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Boxer Simiso Buthelezi dies after punching thin air and fighting invisible opponent

By Malavika Pradeep

Jun 9, 2022

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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.