Famous Boxers Who Tragically Died in the Ring



Boxing is one of the most traumatic sports, so it’s little wonder that quite a few boxers get injured and even killed in the ring. The reason behind is quite simple: they get hit mostly in the head, thus their chances of sustaining a brain injury increase manifold.


Besides frequent headaches and dizziness, professional boxers also suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy and speech impairment. According to LiveScience, the two most frequent traumas they sustain include subdural hematoma (the bursting of the veins connecting the skull and brain which results in interruption or blockage of blood supply to the brain) and cerebral edema (water formation inside the brain). They are not fatal but they exponentially increase the risk of having a fatal accident in the ring.


In this article, we will discuss the most famous deaths in boxing history.


Pedro Alcázar


Better known by his pseudonym Pedro Alcázar, Guillermo Gonzalez was a Panamanian super lightweight boxer. He built up a pretty good record of 25 wins, 1 draw, and 1 loss. Guillermo’s last fight occurred on July 22, 2002, when he took on Fernando Montiel, a professional Mexican boxer. He lost the bout and had no complaints whatsoever about feeling unwell after it ended. However, two days later he lost consciousness in a hotel room and passed away in the hospital. His untimely passing away prompted the major boxing organizations to pay more attention to boxers’ health condition before and after matches.


Leavander Johnson


Leavander Johnson was a professional American boxer who won the IBF world title just two months before his death. He fought a total of 42 pro bouts, winning 34, drawing 2 and losing 5.


In September 2005, Leavander defended his International Boxing Federation Title against Jesús Chávez, a Mexican boxer. However, the match was interrupted by the referee in the eleventh round after Johnson absorbed a flurry of heavy punches from his opponent. The IBF champion complained about feeling sick in the dressing room and was instantly taken to the hospital. Despite being quickly operated upon, he passed away on September 22, 2005.


Robert Wangila


Robert Wangila, a famous Kenyan professional boxer, was only 21 when he won a gold medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics. Besides being one of the youngest champions in the world, Robert Wangila also made his home country Kenya famous worldwide. He is still the first and only athlete from Kenya and Sub-Saharan Africa to win a gold Olympic medal.


However, he didn’t have long to bask in his glory. On July 24, 1994, he lost a fight against David Gonzales, a famous American boxer. Robert Wangila collapsed in the dressing room and got taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead in two days. Nowadays, Wangila is still a source of pride and inspiration for all people living in Kenya and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Ed Sanders


Also known as “Big Ed”, Hayes Edward Sanders was an American gold medalist in the middleweight class in Olympic boxing. Before he turned twenty, Big Ed had a very successful amateur career. He was a member of the U.S. Navy Boxing Team which he joined as soon as he enlisted in the Navy. Back then, Big Ed defeated Kirby Seals, the then Navy Heavyweight Champion, and claimed his first major title.


Ed Sanders continued his undefeated streak by winning the Los Angeles Golden Gloves Tournament and Chicago Golden Gloves Tournaments. He also claimed victory at the Golden Gloves Tournaments in Germany and became a gold medalist at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. Sanders was the first American boxer to win the Olympics in the heavyweight division since 1904. His picture appeared on the front pages of major sports journals, and the articles about him are still considered classics by all leading text editors.


Big Ed passed away in December 1954 after a fight against Willie James. During the eleventh round, James knocked Sanders out, following which he lost his consciousness. Big Ed passed away without waking up soon after the match. Many doctors insisted on the fact that Sanders had complained about frequent headaches before the fight. It was also alleged that Big Ed sustained a prior brain injury which got aggravated during the James bout.

Jonny Stapleton

Irish-boxing.com contributor for 15 years and editor for the past decade. Have been covering boxing for over 16 years and writing about sport for a living for 19 years. Former Assistant Sports editor for the Gazette News Paper Group and former Tallaght Voice Sports Editor. Have had work published in publications around the world when working as a freelance journalist. Also co-founder of Junior Sports Media and Leinster Rugby PRO of the Year winner. email: [email protected]