$22 Million for Magomed Abdusalamov

The State of New York has agreed to pay $22,000,000 to Magomed Abdusalamov and his family following almost four years of litigation in the New York State Court of Claims.

Abdusalamov suffered grievous injuries and irreversible brain damage in a fight against Mike Perez at Madison Square Garden on November 2, 2013. Subsequent investigations, including a 32-month probe by the New York State Inspector General’s office, found the New York State Athletic Commission at fault.

More specifically, the Inspector General’s report declared, “Many Athletic Commission practices, policies and procedures were either nonexistent or deficient, specifically those relating to post-bout medical care, tactical emergency plans and communication, and training. The Inspector General also found a lack of appropriate engagement and oversight by Athletic Commission commissioners and its chair.”

The settlement was agreed to during the week of July 10 but was not announced until today because it required the pro forma signing of an Order by Jeanette Rodriguez-Morick, the New York State Court of Claims judge overseeing the case. It’s unclear why it took the judge two months to sign the order. However, the delay made it more difficult for the Abdusalamov family (which has been living on loans) to repay the loans and fund annuities in a timely manner.

Paul Edelstein, the lead attorney for Magomed and his family, had initiated the proceeding in the Court of Claims because, as a state entity, the New York State Athletic Commission is statutorily immune to suit in the regular courts and can be sued only in the Court of Claims.

On March 26, 2014, Edelstein filed a separate lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court against five commission doctors (Barry Jordan, Anthony Curreri, Osric King, Gerard Varlotta, and Avery Browne), Matt Farrago (the NYSAC inspector assigned to Abdusalamov’s dressing room), Benjy Esteves (who refereed the fight), K2 Promotions (which promoted the bout), and Madison Square Garden.

The $22,000,000 settlement releases only the New York State entities and two individuals who were classified as direct employees of the state (Barry Jordan and Matt Farrago). The case against Esteves as well as doctors Curreri, King, and Varlotta will proceed in New York State Supreme Court. Edelstein previously offered to settle with the doctors for an amount equal to the limits of their individual insurance policies (a total of $6,000,000). But that offer was rejected.

K2 Promotions, Madison Square Garden, and Avery Browne were dismissed as defendants in the Supreme Court case at an earlier date.

The $22,000,000 to be paid in settlement is more than all but a handful of boxers have earned in an entire ring career. The number reflects both the nature of the injuries suffered by Abdusalamov and the inexcusable manner in which his medical care was mishandled by the New York State Athletic Commission.

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Medical procedures and protocols have improved at the New York State Athletic Commission since the Magomed Abdusalamov tragedy. But the NYSAC remains adrift in matters large and small.

The commission website is so out of date that Eric Bentley is still listed as director of boxing with an accompanying biographical sketch, although Bentley left the commission in early-May of this year. Similarly, Kim Sumbler is listed as MMA project coordinator, although Sumbler became NYSAC executive director months ago.

So many NYSAC deputy commissioners are now assigned to each fight card at taxpayer expense that one might wonder if each deputy commissioner is responsible for monitoring a different ring rope.

More troubling, the Department of State (which oversees the NYSAC) has adopted a “circle the wagons” mentality that interferes with the lawful flow of information and the implementation of progressive reforms.

On June 23, 2017, the Department of State refused to honor a Freedom of Information Law request for a May 23, 2017, letter sent by New York State inspector general Catherine Leahy Scott to secretary of state Rossana Rosado on grounds that the letter contained “privileged” information within the meaning of the law.

On August 30, 2017, the Inspector General’s office released the same letter to this writer pursuant to an identical Freedom of Information Law request.

The May 23 letter from the Inspector General stated that former NYSAC athletic activities assistant Mario Mercado had been “forced to resign in or about February 2015 due, in part, to his having used his state-issued credit card for a personal expense,” but was then rehired by the NYSAC as a per diem deputy commissioner. Leahy Scott’s letter concluded that Mercado’s appointment as a deputy commissioner should be “reconsidered.”

The inspector General’s letter also referenced a March 17, 2017, incident (previously reported by this writer) when an NYSAC inspector, Jean Seme, “permitted a boxer, Jhovany Collado, to fight without having a pre-fight physical examination” and “falsely informed a deputy commissioner that Collado’s pre-fight physical had been performed.” As recounted by the inspector general, “Seme also permitted an unlicensed second to work in Collado’s corner.” Seme’s employment by the commission was terminated on the night of the fight.

Next, the May 23, 2017, Leahy Scott letter recounted the April 7, 2017, weigh-in fiasco that occurred prior to UFC 210 in Buffalo when Daniel Cormier “made weight” for his fight by pressing down with his fingers on a towel that was being held in front of him. And it closed by referencing an allegation that John Signorile (one of three NYSAC commissioners) “might be engaged in outside activity for which he had failed to received approval.”

More specifically, it was alleged that Signorile might have had an economic interest in a decision by the NYSAC on whether or not to allow referees to wear body cameras during fights.

The evidence strongly supports the conclusion that the allegation against Signorile was unfounded. However, the inspector general recommended that the Department of State “caution Signorile not to participate in any event or discussion in which Signorile has involvement outside of his athletic commission responsibilities.”

Meanwhile, Signorile appears to be one of the few NYSAC higher-ups actively working to modify an ill-considered medical insurance requirement. During the past year, club fights and small promoters in New York have been devastated by a million-dollar medical insurance requirement relating to life-threatening brain injuries that went into effect on September 1, 2016.

The last section of the April 2016 legislation that led to the insurance requirement states, “Within twelve months of the effective date of this section, the state athletic commission shall make any recommendations to the governor, temporary president of the senate, and speaker of the assembly regarding legislative changes which may be necessary to effectuate the purpose and intent of this chapter, including, but not limited to, appropriate adjustments to the insurance requirements contained therein.”

September 1, 2017, has come and gone and the commission as a whole has been delinquent in this matter.

On September 5, Laz Benitez (a spokesperson for the NYSAC) advised this writer that the commission had not made any recommendations to the governor, state senate, or state assembly regarding adjustments to the insurance requirements for boxers and other martial arts combatants who compete in New York.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His next book – There Will Always Be Boxing  – will be published by the University of Arkansas Press this autumn. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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