The family of a kickboxer who died after being knocked out in an organised bout today raised concerns at her inquest that she was mismatched with a ‘much bigger’ competitor.
‘Slim’ Saeideh Aletaha’s opponent Janie Morgan was ‘very clearly stronger’ and ‘more muscled’, the late amateur fighter’s family claim.
Ms Aletaha, 26, collapsed in a bathroom after she took a blow to the head during the third round of her bout with ‘top heavy’ 34-year-old personal trainer Ms Morgan at the showcase event.
She was rushed to Southampton General Hospital, Hants, but tragically died on November 16, 2019, a day after the Fast and Furious Fight Series contest in the city.
The Loughborough University graduate, who was born into a religious and educated family in Iran, wanted to prove to people that a ‘Muslim Lady’ can compete in extreme sports even if she is wearing a Hijab.
The product design engineer’s family today told of their ‘devastation’ at losing her so far away from home as her inquest opened at Winchester Coroner’s Court, Hants.
Her brothers, Amir and Ali, watched the hearing remotely and raised concerns over a potential mismatch.
They even requested Ms Morgan attend the inquest in person to ‘assess’ her physique – but coroner Christopher Wilkinson rejected the request as it was ‘of little benefit’ because the bout was almost two years ago.
Saeideh Aletaha, 26, died in November 2019, following the fight at Southampton’s Central Hall
Her opponent Janie Morgan fought her in the match and worked as a personal trainer
The fight organiser, Richard Harding arriving for the inquest today in Winchester
She was rushed to Southampton General Hospital, Hants, but tragically died the next day
In a statement Ms Aletaha’s family said: ‘In her chosen sport, Saeideh always used to send her picture with her opponent before each match.
‘However, we did note that for her last match she had cut the picture of her opponent and sent only her own picture.
‘We now think that if she had shared her opponent’s picture, Amir would have certainly commented about their physical differences and the fact her opponent seemed bigger and more muscled.
‘The night before the match she had mentioned to her Sister, Sepideh, that she was stressed but never mentioned the reason.’
Organiser Richard Harding, who runs a Thai boxing school, rejects any suggestions of a mismatch.
He said Ms Aletaha was more experienced than Ms Morgan ‘on paper’, had four years experience and two wins and one loss in Thai boxing, and weighed in at 54kg.
Ms Aletaha was a ‘movement-based’ fighter who used speed in her fights also had previous experience in a form of bare-knuckle karate which Mr Harding described as the ‘toughest’ form.
Ms Morgan, a personal trainer who started learning martial arts at the age of 30, also had four years experience going into the fight.
Ms Aletaha in victory after a previous fight she had one during an earlier competition
Ms Aletaha was more experienced than Ms Morgan ‘on paper’, the organiser claimed today
Saeideh always used to send her picture with her opponent before each match she fought
She had one win and one loss and came in at the same weight, Mr Harding said.
Ms Morgan was described as a hard-hitter who relied on power and sought to ‘hit Ms Aletaha hard’.
Mr Harding told the inquest Ms Aletaha was ‘slimmer’, and said of Ms Morgan: ‘She is wider, she has wider shoulders.
‘You can visibly see the muscles.
‘Saeideh had a slightly longer reach.’
Amir Aletaha questioned Mr Harding about Ms Morgan’s physique, referencing a promotional photo in which he said suggested shows a mismatch.
He said: ‘From what we have seen and from what people who saw the fight said, it’s very clear that [Ms Morgan] is much stronger.
‘The physical structure cannot change a week or two even if she is losing weight [to meet the 54kg category].
‘If you show the photo to anyone they will say the other opponent is much bigger and has a much bigger frame.’
But Mr Harding said: ‘She’s what you would say is top heavy… Saeideh’s body weight was much more even distributed across her body.’
He said his events, which he has been running for a decade, adhered to strict safety guidelines and began a matchmaking process four months before the event.
He said: ‘I was satisfied that they were evenly matched.
‘There was no mismatch in this and we managed the risks before the fight.’
He added: ‘Our gym is a family gym, losing someone like this is hard for everyone.
‘We put these on to give a spectacle and this is the absolute worst thing that could happen but I’m fully confident that we did as much as we could.’
Mr Harding admitted he didn’t know what styles Ms Aletaha had faced before and revealed Ms Morgan requested that shinpads were removed for the fight, which Ms Aletaha accepted.
Amir Aletaha questioned why Mr Harding allowed the fight to proceed without shinpads and the organiser explained it’s a common request as fighters strive to replicate professional bouts.
He said there were two paramedics at the event with a private ambulance and that another ambulance was called when Ms Aletaha was found critically ill.
The fight between Ms Aletaha and Ms Morgan was ‘close’, with Ms Morgan just edging it on points before the knockout. Coroner Mr Wilkinson described it as ‘intense’ and said both were ‘tired’.
Ms Aletaha, from Salisbury, Wilts, was described as ‘friendly and full of energy’ by her family.
They said: ‘Even from the childhood, she was always dedicated to whatever she was doing and always seeking success, putting 110% to her goals.
‘This characteristic of hers led to her success in both her studies and work and as a good education and international life expertise was important to her family, she tried and managed to get accepted in a respected UK university.
‘She was a person who was confident but modest, emotional but stable, friendly, open minded and full of energy who could win everyone’s heart.
‘This was the reason that she was able to make so many different friends.
‘She wanted to prove to people that a ‘Muslim lady’ is not restricted and can work in a respectful firm and do challenging sports even if she is wearing Hijab and not disposing her body and hair to strangers.
‘We were surprised by the number of people in the UK whom told us that she had influenced their life and career, and their way of thinking.
‘Saeideh had a big network of friends from different cultures and classes. As described by her friends, she was a breath of fresh air bringing sunshine among all.
‘She is massively missed by her dozens of friends from high school, university, work, cross fit and clubs.
‘Her dedication to her work, sport, being healthy and fit physically and mentally was something that everybody was admiring about her.
‘It is very devastating for her family to lose her alone and far away in such an unpleasant accident.’
The inquest continues.