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Family of Milwaukee Kickboxer Who Died Following Debut Fight Sues Famed Roufusport MMA Academy

Fightland Blog

By Josh Rosenblatt

Nearly three years ago to the day, a 24-year-old kickboxer named Dennis Munson Jr. fought his first fight at the Eagle’s Club ballroom in his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After a successful first round, Munson started to fade in the second, dropping his hands and stumbling as his opponent caught him repeatedly with punches and kicks. When the bell rang to end the second round Munson staggered back to his corner. While his coach exhorted him to fight through what he assumed was merely the exhaustion of the first-time fighter, Munson could barely keep his head up or drink water. When he stood up to begin the third round he was on shaky legs. He lurched forward before collapsing onto the mat. Five hours later Munson was dead, the result of complications from blunt force trauma to the head.

This week Munson’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, alleging that the authorities and officials responsible for fighter safety at the unregulated event failed to protect Munson and other fighters by, for example, requiring them to wear headgear and get physicals and also failed to recognize the symptoms of head trauma Munson was exhibiting during and after the fight, showing “deliberate indifference” to Munson’s well-being. The complaint names ringside doctor Carlos Feliciano, referee Al Wichgers, Munson’s coaches Scott Cushman and Joe Nichols, and the event’s promoters, famed MMA trainer Jeffrey “Duke” Roufus and Scott Joffee. The suit also names Roufus’ Milwaukee gym, Roufusport MMA Academy, which is where Munson trained.

After Munson’s death the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a remarkable investigation of the incident that claimed that a “cascade of errors” on the part of the above-named officials and promoters likely exacerbated Munson’s condition and led to his death. A series of experts declared on the record that the referee, the doctor (who trained at Roufusport), and Munson’s coaches failed to recognize the signs of brain trauma that Munson was exhibiting, in particular his stumbling, what ring doctors call “gait disturbance” and which they’re trained to keep an eye out for during fights. Doctor Feliciano, who can be seen looking at his cell phone at crucial moments during the fight, told the Journal Sentinel at the time that he thought Munson’s behavior was attributable to simple exhaustion rather than trauma.

“I really thought it was more of a fatigue thing,” he said.  

At the time of the fight kickboxing was unregulated in Wisconsin, meaning there was no state commission and no second doctor in attendance.

After Munson collapsed the doctor did not enter the ring and two ambulance technicians hired for the event could be seen mulling around. Rather than stabilizing his head and neck and getting him to a hospital immediately, those gathered simply rolled Munson out of the ring and propped him up in a nearby chair. The doctor denied the paramedic’s request to give Munson oxygen. As precious minutes ticked away and Munson’s respiratory rate collapsed, there was confusion about how to get his stretcher onto a nearby freight elevator and into an ambulance. When Munson was finally taken to a hospital it was nearby Aurora Sinai Medical Center, not Froedtert Hospital, the area’s Level 1 trauma center. Doctor Feliciano ordered the ambulance to Sinai because he didn’t believe Munson had suffered any “significant trauma.”

When Munson finally arrived at Sinai, 30 minutes after he’d collapsed, he was comatose. Sinai, unfortunately, is not equipped to treat patients who have lost consciousness. After repeated attempts at resuscitation Munson was declared dead just after midnight.  

As a result of the incident in 2016 Wisconsin passed a law extending rules governing the regulation of MMA and boxing to all combat sports involving blows to the head, including kickboxing. Governor Scott Walker signed the bill into law two years to the day after Munson’s fight.

The Munson family is seeking unspecified damages. 

 

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