SINGAPORE - Shahril Salim was supposed to be making his debut as a professional boxer at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) tonight. Instead, the 21-year-old is now fighting for his life at the Singapore General Hospital.
He was rushed to hospital for emergency brain surgery on Oct 28 after collapsing following a group sparring session at the Juggernaut Fight Club in Boat Quay.
Shahril and fellow trainee Syafiq Abdul Samad were preparing to make their debuts on the undercard of World Boxing Association featherweight champion Chris John's title defence against Thailand's Chonlatarn Piryanpinyo tonight when tragedy struck.
As a sign of good faith, MBS and event promoter Dragon Fire Boxing have each pledged $10,000 towards his medical expenses, even though they are not liable in any way.
Part of the boxer's skull has been removed to relieve the swelling inside caused by internal bleeding. It is not known whether the injury was caused by a punch or was the result of a pre-existing condition.
When The Straits Times visited the 21-year-old shop assistant in the intensive care unit, along with Syafiq and Juggernaut coach Arvind Lalwani, the former ITE College East Simei student was breathing by himself but was unable to speak. However, he could move his fingers in response to visitors.
Mr Lalwani, 32, said: "This is a nightmare for everyone. All we want is for Shahril to get better again. It was a freak accident but obviously, there is always a risk when someone is participating in something like this.
"Some boxers have hundreds of fights without incident so this is really unheard of. All we can do is try and minimise the risks as much as possible."
He said Shahril had been wearing a headguard during the sparring session and that everyone had used gloves weighing 16 ounces, which have additional padding, for extra safety. Boxers usually fight with gloves weighing 10 ounces in the ring.
Shahril's brother Jufri said the family is still struggling to come to terms with what has happened.
"Some have said that they wished they never let Shahril get involved in boxing," added the 29-year-old, who works as a freelance musician.
"But we had seen some hope in him, boxing had given him that.
"He was trying to do something for the family and the family's name."
Shahril's dream of being a fighter will never come to fruition now as he will not be able to get a boxing licence due to the injury.
He had told The Straits Times three weeks ago how he wanted to make something of himself after being orphaned when he was young - his dad died when he was nine, and his mum when he was 10.
He wanted to inspire other children in the same situation to turn their lives around. Mr Jufri said that resolve will help his brother now.
"We are all worried because it is going to be a long road to recovery and we don't know the extent of the damage," he said.
"Shahril wanted to fight and now his real fight has just begun."
Shahril's plight has also inspired Syafiq for his four-round contest against Thailand-based Briton James Goyder.
"I'm devastated to see my friend like this because we wanted to box alongside each other, but I'm not going to give up now," said Syafiq, 19, who is known as "The Slasher" after surviving a machete attack when he was 14 years old.
"I will do my best and if I win, I will dedicate this victory to Shahril. When I am fighting, his spirit will be with me."
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