By Robert Brizel, Brick City Boxing Correspondent
Two major incidents in December 2020, where noted male and female boxers are alleged to have killed their loved ones, demonstrate the need for boxing reform. The COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus period has taken much of the spotlight off of boxing. The need for more comprehensive physical exams and pre and post fight testing remains a great concern after these two incidents. Fights with boxing dementia, as in sustained permanent long-term brain damage, need to be addressed by worldwide boxing commissions in all countries, and a system put into place for their ongoing evaluation and treatment. Many boxing veterans in the pro boxing community have fallen through the cracks. Like the brain injuries sustained in amateur and pro football and soccer, there are long term consequences for brain injuries sustained in the ring by amateur and professional boxers.
Former super middleweight contender Kabary ‘The Egyptian Magician’ Salem, who once decked Joe Calzaghe in a World Boxing Organization World title fight, has been arrested and charged in connection with the October 2018 death of his Muslim activist daughter Ola Salem, 25, also a boxer, on Staten Island, New York. A medical examiner ruled her death a homicide from strangulation, and asphyxiation due to neck compression. Ms. Salem was an activist feminist for women suffering from domestic violence. Many traditionalist Muslim circles dislike independent Muslim women, an issue which could be examined as a possible contributing factor to her death. The facts of the case indicate police had been called to the Salem family home five times in the year before her death, an order of protection was in place (and subsequently violated), charges were lodged due to criminal contempt, and Ms. Salem was known to have been taken away from the home by ambulance during these incidents at least once before her tragic death. Mr. Salem’s boxing background cannot be ignored in an incident of this magnitude whereby his daughter’s life was taken by him.
Brazilian female boxer Viviane Obenauf, 34 was arrested and placed in investigative custody on December 7, 2020, in connection with the murder of her restauranteur husband Tony, 61, on October 19, 2020, in their apartment in Interlaken, Switzerland. The deceased owned Des Alpes Restaurant in the area. Mrs. Obenauf owned and operated her own gym. Her boxing record was 14-6, she fought in three world title bouts, and earned several regional WBA and WBF titles during her super featherweight and lightweight career.
Ex-Olympian and world title challenger Salem, 52, 23-5, 12 knockouts, Cairo, Egypt, was arrested abroad on a United States warrant with Interpol assistance, and extradited from Egypt, for murdering his daughter sometime between October 23, 2020, and October 24, 2020. Her body was found in a parked car near Bloomingdale Park on Staten Island. Salem had been on the run abroad over a year preceding his apprehension this past weekend.
Salem was noteworthy as a member of the Olympic boxing team which represented Egypt in 1992 in Barcelona, Spain, and again in 1996 in Atlanta, Georgia. The then 11-1 Salem’s infamous 1999 NABF super middleweight title bout with 23-0-1 Randie Carver of Kansas City, Missouri, on September 12, 1999, in which Carver eventually went down to the canvas in the tenth round and did not get up, losing consciousness and dying two days later. The early rounds featured numerous headbutts by Salem on Carver, which referee Ross Strada (who never refereed again) ruled to be accidental, but which ultimately led to Carver’s death after the bout. Carver was dead, and Salem could have sustained permanent brain injuries there, or due to cumulative effect from his boxing career. A WBO NABO regional super middleweight champion, Kabary Salem lost his last three bouts, main event bouts in 2004 and 2005, to Lucien Bute (WBC Continental Americas Super Middleweight title bout), Joe Calzaghe and Mario Veit (for the WBO World Super Middleweight title, losing close 12 round decisions to both champions).
The causes of Salem alleged the life of his daughter, and Obenauf the life of her husband, are not a surprise. The key question is in light of these events, which are a wakeup call to the boxing establishment, what reforms need to be made to address boxing dementia. The Coronavirus Pandemic has left the majority of boxers, active and inactive, largely forgotten in a world more concerned with vaccinations and avoiding contracting the plague, rather than the plight of individual athletes. These boxers are obviously unfit for trial due to brain injuries sustained. It should not take the obvious deaths of their loved ones by a brain damaged athlete involved to earn a news headline. After their careers fade from the limelight, nobody cares, but they should, based on these developments as analyzed.
There needs to be a more comprehensive system of fighter and athlete insurance for amateur and pro athletes put in place immediately, and a more comprehensive system of regularly evaluating their medical conditions both during their careers, and after their careers. When there is not, tragedy is the result. Short of fatalities triggering tabloid sensationalism, previous incidents of domestic violence tend to be overlooked when dealing with sports superstars, noted athletes and celebrities. This must not be. The handwriting was on the wall in the two particular recent cases involving ex-boxers Mr. Salem and Ms. Obenauf, and nobody was paying detailed attention before the tragedies. Future incidents such as these will continue to occur with both boxers and athletes in other sports, active and retired, until the general public, boxing commissions and the medical establishment in all countries come up with a more comprehensive approach towards dealing with athletes with injuries sustained during their careers, whatever the nature of those injuries.