AUSTIN -- The Medical Advisory Committee under the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation convened last Friday to review its investigation of the death of Sam Vasquez, who became the first fighter in the U.S. to die from injuries sustained in competition.
Vasquez competed in his third professional bout on October 20, 2007, when he faced Vince Libardi at the Toyota Center in Houston. He was knocked down with a punch in the third round and subsequently collapsed. Vasquez underwent a series of surgeries to relieve pressure on his brain and was in a comatose state for six weeks before succumbing to the blunt force trauma on Nov. 30.
Lee Parham, TDLR's Manager of Business and Occupations - which oversees the state's Combative Sports Program - spoke before the committee regarding the investigation conducted by the state agency.
Included in his summary, Parham addressed Texas' mandatory cage inspections by licensed personnel, as well as procedural reviews in order to maintain availability of emergency personnel and equipment.
Parham told the committee that a DVD of the bout was reviewed and then recounted Vasquez's performance. Vasquez's head hit one of the posts in the cage as Libardi took him down in the opening round. Vasquez could be seen squinting and blinking his eyes after the takedown but was active in punching and defending himself with upkicks.
The third round saw Vasquez receive a punch to the head that dropped him. He collapsed as he tried to get back up and proceeded to butt scoot to the fence, where he remained leaning on the fence. Referee Kerry Hatley stopped the bout with ten seconds remaining.
Primary ringside physician Dr. Jorge Guerrero immediately evaluated Vasquez and called for EMTs to remove the fighter from the cage. Vasquez was transported to St. Joseph's Hospital, the closest facility to the Toyota Center.
Parham concluded his review by stating that the bout was "conducted in accordance with all laws and rules pertaining to combative sports" and that state-mandated personnel at the event "performed their duties in accordance with all laws and rules pertaining to combative sports."
"We are looking into the padding on the posts," Parham told the committee. "There are no specifications on the post padding…The padding on the post only [requires] an ‘adequate' [amount]."
Committee member Dr. Ivan Melendez concurred with fellow official Dr. Walter Lee's opinion that the post in question was "the definitive culprit," but vowed to remain objective with his interpretations.
"You have to take all things into consideration. He [Vasquez] did have head blows; he did hit his head on the mat; and he did hit his head on the post," remarked Dr. Lee. "I can't sit here and say that [Vasquez's head striking the post] did it. I think it may have been a summation of the events that took place during the match."
From Vasquez's autopsy report, Dr. Melendez referenced the subdural hemorrhaging and the blunt force trauma Vasquez died of. He concluded that there was no way of definitively determining which blow received was the one that caused the fatal damage.
Parham later told Sherdog.com that the padding of cage posts would be explored in depth given Vasquez's noticeable reaction after hitting his head in the first round. This would include a mandatory minimum amount of padding instituted. Current state law allows for TDLR to modify rules at their own discretion. Legal matters concerning the regulatory body, however, must be addressed through Texas' state legislature, which convenes once every other year.
In an open discussion, the committee also suggested "warning sign" fact sheets be distributed to fighters after bouts and the possibility of sealed medical histories being delivered to hospital personnel should a fighter require additional care.
Parham finished by firmly stating that no action was taken by the regulatory body regarding the suspending or canceling of events in the aftermath of Vasquez's fight and subsequent death.