“Do I even want to do this sport?” Boston Salmon and Shawn West grapple with the fallout of an illegal knee
“In order for me to get back into the UFC, I need a win. I need to get my mojo back. I need to see who I am again after those two losses in the UFC. It built a fire in me, getting released from the UFC; knowing what I could have done, and knowing what I didn’t do.”
Boston Salmon (7-3) did walk out of his LFA 84 catchweight bout against Shawn West (16-11, 1 NC) with a win, but it was a disastrous one for the UFC veteran aiming to punch his ticket back to the Octagon.
The fight marked Salmon’s first since being released from the UFC, a departure that followed two straight TKO losses to Khalid Taha (14-2) and Randy Costa (5-1) in the promotion for the Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) winner, and his return to Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA), one of the foremost developmental leagues in MMA.
Salmon was no stranger to the LFA cage. The Hawaiian spent the entirety of his pre-Contender Series career in Resurrection Fighting Alliance (RFA), one of two promotions – alongside Legacy Fighting Championship (LFC) – that merged to become LFA. While in RFA, Salmon compiled a 5-1 record, which landed him on the UFC’s radar.
For Salmon, the 150-pound catchweight fight was an opportunity for redemption – and a healthier weight cut.
“The fight meant a lot to me. A lot of people were actually shocked that I was released from the UFC. I’ve been kind of on the distance of that and not releasing that to the public, of being released by the UFC after two losses. Something that I haven’t covered is that I have been fighting at a weight class that I have been killing myself for so long. If you know me, and you see me at the gym and see me perform, you know, I was never a 35er.
“I truly believe in that, and I’ve done all the testing that they had at the UFC, and everything justified that. I wasn’t competing at my [healthy] weight.”
The first round of the fight was a competitive one, with both Salmon and West establishing their rhythms early. West repeatedly threw powerful low kicks into the lead leg of Salmon, causing a sizable red welt to appear on Salmon’s lower right leg, while Salmon continued to find success for his quick lead hooks.
“Going into the first round I felt good. There weren’t any significant shots that he landed besides the leg kicks. He was chopping at my calf and he landed maybe about six leg kicks until I really started checking them, and then he started slowing that down. He never really landed anything significant standing up; I landed the better shots and landed a few leg kicks. Going into that [second] round, you could really give it to me or him. I’m not a judge, but I had myself winning that first round, but maybe it could have been him – it could have went either way.”
In the second round, both fighters ramped up the intensity, landing heavier blows and committing more to multi-strike exchanges. With roughly a minute left in the round, the two traded blows in the penultimate strikes of the contest.
“I’m ready to go in there for the finish. I step back and give him a little break and we get into a little exchange. I throw a straight left, he throws the same punch, I throw a right hook. I catch him with my wrist, he catches me on my chin, so I’m off balance. It’s basically a double-knockdown. We catch each other at the same time. I stun him, he’s hurt. He hits me, obviously, I’m hurt, but I’m not to the point where I’m going to be finished, and that’s the last thing I really remember,” recounted Salmon.
“I could see him from a distance. I can’t really collect myself, though, but I’m trying to get up and there’s a lot going on, and then that’s it. Lights out.”
Devastating illegal knee results in a DQ. #LFA84 pic.twitter.com/3e31byKzUV
— UFC FIGHT PASS (@UFCFightPass) July 11, 2020
Following the exchange, in which both men were stunned by punches, and Salmon appeared to stumble onto one side of the fence. Salmon caught himself before hitting the canvas and tried to regain his footing, turning back toward West with his right knee, his left foot, and his right hand on the mat.
West, sprinting across the cage, launched a vicious left knee into the face of Salmon, instantly rendering his opponent unconscious. Salmon’s body slumped off to the side as his face hit the canvas.
The fight was over.
“I just remember getting fazed from that hook, like I said we threw those hooks at the same time. I was off-balance and he was off-balance.”
The next thing Salmon knew after “a shot that would have put out Francis Ngannou, if you ask me,” he was standing in front of LFA cameramen with his hand held high by the referee.
“I get my hand raised, I have a cut on my eye, and I’m not all there yet. I look at my coach, and my coach is furious about what just happened and the illegal shot that I just took.”
Shawn West’s experience was a different one.
The 27-fight veteran – who has competed in MMA, boxing, and bare-knuckle boxing in the past – remembers hesitating when he received the offer to face off against Salmon.
“I got a phone call from my manager… and he said LFA,” West told The Body Lock. “We’ve been looking to book an LFA fight for a while. I’ve been boxing for the past couple of years because it’s been rough to find fights. So, I got the phone call and when they told me I said ‘Yes, sweet, let’s do it.’ I said, ‘Who’s the guy?’ and he said, ‘Boston Salmon,’ and I’m like, man.”
“Usually, I go by the rule: If your number is in my phone, then I won’t fight you. If you’re not my good enough friend for your number to be in my phone, then we can fight, but Boston’s [number] was. So, I texted Boston and said ‘Hey brother, I got a phone call to fight for LFA;’ he’s like, ‘Awesome.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, but it’s versus you.’ He’s like, ‘Well, bro, it’s all love this way, let’s let the managers figure out and we’ll go from there.’ I said that’s all I needed to know – it’s all love, I appreciate that.”
West and Salmon had shared a gym together before during their respective climbs in their careers. They had never sparred against one another, but developed a friendly relationship around their shared ambitions.
Like Salmon, West agrees that the second round of their fight was the one in which the better shots started to land.
“Fight comes and in the first round, we got after a little bit but nothing like the beginning of the second. Beginning of the second he comes out and he starts throwing a little more heat. So I was like ‘Okay, this is where we’re at.’ I’m more confident in my chin than I am in his chin. So, I went to southpaw, and I sat down on that two-three and that three landed; my right hook landed and put him down, and it knocked me off balance.
“And in an MMA fight, that was the hardest I’ve ever been hit right there. So, I was a little [West whistles], it knocked me off. He went down, and I came back running toward him and from there on – it doesn’t get blurry, man, and I’ll say this again, I thought he was up. I didn’t throw the knee hoping that ‘Oh, he was down, I’m going to throw it hoping that I get something.’ I threw that knee because I thought he was up enough,” said West.
In the weeks following the illegal blow, West has received a steady stream of criticism on social media, ranging from allegations that he is a ‘dirty’ fighter, a bad person, or worse.
The 31-year-old has read comments suggesting he be tried in criminal court for the blow. He also received death threats.
West is adamant that his intention was not to throw an illegal strike, and that he believed Salmon was not considered to be a “grounded fighter” at the time of the strike. However, upon reviewing the fight footage, he has since acknowledged that the strike was illegal, or that the margin of legality was so slim that an illegal distinction was justified.
“They told me the rules in the back. The rules in the back were full hand, one whole hand weight on the palm, not fingertips. So, in that, there was a little bit of confusion of – both knees, two hands? In Iowa, it’s two hands. They told me there – they always tell you, ‘Don’t play that game, don’t play that game,’ in the back. ‘I’ll let you get kneed, if you are playing the up and down game.’
“Boston wasn’t playing that up and down game or anything like that. But, still, my interpretation was that one whole hand, palm down, means that he is down. I should have been thinking that if a knee is down then a person is down. If a knee is down, then they are down, period. And I thought he had just got up enough. I rewound it and looked at it and there’s a brief moment where it looks like his knee does get up enough, but it would never be something that I would argue because I still ultimately feel like shit for throwing it on him,” said West.
“It could probably be anyone else but Boston, and I might maybe not feel… ” West pauses for a moment, almost appearing to correct his racing mind. “Well, that’s not true, because no one deserves for an illegal knee to hurt them. But nevertheless, I threw that knee with an assumption that he was up. Not that he was down. I would never throw a soccer kick at somebody’s head while they are down. It’s not something I do. So, I think that’s the hard part for me.”
For both men, there were extensive “hard parts.”
Speaking with The Body Lock, Boston Salmon confirmed that – after weeks of appointment delays and reschedulings in part due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – that his “orbital bone and [zygamotic] arch [are] cracked.”
Additionally, Salmon says on-scene doctors – who he believes to be affiliated with the South Dakota Athletic Commission – erred by not sending him to the hospital immediately following the bout.
“I felt like LFA did whatever they can, or whatever they could to protect the safety of the fighters on that card. I respect them… I think it was more so the commission, the medical staff that was involved. They were doctors, obviously, but I don’t know if it was the med assistant or what that was taking care of me, but I’m not sure if they even watched the fight. If any doctor had watched that fight they probably would have rushed me straight to the hospital. I came back to the locker room and they gave me a concussion protocol, and just basic (expletive). First, last name, where you at, what’s the name of the arena, date of birth, a few other questions that I was able to answer really good. I answered all the questions and basically passed the concussion protocol,” said Salmon.
“I kept telling the med assistant, or whoever it was – I just knew he wasn’t the actual doctor or primary doctor they had in charge – I just kept telling him, I kept repeating myself, I kept telling him that something feels broken, my jaw feels broken. Can you check my face and see if anything is broken? Is there bleeding in my brain? But he wasn’t able to answer those questions. He wasn’t able to tell me. This was right after my fight, I had no idea what was going on, I was unconscious, I was knocked out from an illegal knee that was really severe. I feel like if the blow was a little higher, on my temple, or higher up, who knows if I’d even be here talking to this day, or who knows if I’d even have waken up.
“I kept repeating myself, I think something is broken. They were like ‘no everything is fine, nothing is broken, your face looks fine.’ He told my coach that they need to monitor me… and if it gets worse he needs to be taken to the hospital. Fighting for other organizations like the UFC, like if that ever happened, I know they would have taken you right to the hospital to see how severe that damage was. Anything could have happened. I went home, I fell asleep, I could have had bleeding in my brain or something,” recounted Salmon.
“Doctors didn’t tell me to go to the hospital. If there wasn’t an option on the table, I would have been at the hospital, just healing up and taking any precautions that [were] needed. I was just kind of taking the doctor’s word, right, he was saying that nothing was broken, and I’ll be okay.”
After about four hours in a hotel room after the event, Salmon says the concerns of his parents, team, and girlfriend finally pushed him to go to the hospital.
“‘Let’s go to the hospital, it’s better late than never,'” he remembers thinking. “Here I am starting to think about the past boxers that died, you know, getting brain trauma and having multiple hits to the head and bleeding in the brain and they never wake up, so I’m scared, man, I want to wake up tomorrow. I’m not ready to leave yet. I was scared at this point.”
Those South Dakota doctors diagnosed Salmon with a fractured orbital and cited issues with his sinuses believed to have been caused by the strike.
“It relieved a lot of stress on my parents and the people that care for me. When things like this happen, people get emotional, and I’m happy that I made that decision, because who knows if I had of went home and nothing had of happened… It relieved a lot of stress on my parents and the people that care for me. When things like this happen, people get emotional, and I’m happy that I made that decision, because who knows if I had of went home and nothing had of happened.”
“As fighters, we’re stubborn, we’re tough. We don’t want to go to the hospital. We shouldn’t have to make a decision at that time. I had a concussion. I’m not thinking in the right state of my mind, I didn’t even know what was going on. I didn’t even know I won the fight.”
West says he has been in contact with Salmon since the fight.
“He just wanted to let me know he knows I’m a good dude, knows I’m a good father, you know. I don’t want to put words in his mouth because I don’t have the text right in front of me because we’re on camera obviously, but it was something along the lines of ‘Hey, this is a combat sport, I wouldn’t blame you for what happens in the cage. We as fighters don’t think straight when we’re we’re fighting and it’s not something we should be blamed for.’
“When I got that text, mentally, all I needed was LFA’s understanding and Boston and his family’s understanding. Everybody else, and people have seen me say it on social media, and forgive me — this is sarcasm — forgive me if I respond negatively to people who say I’m a piece of shit. Hell yeah, I’m going to respond to them and tell them to eat a dick. Because I didn’t do it on purpose and I would never do anything like that on purpose to anybody, especially to someone who I consider myself friends enough with to text and tell them that they’re trying to hook us up for a fight,” said West.
“So, when I get people saying these things to me I troll back and I responded in a negative manner because I was upset that I was receiving all these things. I’m receiving death threats. I’m receiving foreign people in my inbox: ‘You’re a shit fighter.’ No, no I’m not at all actually. I feel like I performed pretty well [against] a fantastic fighter who I have been a fan of and it’s tainted by a fucking dumb move and an idea. Maybe if I stayed with punches I wouldn’t be in this situation.
“The only opinions that matter are LFA’s and Boston’s. I got Boston’s and he said, ‘Hey Shawn, shit happens, you know, it sucks but I can’t blame you.’ That made me feel better inside. But he’s probably still loopy, for the tension to add up over the next few days and realize, kick-in, like ‘Fuck, Shawn, you know, you broke my face.’ It probably upsets him. I don’t want to keep bugging him saying ‘Hey Boston, I’m really checking on you,’ and for him to go ‘Dude, just let me heal up and let me get over this.’ I don’t know if maybe he wants to fight me again. I don’t know anything anymore. I haven’t spoken with him since the day after the surgery. Hopefully, he’s just okay, man.”
Salmon says that he was considering retiring from MMA as a result of the injuries he sustained throughout his career, ending with the LFA 84 blow, and his recent career setbacks creating an arduous road back to the UFC fraught with little financial security relative to damage accrued.
“This could be the last fight of my career. I don’t know. I don’t want to speak before I make a decision, but this could potentially ruin my career,” said Salmon the week after the event.
In messages to The Body Lock on August 5, Salmon confirmed his intention to remain an active MMA fighter, welcoming another bout with LFA or another promotion.
West, too, considered leaving MMA for boxing – “where your hands are covered and there’s no question for knees and kicks” – for good, but ultimately says he will remain a mixed martial artist.
“I will. I absolutely will. I see people like ‘Oh, criminal charges should be brought upon him,’ and I’m like what? Was I not in a cage, fighting, doing things that could have happened, like I said, if it was one or two inches up and then that knee is legal. That same injury could have happened legally.”
For West, he thinks the negative messages directed his way at times overreach.
“So, you guys are looking for further punishment, or, I’ve seen someone say that criminal charges should be added. I’m like, ‘What?’ Did I not show up at a cage fight, did I not sign up for the same thing to potentially happen to me? Did I not show up to a cage fight? A fight in a cage. Did I not show up to that, or did I show up to a birthday party and start soccer kicking kids in the head? Like, come on, man, we were in a fight… in a heated, heated fight. And then I get mad because I don’t want to justify anything I did. I don’t want to justify anything I did because I’m wrong.”
West voiced the questions he’s been struggling with since the fight.
“I’m very torn on this. So, it makes me wonder do I want to fight again? Do I even want to do this sport?”
“I’d rather go back to boxing, where your hands are covered and there’s no question for knees and kicks, you know what I mean? This is crazy, man. One thing you’ll never see, though, is you’ll never see me throw kicks and knees in a boxing match. So if you want to question my character on this – ‘Is he an illegal fighter; is he a dirty fighter?’ – I don’t just throw illegal (expletive) strikes, man. I didn’t mean to throw that, man. I don’t throw a kick in a boxing match. I threw a knee, where knees are thrown in MMA fights, and I’m paying the price for it. I received a loss, half my money to take care of my family [with the loss, preventing West from earning his ‘win’ money], death threats, and some would say all of that is a little bit better than a broken face,” said West.
“I would say that Boston would take that broken face with a W every day of the week over a broken face with a loss.”
Moving forward, Salmon has pushed for increased awareness about illegal strikes in MMA, as well as the lack of uniformity in rulesets in varying promotions and commission jurisdictions.
“A lot of people are messaging me, saying that Shawn West should be suspended and there should be precautions taken for that,” said Salmon. “Part of me agrees with them and part of me doesn’t agree with them.
“A man of respect, he reached out to me multiple times checking on me to see if I was ok and [that] he was sorry. After the fight, when it happened, he jumped on the cage and he was celebrating, not knowing that he threw an illegal knee that put me out and put me unconscious, and now I gotta go get surgery for that. No fighter deserves that. If it’s a legal shot, in the clinch or off a punch, so be it, that’s a legal shot. That clearly was not a legal shot. It was on my forehead. I was a grounded opponent. Shawn West has over 20 fights and there’s no excuse for that. It took me a while to be true to myself to say that. There’s no excuse for that blow. He can say whatever he wants, he can say, ‘I should have punched,’ this or that… yeah, he should have: that knee should have never happened.
“Now, it’s forced me to have damage to myself, and it could be career-ending. It might not be, I don’t know. Should I be in this boat here now having this damage done, probably not from an illegal blow, but here I am wanting to raise awareness for future fighters. Commissions need to be a lot more safe and take better precautions of handling these situations because I feel like that in the future if they don’t take better precautions a lot worse things can happen from this.”
Salmon, when asked about what he believes should happen, deferred to those in positions of authority – the LFA and the South Dakota Athletic Commission, broadly, promotions and athletic commissions.
“I don’t want to get involved in it,” said Salmon. “That should be the commission’s decision. That should be LFA’s decision. I don’t wish the worst on anybody. I don’t wish for Shawn West to get suspended, that’s something for LFA and the commission to look into. If I [would have] ever done that to any other opponent, I’d probably expect some kind of suspension or something. I don’t know. That I cannot speak upon. The commission and LFA need to get on board with that – that’s not my job.”
Though there should be, says Salmon, “a mandatory review. All staff aboard, all commission aboard and have them replay that and see if it was intentional or not. And if it is, they need to take action about that.”
Salmon’s management team, SuckerPunch Entertainment, posted a statement about the fight on Instagram.
“Aside from the DQ, we feel there should be disciplinary actions enforced by the commission to set a higher precedence on these types of fouls. There was no question about the legality of the knee and Boston was awarded the win at the end of the contest,” wrote Brian Butler-Au, the firm’s founder and CEO.
“I want the safety out there not just for myself but for the future fighters that are up-and-coming,” said Salmon. “I get it, we’re in a fight, and I’m willing to give it all I can in the cage, but shots like this shouldn’t be acceptable and there should be consequences… Maybe the commissions need to be a lot more strict and they need to set better guidelines for the safety of fighters, you know, and if this doesn’t work any time soon, this could be really bad in the future for fighters that take severe damage like this. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. I get mistakes do happen, but how can we be responsible about this, you know, and take better precautions about illegal blows like this in mixed martial arts.”
Like Salmon, however, West also removed himself from determining any specific reforms or punishments. But West believes he is facing negative consequences from the incident already.
“Dude, I’m a fighter. If I felt like my point of view on things matters, I’d go be a doctor or politician or a lawyer or someone where my opinion matters. But I’m a fighter. I choose to get punched in the head: how smart am I? So, I don’t know what happens. I know there have been fights where there have been situations… each fight is a different snowflake of its own, they all have different complications and different settings and different situations at hand and that makes them difficult.
“So, I don’t know what makes things better. All I know is that I fucked up and I’m receiving consequences from it that I don’t want. It’s the same with Boston, I’m sure. He didn’t want to get kneed in the face. I just go into defense mode when people start throwing shots at me: ‘What were you thinking?’ (Expletive), I was barely thinking, I just got punched in the head. It’s hard to be trained to respond after being punched the hardest you’ve ever been punched, you know?” lamented West.
“I can say I’m wrong every day of the week because I am wrong, but it’s not going to change nothing, you know. It’s not going to fix Boston’s face. It’s not going to fix the rules. It’s not going to fix the outcome, man. I guess that’s fine. What has happened has happened. [The] only thing I can really try to do, which I’ve done, is [to] show my condolences and show how sorry I am to Boston.
“It’s hard to apologize for something you do during a fight. This is what we sign up for. It’s what we do. If I [had] head kicked him and it’s legal, and I break his face, do I receive the same backlash? I don’t. I receive highlights and recommendations and praise for it. I don’t know. It makes me question if doing MMA is the sport I want to do. Because I don’t like to hurt anybody.”
West concluded, “Nevertheless, I’m [in the] wrong, so, if Boston sees this, I just hope that you’re good, my friend, and I hope that me and you can talk, and I hope that I can come visit you and let you know how sorry I am. I expressed it verbally, but if I could show you, personally, then that’d be great. That’s where I am at with this. I don’t know really how to feel. I don’t know how to take it. I don’t know what good is going to come from this. I don’t know what bad will come from this. I don’t know, man.”