On Sunday 5 June 2022, South African boxer Simiso Buthelezi was competing in the tenth round of his World Boxing Federation’s African lightweight title against Siphesihle Mntungwa when he suddenly started punching thin air and fighting an invisible opponent in the corner of the ring—seconds away from the final bell.
In the footage, which has since gone viral, Buthelezi was first seen landing heavy shots on his opponent, Mntungwa, sending him through the ropes. Then Buthelezi seemed to lose a bit of control after grazing his cheek on the ropes. He quickly composed himself, however, and backed away to let Mntungwa re-enter the ring. But as soon as the referee made sure Mntungwa was ready to fight again and headed towards the corner, Buthelezi looked like he was unaware of his surroundings.
The boxer then turned away from his opponent and started approaching the referee instead. Even when the referee moved out of the way, Buthelezi continued to walk forward and swing punches into thin air. As the official intervened and stopped the fight, Buthelezi rested his head in the corner as the referee hugged him from behind, likely in an attempt to stop him from flailing his arms around. But things took a fatal turn for the fighter after he was rushed to the hospital.
On Sunday night, doctors told media outlets that Buthelezi was suffering from brain injuries and it would take a miracle for the boxer to survive. He also faced difficulties getting an operation at King Edward’s Hospital in Durban.
Experts, on the other hand, were confused by the incident—given the fact that it was actually Buthelezi who was landing the heavier shots throughout the contest. Having held a 4-0 record, he was seconds away from winning a decision, but doctors feared that he may have gone into the fight with a pre-existing injury.
On 8 June came the devastating announcement from Boxing South Africa, which released a statement about Buthelezi’s passing, co-signed by the boxer’s family. “It is with great sadness for Boxing South Africa and the Buthelezi family to announce the passing away of Mr. Simiso Buthelezi who passed away last night June 7 2022 at hospital in Durban,” the statement read.
“On June 5 2022, Mr Buthelezi participated in a boxing tournament hosted by Starline Boxing Promotions at Greyville, Durban. Towards the end of his bout, Mr Buthelezi collapsed and was taken to hospital and it was discovered at the hospital that he suffered a brain injury which resulted in internal bleeding. At the hospital, Mr. Buthelezi was given the best care possible but he, however, succumbed to the injury last night as aforesaid. Boxing South Africa will conduct an independent medical review of the injury and will then make public the results of that medical review,” the announcement continued.
Meanwhile, fans took to Twitter to highlight how the tragic event is a terrifying reminder of what can happen in combat sport. “Boxing is a dangerous sport. These fighters need to get in and out as quickly as possible. Make as much money and get out whilst you’re healthy. Only one punch away from disaster in this sport,” one wrote. “It’s so easy to forget that fighters are literally putting their lives on the line every time they step into the ring. RIP Simiso Buthelezi,” another added.
On Friday 3 June, at approximately 2.30pm, Lieutenant Richard Bullock crashed near Trona, a remote area of the Mojave desert in California. The US Navy pilot had been flying a F/A-18E Super Hornet, the same plane Tom Cruise’s character flies in Top Gun: Maverick, the 2022 sequel to the iconic 1986 movie.
It was first reported that no other civilians were harmed, although a new statement confirmed officials are still investigating the secured crash site. Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake Federal Firefighters and Naval Security Forces were confirmed to have responded to the crash.
Navy officials wrote: “U.S. Navy pilot Lt. Richard Bullock was killed when his F/A-18E Super Hornet crashed in the vicinity of Trona, Calif., at approximately 2:30 pm (PDT), June 3. Bullock was assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 113 based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., and was flying a routine training mission at the time before his aircraft [went] down in a remote, unpopulated area. No civilians were harmed as a result of this incident.”
The statement continued, “The incident is currently under investigation and the scene of the crash is secured by Navy and local authorities while recovery efforts are ongoing. The Navy mourns this tragic loss alongside the family, friends and shipmates of Lt. Bullock.”
The aircraft model Bullock had been flying is one manufactured by company Boeing, which states on its website, “The F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet is the newest highly capable, affordable and available tactical aircraft in US Navy inventory. The Super Hornet is the backbone of the US Navy carrier air wing now and for decades to come.”
Although Cruise himself wasn’t allowed to fly the aircraft—the scenes were filmed with the assistance of Navy pilots—the F/A-18E Super Hornet features is the primary multirole fighter jet depicted in Top Gun: Maverick, replacing the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, which was the primary fighter jet depicted in Top Gun and retired in 2006.
As reported by Mail Online, the crash is the third to have occurred in the past three years of Navy training exercises. In October 2021, a F/A-18F Navy Super Hornet crashed in Death Valley and in 2020, a pilot crashed a F/A-18E in China Lake, with both incidents leading to injuries. While neither of these accidents were fatal, a pilot was killed in 2019 when their Super Hornet also crashed in Death Valley National Park, injuring seven park visitors who were hit by plane debris.
According to Paramount Pictures, Top Gun: Maverick grossed $90 million in its second weekend in the US. That number, which is also higher than any debut weekend for Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise, is down a mere 29 per cent from its first weekend of $126.7 million.