A local business owner is in the hospital fighting for his life after competing in the Rough N Rowdy Brawl boxing tournament held at the Myrtle Beach Convention center.
Willie Pedersen, 34, was in a coma Friday, and has been for two weeks since sustaining several punches to the head during his second fight in the highly publicized amateur boxing tournament on Feb. 4.
“The doctors said constantly that nothing is certain and we won’t know more until we can start to wake him up and check for reflexes and twitches and see eye movement,” said his wife, Melissa Pedersen. “There’s no way of knowing until we can wake him up.”
Second round, probably about 25 to 30 seconds in, the guy hit him with a hard right.
Willie, a father of two and the co-owner of Honest Auto Service in Socastee, thought it would be a “fun” event, and didn’t think he would win his first fight, she said. No one thought any serious injuries would occur.
A GoFundMe page has been set up by Ryan Wagner, Willie’s business partner of five years. Melissa said she’s glad it’s there, but hopes she doesn’t have to use it.
“I could just use prayers more than anything,” she said. “I truly believe we’re not just here because he’s lucky. He’s loved. God loves him.”
Willie won his first fight Feb. 3 and had to fight again Feb. 4.
“Second round, probably about 25 to 30 seconds in, the guy hit him with a hard right,” said friend Travis Pritchett, who attended the fight. “He went down. He got right back up. They checked his gloves, made sure he was good and coherent. He was fine.”
About 15 second later, he was backed into a corner and got hit again.
“It almost seemed like he got tripped up on his own feet,” Pritchett said. “He was probably a little dazed before from the other hit.”
Somebody asked me whether or not he was an organ donor.
After the second hit, the referee stopped the fight.
“It appears like the EMTs checked him for about a minute or so and then I met him to help him to help him get his headgear and his gloves off,” Pritchett said. “He said ‘Man, that guy whacked the heck out of me, I’ve never been hit like that before.’”
Willie felt sick while drinking a Gatorade after the fight, said Pritchett, who warned him that he might have a concussion.
“He’s like ‘No, I’m okay, I’m gonna go throw up,’” said Pritchett. “He’s like ‘I’ll feel better after I throw up. I’ll be right back.’ We watched him walk away from there. He was fine, he wasn’t stumbling or anything like that.”
After about five, minutes, Pritchett said he went searching for Willie to give him some Ibuprofen. Willie had gone to a room that was restricted to fighters and ring girls, but a security guard agreed to give him the medicine.
We’re hoping that if anybody can pull through this, he can pull through this.
The guard found Willie and called the EMTs, who showed up about five minutes later and spent about 10 minutes with Willie before putting him into an ambulance to take him to the hospital for a concussion. Pritchett, who wasn’t with the EMTs, said he didn’t think Willie’s injuries were severe.
But doctors at the hospital had to perform a craniotomy to relieve swelling of the brain.
“I drove up there just expecting to meet with the doctors and hear a little bit about what I needed to do as far as care for him over the next few days and what to watch for,” said Melissa. “I walked through the doors to find out he was in emergency surgery and my heart dropped.”
Willie’s first few days were “downhill,” said Melissa.
“Somebody asked me whether or not he was an organ donor,” she said. “It was to that point.”
There’s not a soul in this world that could have a bad thing to say about that man.
But since then, his brain swelling has gone down and his condition is improving.
“Willie’s a tough guy,” said Pritchett. “He’s real resilient. We’re hoping that if anybody can pull through this, he can pull through this.”
Was it preventable?
Competitors had to go through a pre-fight examination, but Pritchett said the event could have paid more attention to contestants after their bouts.
“Maybe possibly have the guys go to a quarantined area with two professional doctors, immediately get evaluated for concussion and make sure they have water and ice and they’re not cramping, they’re breathing good,” he said. “But really after the fight, the fighters were just free to roam, go have a beer if they wanted to.”
You have a lot of acquaintances growing up through life but you always have that one friend, and he’s that one friend for me.
Event promoter Chris Smith did not respond to questions about what precautions were taken to protect competitors during the event, what could have been done differently to prevent the injury or what waivers contestants signed before fighting.
Instead, he issued a statement saying:
“Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with the competitor and his family. Safety is the utmost importance at our events. We take every precaution necessary to make our events safe as these events are sanctioned by the SC Athletic Commission. As we don’t know the status of his condition right now due to HIPA laws, we are praying that he makes a full recovery.”
Willie’s business partner Ryan Wagner said he sent the organizer a Facebook message letting them know about Willie’s injuries, and received a response back from them expressing condolences. They also asked that they be kept updated.
Since then, the organization has called Honest Auto Services twice asking about Willie, but Wagner said he’s been too busy to talk. He said the last phone call was last week.
Pritchett and Melissa said they haven’t been in contact with anyone from the event.
“We told them Willie’s at Grand Strand ICU if you wanted to see him or if you’re really concerned about anything,” said Pritchett. “They haven’t reached out or shown much concern or worry, really. They’re just trying to get a gist of what’s going on and how serious the situation is.”
Melissa said she didn’t know what could have been done to prevent the injury, but she didn’t blame her husband’s opponent and said Willie wouldn’t have blamed him either.
“There’s not a soul in this world that could have a bad thing to say about that man,” she said. “He was kind and nice to everybody he ever met.
“He’s always smiling, she said. “The only wrinkles he has are around his eyes and mouth from smiling. He’s really a great guy, just nice to everybody.”
Wagner said he’s never met a person who didn’t like Willie.
“Willie has always been the most level headed, thoughtful person I have ever met,” he said. “He would do anything for you at anytime.”
Pritchett said he just wants his friend back.
“Everybody has that one friend that you can rely on, trust on, talk to about anything, that you absolutely trust,” he said. “You have a lot of acquaintances growing up through life but you always have that one friend, and he’s that one friend for me.”
Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian