Contestant Dies After Toughman Contest
By Rusty Surette, NEWS 9
OKLAHOMA CITY -- A contestant in a "Toughman Contest" last weekend has passed away from head injuries he received during the fight.
A spokesman with the OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City has confirmed Nathan Johnson, 23, died Tuesday afternoon. The Latta High School graduate suffered severe injuries to his head, including irreversible brain damage, according to a CarePages Web site updated by Johnson's family.
"In all my years of doing this, I've never seen this happen at our venues," said Farmer's Public Market owner Burt McAnally who confirmed Johnson's pregnant fiancé, his mother and his sister were all present at the fight Saturday night.
An athlete at heart, the former baseball star and coach from Pontotoc County wanted to sharpen his skills in the ring, so Johnson signed up to fight in the Toughman Contest.
"They come into Oklahoma City once a year and we host their event," McAnally said.
The fight was held at the Farmers Public Market in Oklahoma City this past weekend. McAnally said he was watching when Johnson's fight took a tragic turn.
"He was favored to win his weight class and at the end of one of his fights he walked over to the corner, his eyes rolled up to his head and collapsed," McAnally said. "We are deeply saddened by this tragedy."
His family and pregnant fiancé watched as EMSA medics and a doctor rushed to his side. Suffering from a traumatic brain injury, Johnson was taken from the ring to the OU Medical Center. There he laid in a coma until he passed away Tuesday.
Required by state law, paramedics are always on stand-by for these events.
The Toughman Contest requires its competitors to use protective head gear and gloves, but that doesn't guarantee an injury-free fight, especially when there are a slew of punches to the head.
"I would say what happened Saturday is very uncommon," said John Graham, with EMSA. "What happens is when the head moves forward or back and the head stops, the brain inside doesn't. It continues to travel."
On its Web site, the Toughman Contest warns, "this is real." An event where every man fights for fame and glory, even if it means risking a fight for his life.
A spokeswoman for EMSA confirmed at least one other fighter was also taken to the hospital, along with Johnson, on Saturday night. Their identity and condition is not known at this time.
On Monday, Johnson's family gathered together in what they called a time of promise between Nathan and his fiancé. A pastor led Andrea McKerley in making the following four promises to Nathan:
1) I promise to love you as long as I live
2) I promise our daughter will know you and will know about you and will know without a doubt that her daddy loved her before she was ever born
3) I promise our daughter will grow up knowing Jesus loves her just like he loved her Daddy
4) I promise that I will teach her the knowledge of the savior that has you in his hands. I love you Nathan.
The family said the symbolic ceremony was something Johnson would have wanted.
Johnson's family released a statement following his death:
"Nathan went to look upon His Savior's face this afternoon at 2:21.
Nathan was kept as comfortable and pain-free as possible and we are grateful for the hard work and dedication of the OU Medical Center staff. You all know who you are.
Preparations are now being made to save as many lives as possible with his donated organs as per Nathan's wishes. Please pray that everything will progress as needed.
Thank you for your incredible support, love, encouragement, and prayers during this extremely difficult time. We have made many new friends and we will be forever grateful for the compassion they have shown us. The outpouring from all of our beautiful friends and family is overwhelming and has sustained us every step of the way.
Susie and Dan"
Donations to help the Johnson family with medical expenses can be made at any Legacy Bank in Oklahoma. For more information, please contact Susie Maeder at the Blanchard branch in Blanchard 405-485-9333.