause of her death was the hit on her head. 

Daniel Agullian and the Broken Jaw

The professional boxer, Daniel Agullian, remained one of the bests in his game until the fight with Alejandro Sanabria took place. There was a championship bout held in Mexico and both boxers fought well until Daniel took a blow on his jaw.

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
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The 24-year-old Agullian was never able to recover after the punch on his jaw, even after receiving the best treatment possible. 

The World Boxing Council also offered financial assistance to Agullian’s family after his death.

Choi Yo-sam’s Successful yet Unsuccessful Fight 

This may seem unbelievable but the Korean boxing champion, Choi Yo-sam, passed away after winning a match. The decision of this fight in 2007 was unanimously made, but Choi took considerable damage in the match. The final round led to Choi being knocked out, but the bell saved his title. 

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
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Yo-sam suffered a lot of beating in the final round, and as the medics rushed him to the hospital, he was declared brain dead soon after it. The decision was also taken to remove him from the ventilator, and he was declared dead the next day. 

Moore’s Coma 

In 1963, Sugar Ramos and Davey Moore met in the ring where a ten-round battle led to Moore hitting his neck on the bottom rope. 

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
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It didn’t do anything to him then, and Moore finished the round, but ended up falling into a coma while he was in the changing room. He died three days later. 

Unfortunate Title Defense of Leavander Johnson 

Leavander Johnson earned the International Boxing Federation world title from Stefano Zoff, but after his knockout to Jesus Chavez, his title defense was unsuccessful. 

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
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Chavez knocked Johnson out but Johnson made his way towards the dressing room where he suffered a subdural hematoma, later passing away. 

The Young Anucha Thasako 

The Thai 13-year-old fighter, Anucha Thasako, was competing in a charity bout and that led to his demise. 

The Most Tragic Moments in the Ring of Martial Arts Matches
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He lost after a knockout that ended up being so deadly that Thasako suffered a brain hemorrhage that killed him two days later.  

The Bottom Line

Martial arts is definitely a fulfilling and challenging sport or activity. However, the physical exertion and impact suffered by the fighters can lead to serious injuries, even death. The tragic moments on this list are just some of the most devastating ones.

There may be some ways to prevent these unfortunate incidences. However, policies such as those against second impacts can only do so much. Doctor’s advice, proper training, and responsible weight management can minimize such instances.