Wangila Napunyi, who struggled as a professional after winning the first Olympic boxing gold medal for an African nation, died Sunday morning in a Las Vegas hospital two days after suffering head injuries in a knockout loss. He was 26.
Napunyi, who fought for Kenya under the name Robert Wangila in the 1988 Games at Seoul, was stopped in the ninth round by welterweight David Gonzales, ranked No. 10 by the World Boxing Council, in a bout Friday night at the Aladdin Hotel.
The bout was scheduled for 10 rounds.
Wangila’s death came less than three months after British boxer Bradley Stone died as a result of injuries suffered during a bout in the London area on April 26. Stone died two days later.
According to observers, Napunyi walked from the ring without visible problems, but 30 minutes later started vomiting, then collapsed.
“In the post-fight examination in the ring, he was very alert,” Robert Voy, the ringside physician, said Friday. “He responded normally. There were no complaints of headaches.”
At the hospital, doctors discovered a large blood clot on the right side of Wangila’s head, according to Dr. Albert Capanna, who performed surgery Saturday morning. Napunyi was placed on a life-support system immediately after the operation.
Napunyi, who had a professional record of 22-5 and who received $2,500 for the fight, died at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, according to a University Medical Center spokesperson.
Napunyi gained major attention during the Seoul Olympics, and became a professional in 1989 as one of the most eagerly awaited welterweights in many years.
He was known as a the hardest hitter in the Olympics, but was later criticized for his work ethic.
He started 12-0, then lost his 13th pro fight, on a knockout by Eric Hernandez in 1990.
“I wanted to quit and go back home to Kenya,” Wangila said at the time. “I was looking bad and I wasn’t making any progress at all.”
The struggle continued for Wangila, who trained at times in the Los Angeles area and fought at the Irvine Marriott and, most recently, at the Forum, where he was knocked out by Australian Troy Waters on Oct. 25.
Wangila, 175-5 with 165 KOs as an amateur, was knocked out at least four times in his pro career.
Wangila’s was the first death resulting from a boxing match in Nevada since 1982, when South Korean Deuk-Koo Kim died of head injuries sustained in a bout against Ray Mancini, World Boxing Assn. lightweight champion.
The reaction and criticism resulting from Kim’s death caused world title bouts to be cut from 15 to 12 rounds.