The Boxer – Magomed “Maga” Abdusalamov


Written by Anastasia Rasulova, Eta Kavkaz

June 7, 2021

Eto Kavkaz

This article was originally published at Eto Kavkaz in September 2017.

Eta Kavkaz aims are similar to those of East of Elbrus: telling the stories of the people, culture and history of the Caucasus.   They just do it all in Russian.   Our partnership with them will allow more access to the richness of the North Caucasus to our Western, English-speaking audience.

The state of New York will pay $22 million to Russian boxer Magomed “Maga” Abdusalamov, who was confined to a wheelchair after a title fight in the fall of 2013. Abdusalamov’s family accused the state of negligence and unprofessionalism, arguing that the boxer’s health could have been preserved if the fight had been stopped and medical assistance had been provided on time.

What follows is the story of Magomed’s wife, Bakanay Abducalamova, who has cared for her husband from the moment of his tragic accident.

My father pointed Maga out to me at one point, and I thought, “He’s a looker.”

I fell in love with him right away’

Maga and I had a typical Dagestani version of dating, which was through our parents. We lived on neighboring streets, but I didn’t know him. At some point Maga saw me and was interested. Per our customs, our fathers talked. Both were inclined to agree that we marry. My father pointed Maga out to me at one point, and I thought, “He’s a looker.” Then Maga’s parents came to us with the ring. A wedding day was immediately decided upon – September 18, 2004. I was studying to be an economist, but after the wedding I switched to correspondence courses. Maga said, “Don’t even bring your diploma home — you won’t work. Only I can be your boss.” That was fine with me. I wanted to be near my husband all the time. What fun Maga and I had at home! We played tag and hide-and-seek. We would shoot each other with water from squirt bottles. We danced. Once we had children, we would sometimes leave the house at nine in the evening and just walk through shopping centers or drive around town. Of course we argued at times, but we were happy. I fell in love with him right away, and he with me. For three years after the wedding, I never left the house alone – not even for bread. Maga was very protective. If we were walking down the street together and someone looked at me, he might shout out, “What are you looking at my wife for?” Sometimes I think I loved him too much. You can’t love too much. But I had such a wild love and also a rabid jealousy. If I had ever seen him with another woman, I would have been ready to eat her. We just found each other; we had the perfect match. I believe in fate. Maga was my destiny. We lived happily for nine years.

I had such a wild love and also a rabid jealousy
Maga and Bakanay in Makhachkala before his injury (from the archive of Bakanay Abducalamova)
Maga was a championship level boxer (from the archive of Bakanay Abducalamova)

No one expected this to happen to Maga

We lived in Makhachkala, Dagestan. Maga was an amateur boxer. I was afraid for him, of course. I attended three of his fights, and each time I was ready to run into the ring myself and fight for my husband. When he moved to professional sports, we already had two daughters and it became more difficult for me to let him go into the ring. When he fought in the U.S., he would travel alone and was there for two months at a time. I felt like I was dying when he was there. He was bored without us there, so in 2011 we moved to Los Angeles and then to Miami to live together. I don’t think about that day very often. I do not want to. I think about our days before the fight. No one expected this to happen to Maga. So many wins. My Maga is such a big guy – 6 feet 9 inches tall, a mountain of a man. If help had been provided in time, the consequences would not have been so severe. There would have been an injury, but it could have been treated. He was so young – only 32.

On November 2, 2013, in New York, Magomed Abdusalamov met with Cuban Mike Perez — both undefeated. In the first round, Maga suffered a broken left cheekbone but boxed all 10 rounds before losing by unanimous decision. A few hours later, he was admitted to the hospital with a brain hemorrhage. Doctors had to put the boxer in an artificial coma to avoid brain damage; but a few days later, Abdusalamov suffered a stroke. Eventually doctors removed a blood clot from the brain as well as part of the skull in order to reduce the swelling. Maga spent 10 months in an American clinic, where his wife Bakanay took care of him every day. The boxer was left confined to a wheelchair, the right side of his body paralyzed.

Maga and Bakanay after his injury (from the archive of Bakanay Abducalamova)

I drowned like a bull

After the surgery, I visited Maga in the hospital every day to help with his exercises and massages. The only food I ate was hamburgers and coffee from Starbucks. I did not take care of myself. I “drowned like a bull” as they would say in Dagestan. I forgot myself. I forgot my children. I thought that if he died, I would die after him because I couldn’t live without him. I was so alone — he was like air for me. I started having health problems and the doctors said if I didn’t stop lifting Maga, my legs would give out and I would end up like him. Some people advised me to leave Maga at a rehabilitation center for a while so that I could rest. I’m very tired. I’ve been taking sedatives for the last year. But I don’t want to leave him in the hospital. I know families where the other half cannot stand the serious illness of the spouse and leaves. I don’t blame them — it’s really very hard. No one can stop me from leaving. I don’t care what people say – I won’t leave Maga. This is the man I loved as a husband, as a man. He’s like a child to me now. And I can’t leave him; I can’t even go to bed separately. This is my man, and I will always be with him to the last.
I won’t leave Maga. This is the man I loved as a husband, as a man. He’s like a child to me now. And I can’t leave him

The husband should look like a statesman

My rule is that no matter what, my husband must look like a statesman. I shave him nearly every day. I bathe him every morning. All of his clothes are carefully selected, the colors are combined with each other appropriately. If a small spot appears during lunch, they are immediately put in the laundry. If a person is ill, it does not mean that he should be untidy. Now I have an assistant. In the beginning, I did everything myself. And some people look and think, “Oh, what’s hard in her life? So well-groomed, dressed, she probably has 500 nurses.” When I first read such comments, I said to my husband, “Magash, imagine. People think that I do not care for you, that it’s all just for the photo.” I call him Magash, and he calls me baby and princess. He tells me that people are just jealous that “you are mine.”
Bakanay’s love for he husband has remained through all of their difficulties (from the archive of Bakanay Abducalamova)
Maga and Bakanay together with their three daughters (from the archive of Bakanay Abducalamova)

This is a different person

Sometimes I say to Maga, “Maybe you need to be frightened somehow so that you jump up. What if thieves suddenly come into our house? What will you do?” He doesn’t think anything is wrong. He thinks like a child. From the very beginning, the doctors told me not to wait for my husband. “He will be different,” they said. I didn’t understand. Well, he won’t box anymore; he won’t run anymore, I thought. So what? But now I understand – yes, this is a different person. I show Maga our old videos and tell him that this is the person I love the most, and I hug the phone. And he laughs. “Here I am,” he says. But I miss him so much. Now happiness for me is my children. Our daughters are 11, eight and four. Of course they ask what happened to their dad. The older one, I think, already understands everything. She doesn’t talk about it. The middle daughter still believes that her dad can recover – you have to believe in miracles. My daughters don’t see my tears – I don’t show them. They are used to their mother always dancing and smiling. It’s just…if it’s not like that, what’s the other way? I’ve always been an optimist. I do not like quarrels and insults. I love to be loved. I often have this state of love for everything. I have so much of this feeling that our nurse says that I love love. I want to embrace the whole world and tell people, “Love each other.”
Do I believe in miracles? Yes and no. Not as much as before

I keep hoping

Am I satisfied with the result of the trial? I would be happy if my Maga was restored to health. Many women want to be the leader of the family. But it’s so hard to carry everything; to think for him. How I need the old Maga of mine to tell me what to do and what not to do. I wake up thinking about how I can make my children happy — where to live, where to go to school. I don’t know if we will return to Russia. We’ll see what God will lead us to do. I would like to live with my Maga and our children somewhere in a village, where my only problem would be to decide what to cook that day. I was so happy before. I got up in the morning, did the cleaning, prepared food, played with the children, and in the evening we all went out together for a walk. I knew that tomorrow Maga would provide for us — that we would have money for clothes and so on. Now I don’t know. There will be money, but there will be no happiness. At night when everyone is asleep, I go to Instagram. It’s so nice to look at other married couples. At first it was hurtful because I also had all this – my husband once carried me in his arms. Now I’m just happy for someone else’s love. Do I believe in miracles? Yes and no. Not as much as before. At first, I really believed and hoped that after what happened, only good things would happen. But then two years later my brother died in a car accident. I support my parents. They still cannot come to their senses after the death of their son. I call them from across the ocean and try to find words. No matter how hard it is for me, I try to calm them down and lift their spirits. And, of course, I dream. I want to believe in good things and continue to hope.

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