Saturday, December 8, 2018

Wilder-Fury: The Fight, The Controversies, The Rematch?

In the sport of Boxing there are few things that are quite like the anticipation prior to a fight for a World Heavyweight championship. When the fight features two undefeated fighters, who each have a claim to the championship, such anticipation can lead to a special event. The encounter between undefeated WBC Heavyweight world champion Deontay Wilder and undefeated former IBF/WBO/WBA/IBO Heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury was one such occasion.

An encounter between a fighter known as a “Knockout Artist” in Wilder, the longest current reigning world champion in the Heavyweight division and a man who had knocked out every opponent he had faced as a professional against a former world champion who relinquished his crown having not been defeated. The defining moment of Tyson Fury's career came when he scored his victory over longtime unified Heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko in November 2015 to win his crown. Fury’s reign however, was brief as struggles in his life outside the ring led to his relinquishing his crown and a hiatus from the sport that lasted nearly three years before his return in June of this year.

Although Fury had fought twice prior to challenging Wilder in scoring victories over Sefer Seferi and Francesco Pianeta, he frankly did not face much resistance in those bouts and there were questions in this observer's mind as to whether he was ready to face a fighter such as Wilder. By the same token, Deontay Wilder has had to deal with an issue that follows most fighters that are regarded as “Knockout Artists.” Questions by some regarding the caliber of his opposition, which has led to criticism by some Boxing fans.

The Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA served as the site of this encounter on December 1st. One that returned the Heavyweight division to a level of prominence here in the United States that had not been seen in well over a decade. Stylistically, this fight also presented the intrigue of a boxer/puncher in Fury against a fighter in Wilder known for his punching power, but someone who has Boxing ability of his own that in my view is underrated.

When you are discussing a fight such as this one, the challenge can be to distinguish which fighter is the more effective of the two under circumstances where both boxers might have periods of success in a bout. In this fight much as was the case in Tyson Fury’s world championship victory over Wladimir Klitschko in 2015, I felt he was able to use his style, which at times can be awkward to dictate how the combat was fought. There were several instances throughout the fight where it appeared more noticeable what the normally offensive-minded champion was unable to do than necessarily one fighter being superior to the other.

If the reader is confused and maybe even curious as to what I mean, let me elaborate. While a fight will almost always be highlighted by what a fighter does offensively, what can at times be overlooked and under appreciated particularly by fans is how well a fighter can execute a fight plan from a defensive standpoint. This was an encounter where a portion of the story depending on one’s interpretation was largely how Tyson Fury was able to use his height, faints, and awkwardness to make Deontay Wilder miss consistently with his offense. In fights where one fighter is able to do what Fury was able to do defensively, but there were also periods where the opponent, in this case Wilder, was able to have success offensively, it can come down to interpretation.

To be more specific, the interpretation of the three people who are tasked with the responsibility of rendering a verdict as to who will win a fight should it go the distance, the three official judges. It goes without saying that there are several fights on every level of the sport that take place during a calendar year that are deemed “Close”, “Controversial”, and end up being a subject of debate among both fans and experts. With regard to the subject of the scoring of fights, that is one subject that perhaps gets more criticism than others.

In this fight however, we had a mix of “Controversy” both in regard to the scoring of the bout, what some view as a “Controversy” in what took place in the latter stages of the fight, and healthy debate as to whether the fight was close and who won it. Where do we start?

First, after taking some time to reflect in the week that has followed since the fight took place, this observer felt it would be appropriate to look at this fight from a different angle and not fill this column with a thorough round by round analysis of the fight as is usually the norm under circumstances such as this. Instead, I will offer my perspective on how I saw this encounter in summary form.

Although it is tempting to assume when talking about a fight where one fighter has a career knockout percentage of over 90% and the other’s is nearing 70% that the fight will be all-action and likely to end in a knockout, this was more of a tactical Boxing match for the majority of the twelve round bout. As mentioned previously, I felt a portion of the story of this fight was how well Tyson Fury executed defensively and how he was able to evade Deontay Wilder’s offense for what seemed to be lengthy periods at times.

While not always standing out as superior offensively, I felt Fury dictated how the fight was being fought and was able to win rounds on my scorecard based on ring generalship and his defense. The champion however, was the more active of the two fighters and when it comes to fights like this, you cannot discount the possibility of rounds being scored the other way based on a fighter’s overall aggression. The key for those scoring a fight is to determine whether it is “Effective Aggression.”

Even though I felt Fury was overall the more effective and efficient fighter throughout, I do feel that there were rounds during the course of the fight that could have been scored either way based on not only Wilder’s overall aggression, but his effectiveness when he was able to land on Fury. As the fight progressed the question for me was whether Wilder did enough in those moments to win the fight on my scorecard.

There were also two occurrences during this bout that also had an impact on the scoring of the fight and one instance where the topic of scoring nearly became a non-issue. The first of which took place in round nine when Wilder was able to score a knockdown of Fury. At this stage of the fight though not out of the fight in terms of scoring on my scorecard, I felt Wilder needed something significant to shift the momentum in his favor. Scoring a knockdown which narrowed the gap in terms of points in the fight appeared to be the shift he needed.

In this observer’s view one knockdown would not be enough for Wilder to retain his world championship via decision, but it did succeed in narrowing the margin of Fury’s lead. In round twelve, Wilder nearly ended the fight with a combination to the head highlighted by a flush left hook that sent Fury down hard and on his back on the canvas. It appeared that Fury would be counted out, but he managed to beat the count and finish the fight.  Before giving my final score, it cannot be ignored the possible “Controversy” that some fans have pointed to regarding the count of Referee Jack Reiss following the knockdown of Fury in round twelve.

In the days following the fight, some have alleged that the count was long and that Fury was down for longer than what would be a count of ten, alleging that Wilder was “Robbed” of a knockout win. I have reviewed the footage and I did not notice the claims that some have made regarding the count. One thing that was noticeable however, which Referee Jack Reiss should be given credit for is after Fury got up from the knockdown, he did take a moment to evaluate Fury and make sure he was able to continue.

All too often referees are criticized for a perceived willingness to stop fights quickly. What some may not understand is a referee’s primary responsibility in addition to making sure rules and regulations are followed is to look out for the safety of fighters. It is more often than not a judgment call and often puts a referee in a “No Win” situation because no matter what the decision of the referee might be under circumstances like what happened in the final round of this fight, there will be some who will feel it was the wrong decision.

Nevertheless, it baffled yours truly that Fury was able to get up from that knockdown and finish the fight. Although I do not want to spend much time discussing the circumstances of the knockdown and the count in the final round of this fight, it is important to remember that a referee’s decision is a judgment call that is in the heat of the moment, a question should be asked. How many times have we whether fans or those of us who cover the sport criticized referees for allowing fights to go on longer than they should have where unfortunately the result is potential long-term damage to a fighter?

While unrelated to this fight, it also should not be ignored what occurred earlier in the evening before Wilder and Fury stepped into the ring where long-reigning WBC Light-Heavyweight world champion Adonis Stevenson suffered a brutal knockout and the loss of his championship in the eleventh round of his title defense against undefeated top contender Oleksandr Gvozdyk in Quebec City, Canada in a fight that was televised prior to the Wilder-Fury pay-per-view broadcast by Showtime, who also did the Wilder-Fury pay-per-view broadcast in the United States. A barrage of punches by Gvozdyk sent Stevenson down and out in a corner of the ring. The bout was immediately stopped by Referee Michael Griffin without counting Stevenson.

Despite the call by Griffin being appropriate, there has been criticism in the days since that fight. Some may be aware that Stevenson was hospitalized following the fight and remains hospitalized as of this writing after suffering what has been described in reports as traumatic brain injury, which has prompted some to either call for changes in the sport or an outright ban of it.  Although the two fights are unrelated, it does show that sometimes no matter what the decision of a referee, there will be some who will take issue. In the case of the Stevenson-Gvozdyk fight, the call of Referee Michael Griffin was the right call to make, but unfortunately the knockout Stevenson suffered and the circumstances that have followed serve as a reminder of how dangerous combat sports can be and underscores the responsibility of referees to ensure that a fighter’s safety is the top priority.

Tyson Fury showed tremendous heart by getting up from the knockdown. It should not be dismissed however, that it was a judgment call by Referee Jack Reiss to allow the fight continue, and perhaps a different referee under the same circumstances might have made a split-second call to stop the fight out of concern Fury’s safety. At the end of the twelve round bout, I ended up with a score of eight rounds to four for Fury or 116-112 in points.

My score was largely based on Fury’s ability to evade Wilder’s offense for much of the fight and it got the benefit of doubt in some rounds that were close that could have been scored either way. Despite my scoring of this fight possibly giving the appearance of a lopsided fight, and acknowledging that without the two knockdowns against Fury in rounds nine and twelve, my scorecard would have been a wider margin in favor of Fury, round by round it was at times a difficult fight to score.

The official result of the fight, a split decision draw has succeeded in what often follows a fight where there is a consensus opinion that the scoring was “Controversial” and accusations of possible corruption are made, “Debate.” While it can at times be tempting to rush with an opinion following a fight like this, there are times where this observer will take some time as I ended up doing in this case before writing a column about it.

One reason for this is to allow myself a little time to think about and digest what I saw, to make sure my initial opinion remains, and to gage the opinion of readers and others who saw a fight. Immediately following Wilder-Fury, this observer launched a reader poll on Twitter asking who followers and other Twitter users felt won the fight. 78% of those who participated felt the same as yours truly that Fury won the fight, while 12% felt it was a draw, and 10% felt Wilder won it.

As often happens after a fight like this many will react with great passion and anger at an official decision. There have been many times over the years where I have strongly disagreed with an official decision of three official judges and have voiced my opinion in various writings and other forms throughout my career. While I disagree with the official decision in this fight, I find myself not really questioning or feeling angry about a draw being rendered.

While I feel Fury did enough to win this fight, it was an encounter that left plenty open to interpretation. It comes down not only as I have often said over the years what a judge prefers based on clean punching, effective aggressiveness, ring generalship, and defense, but also how a judge interprets what goes on in the ring. Obviously, the three official judges of this fight Alejandro Rochin, Robert Tapper, and Phil Edwards are the only ones who can comment on what they saw round by round and why they scored the way they did. It is not impossible to think that some rounds, which were close that yours truly scored for Fury might have been scored the other way and when you factor in the two knockdowns against Fury, it might have changed what could have been a decision victory for Fury on two of three official scorecards to a draw.

Will there be a rematch?  The World Boxing Council (WBC) announced on Friday December 7th that it had voted unanimously through its board of governors to mandate an immediate rematch between Wilder and Fury. It goes without saying that the sanctioning organizations that exist in Boxing including the WBC are often a source of much criticism and/or ridicule of fans and experts for some decisions they make with regard to policies, rankings, and other matters. The WBC made the right call in this observer’s eyes and it might be a question of whether or not a rematch will take place immediately.

Now for those who might question why I said whether or not a rematch will take place immediately might be a question to be answered, it cannot be overlooked that the other world champion in the Heavyweight division undefeated IBF/WBA/IBO/WBO world champion Anthony Joshua currently has an open date in April of 2019 to defend his crown at Wembley Stadium in London, England. Although the WBC has mandated a rematch between Wilder and Fury take place, there is a possibility that Fury might be open to facing Joshua next if an offer for that fight is made and then fighting Wilder a second time, which if he defeated Joshua would make a rematch with Wilder for the Undisputed World Heavyweight championship, or that a negotiation process might take place involving the WBC that might see Wilder face Joshua to fully unify the division, which if it happens would be the first unification bout to determine an Undisputed world champion in the division to take place in the United Kingdom.

No matter what happens next, it is clear that the Heavyweight division will remain a hot topic of discussion and debate for the foreseeable future.  Whether or not a rematch between Wilder and Fury will take place or even an Undisputed World Heavyweight champion will be determined in 2019 remains to be seen.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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