The MMA community was rocked late Saturday night when word began to trickle out of Louisville that amateur fighter Donshay White passed away after a TKO loss at Hardrock MMA 90. White competed in a fight at heavyweight against Ricky Muse and came up on the losing end when veteran ref Gary Copeland stepped in and stopped the fight due to unanswered strikes. After the fight White walked to the back of the venue where he collapsed. He was then was transported to a local hospital and was pronounced dead later that night.
This is a terrible situation and now that it’s taken place I’ve seen people on Twitter who are trashing the Kentucky Boxing and Wrestling Commission and promoter, Hardrock MMA for allowing this to happen. I have been backstage at numerous shows in Kentucky and seen how meticulous Todd Neal and his team from the Kentucky Boxing and Wrestling Commission are when overseeing MMA events and how fighter safety is paramount under their watch.
The referee in the bout Gary Copeland has been a referee for years and been a ref on Bellator, UFC, XFC and other large shows all over the region. In addition to his work as an official in MMA, Copeland is also the Chief of Police in Waynesville, Ohio and is a respected public servant. I’ve attended many shows and worked behind the scenes with promotions that have used Copeland. One of the reasons he has worked big shows like the UFC is because he is so respected and always looks out for the best interest of the fighters in the cage.
Kentucky Public Protection Cabinet Communications Director Elizabeth Kuhn issued a statement yesterday on the passing of Mr. White.
“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Donshay White following his passing on Saturday.
Mr. White was attended to by a licensed ringside physician and first responders immediately following his bout, and he received onsite medical attention before being transported via ambulance to the hospital.
The health and safety of Kentucky’s combat sports athletes is the highest priority of the Kentucky Boxing and Wrestling Commission, and the commission is reviewing all of the details surrounding this tragic event.”
I’ve been to several Hardrock MMA shows over the years. Hardrock promoter Brandon Higdon is one of the most respected matchmakers in the region. Bellator and the XFC have partnered with Hardrock to put on events in Kentucky due to their reputation in the Commonwealth. Higdon has successfully promoted 90 Hardrock events in the area and has helped numerous athletes like Lorenz Larkin advance in the sport. You don’t put on 90 shows and get asked by Bellator to help put their undercards together if you don’t have the respect of the commission, fans and other other promotions.
Before you can access blame in this terrible situation you have to look at the laws in Kentucky to see if any rules were broken.
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin overhauled the Kentucky Boxing and Wrestling Commission in late 2016 to make the process easier for fighters to get licensed to compete in the Commonwealth. Under 201 KAR 27:008 the process to obtain a license has been streamlined so promoters and combatants have less forms to fill out and the process of obtaining licenses is easier.
Here is what a fighter in Kentucky must do to get a license under 201 KAR 27:008.
Section 3. Health Physical and Application Timing Requirements. (1) The following applicants for licensure shall submit the form Physical Report to demonstrate the results of a physical that was completed by a physician not more than ninety (90) days before the licensing application is submitted:
(c) Professional mixed martial artist;
(d) Amateur mixed martial artist;
(e) Boxing and kickboxing referee; and
(f) Mixed martial arts referee.
(2) An applicant for licensure as a wrestler or wrestling referee shall submit the form Physical Report to demonstrate the results of a physical that was completed by a physician not more than (90) days before the licensing application is submitted if the applicant:
(a) Has not held a wrestler license in the past two (2) years;
(b) Is forty-five (45) years of age or older; or
(c) Has had an in-patient surgical procedure or overnight hospital stay in the past one (1) year.
(3) An applicant who is subject to subsection (1) or subsection (2) of this section shall submit his or her license application to the commission no less than fifteen (15) calendar days prior to the applicant’s first event.
Section 4. Determination of Ability to Obtain a License as a Contestant. (1) An applicant for a license as a boxer, kickboxer, or professional mixed martial artist shall demonstrate that the applicant has the ability to:
(a) Be competitive in the sport; and
(b) Compete without the risk of serious physical injury.
(2) An applicant for a license as a wrestler or an amateur mixed martial artist shall demonstrate that the applicant has the ability to compete without the risk of serious physical injury.
(3)(a) Individual consideration from the medical advisory panel shall be required if an applicant for licensure as a boxer, kickboxer, professional mixed martial artist, or amateur mixed martial artist:
1. Is thirty-five (35) or more years old;
2. Has accrued six (6) consecutive losses;
3. Has lost more than twenty-five (25) fights in his or her career;
4. Has fought in 350 or more career rounds;
5. Has lost more than five (5) bouts by knockout in his or her career; or
6. Has been inactive for more than thirty (30) months.
(b) The medical advisory panel may order further medical testing if the medical evidence before it is inconclusive or incomplete.
(c) The medical advisory panel shall report its recommendation to the commission within forty-five (45) days of being referred an application.
If you can get through all that the Kentucky policy mumbo-jumbo for fighters to compete in amateur MMA they have to pay a fee for a license, get a physical 90 days before the fight and if they are over 35 years of age the medical advisory panel has to clear them to fight.
The medical advisory panel in Kentucky consists of appointments by the Governor. They are Dr. Tad D. Seifert, a Neurologist. Tim Accord, a oral and maxillofacial surgeon and Kendra Grubb, a heart surgeon. According to Kentucky law minutes from the meetings in which they discuss situations like Donshay White must be recorded. It will be interesting to see what the three doctors had to say. I reached out to the Executive Director of Legal Services in Kentucky but have yet to get a response.
I’m not accessing any blame to the medical advisory panel but that is where the buck stops as far Mr. White’s ability to obtain a license. If anyone has any culpability in the death of White it’s them, not Todd Neal or Brandon Higdon. But those three doctors have a lot of experience and knowledge and I would tend to side with them unless there was something out of the ordinary in his physical that was overlooked. White had fought as an amatuer in November 2015. He won by knockout in the first round so it could be argued that he had experience and enough skill to to merit having a license. On the other side of the coin, a 37 year old heavyweight taking a year and a half from fighting before wanting to compete again could make you think before greenlighting his application for a license. Once the minutes from the medical advisory panel’s meeting in which they discussed White’s physical are released they will likely be in the clear.
I’ve been critical of amateur fight promoters over the years using warm bodies to fill out fight cards. However, as long as they are cleared to fight and meet the criteria to obtain a license then it’s really the fighters call as to whether or not they want to fight.
When you apply for your license to fight in Kentucky to compete as an amateur fighter you must sign after reading the statement below.
Health & Safety Disclosure
As a contestant, you should be aware that boxing, kickboxing, mixed martial arts, wrestling, and elimination events include many health and safety risks, particularly the risk of brain injury. The Kentucky Boxing and Wrestling Commission strongly recommends that you undergo periodic medical procedures and examinations designed to detect brain injury.
By signing this form, I acknowledge the health and safety risks associated with boxing, kickboxing, mixed martial arts, wrestling, and elimination events
Even if you can get cleared by the doctors ultimately it is your decision to fight. No one can make you compete in a mixed martial arts fight and the Commonwealth of Kentucky is warning you before you sign up for your license that their are risks to your health.
When I first heard about this late Saturday my first thought was ‘If I was in my late 30s and weighed over 230 pounds the last thing I’d want to do is get into a fight with another guy who my size or even bigger than me.’ And now that I’ve done some research it’s still what I come back to. It’s horrible that a 37 year old man died in a cage in an MMA bout. But he chose to do that and even signed his name on the dotted line acknowledging he knew what he was getting in to and what could potentially happen. The promoter and commission did their job making sure that the checks and balances were in place had every box checked before the fight and White was cleared to fight, and he did so under his own free will.
White’s autopsy was conducted Sunday but it will take several weeks before we know the actual cause of death. His death is very unfortunate and my thoughts go out to his family during this difficult time. But I also feel it’s important to stick up for the promoter and commission who did everything by the book leading up to the event that led to White’s death.