South African Ludumo Lamati recalls fighting for his life in Belfast hospital

South African featherweight Ludumo Lamati collapsed in the ring after eventually succumbing in the last session of a tough 12 round fight with Liverpool’s Nick Ball, supporting Luis Alberto Lopez Vs Michael Conlan in Belfast this past May. 

I had a keen eye on the 31-year-old, dubbed “9mm”, due to a working relationship with him four years ago. Sat in the press section ringside, approximately 25 feet from Lamati’s corner, I had a direct view of him as he received oxygen sat on his stool following the arduous affair in Northern Ireland. Seconds later, his head would fall backwards through the ropes and his lifeless body dropped to the floor. My view was blocked until he was carried off on a stretcher to an applauding Belfast crowd. 

Lamati would be placed in an induced-coma due to a bleed on his brain shortly after.

“I’ve watched the fight, I’ve seen it back,” Lamati said, in an exclusive interview for ProBox TV. “Round 4 and he hit me at the back of the head. I look at the ref, and he says, ‘just keep boxing.’ I start to think that I will recover. It’s not the first time I’ve been hit in the back of the head. My coach did say to me, ‘who is this, you are not looking like the guy I trained.’ He said, ‘Do you hear me?’ I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ I didn’t tell him about the shot to the back of the head. I was dizzy, I could feel I was not myself in the legs. Then we went to round 5, we are boxing nicely. Then every time I go close to him, bro, he hits me at the back, holds me and pushes me down.

“I remember round 7 going into 8. My back is numb. The back of the head to the shoulders is fucking numb, man! My coach said at the end of the round, ‘you don’t do anything that we talk about’ I’m saying, ‘I’m going to try, I'm going to try.’ I didn’t tell him about the shots to the back of the head because I know he wants to throw the towel because I am not myself. I kept asking him for an extra round. ‘I’m going to come back, I'm going to be okay.’” 

In rounds 9 and 10, I was making things worse. Things were getting a bit dirty. Because he was short and I’m much taller he would catch me when I came in. Then he caught me behind the back of the ear. It was fucked up bro, I just didn’t know how to quit.”

We fell into a half nervous laughter as he detailed his last memories before he would wake up in a Belfast hospital six days later. 

The towel would come in with 45 seconds left that night. 

“I don’t remember anything after that, apart from the towel,” Lamati continued. 

“And then I remember my coach hugging me. But, other than that, nothing. I then remember waking up. Nobody was there, I was in the ICU. I was supposed to wake up after two weeks. It took me six days. I wake up and there is nobody, I have a pipe in my mouth. I said, ‘okay, fuck.’ But the hospital was great, the system is amazing. I didn’t even feel like I was in a hospital. They were also shocked with my recovery. 

“I was drugged up with medication and still dizzy, but I remember it all. Then I start to work out that I am injured and I have to fight for my life. Then the doctor said, ‘you passed that stage, you were in a coma and now you are out. You were either going to come out in two weeks or wouldn’t have made it.’ It was hard at first. I couldn’t stand up, I was dizzy, wobbling. Then after taking it easy a little bit, I started to walk after three days. It was difficult, but I could manage it. After they finished the surgery, I could feel the back of my head was heavy. I was there for about three weeks. I started writing and doing work on my balance. You are lucky over there, the doctors are amazing. They saved my life.”

Lamati was well looked after by all accounts. Local organisations, promoters Michael and Jamie Conlan and Belfast hero Carl Frampton rallied around him as he recovered. 

“Jamie, Mick, Carl, they were my fucking brothers,” Lamati expressed proudly. “While we were waiting to get my Mother and family out to me, they were going to see me everyday. I had everything, new clothing, visits, snacks, anything I wanted until the day I left. They took out my parents when they got to Belfast, those guys are the best. They are good people in that city. People who have been in a difficult time, they know someone has had a difficult time. They understood my position, they were also paralysed as a country. They did everything for me, especially those Conlan brothers and Carl.”

Now back in Johannesburg, Lamati looks forward, and he’s determined to enjoy the next chapter of his very different boxing career. 

“I got over it, I did it early.” Lamati stated with confidence about moving on. “I talked about it, but now we look forward. What’s next? What am I going to do now? It was time for a change, man. It’s disappointing what happened, but I can’t stay there and hold onto that, I have to move on. My family are happy, relieved. They didn’t know what was going to happen. But they don’t need to walk me, I’m looking after myself, but they are there and happy. 

“I’ve been boxing for a long time. I opened a gym some time ago and have been getting into some promotion. I was already preparing my escape from fighting. Also the age, I was thinking 33 was the age to stop. There is a lot of life after 33, bro. You are just starting your life in many ways. We are very busy now, we have a fight coming up with a new promotional company I have set up. The ambition is to build world champions. Myself and Larry Wainstein are announcing something soon for an event, but I can’t say too much now. We need new promoters in this country. There are big problems inside the committee that runs boxing in South Africa. It is very difficult for the promoters, managers and fighters to get to work when there are very big problems inside the workings of boxing here. But there are lots of good people in South African boxing, and great fighters.”