Magomed Abdusalamov: Fantasy vs. Reality

On November 2, 2013, Russian heavyweight Magomed Abdusalamov suffered life-altering brain damage in a fight against Mike Perez at Madison Square Garden.

People with injuries like Magomed’s tend to be hidden from view. They fade into the shadows. We conjure up positive images of their condition with phrases like “he’s in rehab” and “he’s doing well.” They come from all walks of life. None of us is promised a life that’s immune to horrible suffering.

Magomed was fighting to provide for his family. That much he has done. Last year, the State of New York, which was responsible for overseeing the fight, agreed to pay $22 million to Abdusalamov and his family after almost four years of litigation regarding substandard New York State Athletic Commission medical protocols and their implementation. The case against three individual defendants is still pending.

Some of the $22,000,000 has gone to lawyers. Magomed’s wife, Bakanay, received a lump sum payout. The bulk of the settlement is structured in annuities that will provide income to Magomed over the next thirty years. If he dies before this period has run, $2,000,000 will revert to New York State and the remainder of the annuity will be paid to Magomed’s estate. All of his medical expenses and related costs are paid for out of the annuity which is overseen by Charles Thomas, a former Queens County Surrogate’s Court judge.

Magomed and Bakanay live in Greenwich with their three daughters, now 11, 8, and 4 years old. Greenwich is part of Connecticut’s “gold coast,” home to hedge fund managers and other members of the financial elite. The town has a few less desirable pockets. The Abdusalamovs live in a modest house surrounded by asphalt and gravel on a small plot of land with no lawn or garden.

Each morning, Bakanay bathes and shaves Magomed and dresses him in clean clothes. Three days a week, she takes him to Stamford Hospital for physical therapy, not to improve his condition – little further physical or cognitive improvement is expected – but to prevent his muscles from atrophying further.

The right side of Magomed’s body is fully paralyzed. There’s a scar the shape and size of a horseshoe on the right side of his head. He can control his left hand to a degree and part of his left arm. He tires easily and suffers from seizures. He cannot walk or control his bodily functions. He’s at a high risk of choking, so everything he puts in his mouth is closely monitored.

His voice is soft. He tries to speak, sometimes in English and sometimes in Russian. Often what he says is unintelligible. At best, only a few words come out at a time. Sometimes they’re appropriate to the situation. Other times, they’re not.

He can follow simple commands such as “take my hand.”

Magomed knows he’s injured. The extent to which he understands his condition is uncertain. He responds to kindness. He recognizes familiar faces like his wife and children and knows that they’re objects of affection. His strongest personal connection is with Bakanay. Asked if he knows who she is, he answers, “Big love.”

His mind wanders. Almost always, there’s a vacant look in his eyes.

He will never be independent or self-reliant again.

He’s still Mago.

Photo (c) Wojtek Urbanek – https://wojtekurbanek.com – tag “wojtekurbanek”.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – There Will Always Be Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. 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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