Duke Roufus, a former kickboxer best known for his gym’s success in mixed martial arts, suffered a legal setback Thursday when his motion to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit against Roufus and his Roufusports gym was denied by a Milwaukee County Circuit Judge.
A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil claim normally brought by a spouse, family member, or personal representative of a deceased person that alleges the defendant(s) acted negligently, intentionally, or recklessly (ie wrongfully) to cause death.
In the Roufus case, the lawsuit was brought by the family of the late Dennis Munson Jr. According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report, Munson Jr. died hours after an amateur kickboxing bout in which neither he nor his opponent wore headgear. It was determined the cause of death was related to head trauma, and the suit alleges Roufus as promoter and his co-defendants “failed in their duty” to protect Munson Jr by not requiring he and his opponent wear headgear and “not stopping the fight as the 24-year-old staggered around the ring”.
The bout was Munson Jr’s debut, and he reportedly had issues making weight for the bout. The weigh in was held the same day as the fight. Munson Jr was reportedly in bad shape during the bout, but neither the ref, the fight doctor, or his corner stopped the bout and the young man “crumpled to the mat after the final bell”, according the MJS article.
Duke Roufus committed no criminal act in promoting amateur kickboxing bouts without headgear because there was no state law requirement at the time.
Besides Duke Roufus and his gym, other defendants in the lawsuit include the ringside doctor Carlos Feliciano (reportedly looking at his phone during the fight), Munson Jr’s cornermen, another promoter, and the referee Al Wichgers. If Wichgers’ name sounds familiar, he refereed Glory events in the past. The judge held Wichgers and Munson Jr’s corner are shielded from the wrongful death claim based on case precedent involving a Wisconsin statute, but the wrongful death claim remains against the promoters, doctor, and gym. According to the article, Wichgers and the corner are still being sued for “reckless conduct”.
It will be interesting to see how the lawsuit progresses. You got to feel for Duke Roufus, who has been around the game for a long time as a fighter, trainer, gym owner, and commentator. He’s given a lot to the sport. But it’s hard to justify letting fighters compete in amateur bouts without headgear, and there are still questions of why the fight wasn’t stopped if 12 “independent experts” who watched footage said the late Munson Jr. experienced “obvious signs of distress”.