Jeanette Zacarias Zapata, an 18-year-old boxer from Mexico, was hospitalized Saturday evening in a coma after being knocked out and stretchered out of the ring during a fight. The incident occurred during a featherweight bout against Quebec fighter Marie Pier Houle at the GYM Gala International Boxing event in Montreal, Canada.
The 18-year-old fighter took a quick left uppercut followed by a right hook in the fourth round, which sent her to the ground. Zapata appeared to have a seizure before the bell for the fifth round rang, and had to be laid out and stretchered in order to receive medical attention.
Arriving at the hospital, she was placed into a medically induced coma in order to sedate her brain, relax her muscles, and give her body more time to heal. According to the Global News in Canada, she is now stable but is still in critical condition.
Yvon Michel, president of Groupe Yvon Michel (GYM), the organizer of the International Boxing Gala, said in an official press statement that Jeanette Zacarias Zapata has yet to regain consciousness.
“Accidents like Zacarias’ are very, very rare and we want to make sure to find ways so it doesn’t happen again,” he said. GYM intends to investigate the fight.
“The doctors didn’t give her much of a chance (to get out) initially, but they find her situation has improved a lot,” Michel explained. “The next two to five days will be critical and she will be kept sedated for that period. The next six weeks will then be critical in determining if there is damage and how much damage it has.”
Jeanette Zacarias Zapata’s seizures started while she was still standing after the punches hit, with her partner and training coach, Jovanni Martinez, running up to lay her down in the ring.
“I wish it had happened to me instead of Jeanette,” Martinez said, having fought already earlier in the day. “I only realized the magnitude of the situation after seeing her… I am frustrated. Her fight was going very well. It happened very quickly. It’s a shame, but boxing is also that.”
Since the popularization of boxing, there have been critics who argued that the sport is too dangerous. Unlike other physical sports – which are focused around a ball, such as football, hockey, or rugby – boxing’s goal is for competitors to punch their opponents. In essence, it is a very dangerous sport.
In 2016, a similar event happened with 26-year-old boxer Nick Blackwell had to retire after coming out of a week-long coma. New rules were implemented to the sport, which also cited a 40-coma incident in 1991, such as ringside medical care and more experienced neurosurgery, but there’s only so much a fighter can do to condition themselves in training.
“To stop boxers getting head injuries, you need to match them properly, so they’re boxing the right person,” said Dr. Mike Loosemore, doctor for the British Boxing team from the Institute of Sport Exercise and Health. “You need an experienced referee who knows what they’re doing; you need a cornerman or a coach who will pull the boxer if they’re at all concerned about their welfare.”
Loosemore added that “if something does go wrong, you need a well-trained medical set up at ringside with a clear pathway to get the stricken boxer to the hospital as quickly as possible.”
While some argued that the clear risks outweigh the potential benefits, Dr. Loosemore says that boxing reaches an often difficult-to-reach population, and can pull kids out of street violence and into the gym in a way that gives them self-esteem, a healthy workout, and an outlet for letting off some aggression in a monitored environment.
“It has a profound effect on young people and can improve their behavior,” he said. Plus, if they excel at boxing it can earn them money and turn into a professional career.
“Boxing carries a lot of risks and dangers,” Jeanette Zacarias Zapata’s opponent Marie Pier Houle wrote on Facebook after the fight. “Yesterday’s events really upset me… This is our job, our passion. Never, forever, intention to seriously hurt an opponent is part of my plans.”
“My most sincere thoughts are with my opponent Jeannette Zacarias Zapata, and her family,” she continued. “I wish with all my heart that she gets well. I offer my thoughts and prayers to my opponent Jeannette Zacarias Zapata and all her family.”