Friday, February 28, 2020

Wilder-Fury II Post-Thoughts

When the subject of a rematch is discussed throughout all of sports, there is usually one central question. Whether a rematch takes place between two individuals in an individual sport or two teams in a team sport, the question is usually what adjustments can be made and how will the rematch differ from the original encounter. In Boxing, this question is asked frequently. The rematch between undefeated WBC Heavyweight world champion Deontay Wilder and undefeated former Heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury was no exception.

A rematch of a somewhat controversial encounter in December 2018 where the champion was able to score two knockdowns late in the fight to retain his crown via a split decision draw seemed to warrant a rematch on its own. When one factors into the equation that the second knockdown of Tyson Fury in the twelfth round of that fight also had an element of controversy in that following getting to his feet after a knockdown that would have ended the night for most fighters, Fury was able in the eyes of some to benefit from extra seconds as Referee Jack Reiss evaluated his condition before allowing him to continue and subsequently finish the fight. This for some created the argument that the judgment call of Reiss had denied Wilder an opportunity to finish a hurt Fury off in a fight that he was trailing on two official scorecards, only added fuel to the fire for a rematch.

Although in most cases the verbiage leading up to a rematch between two fighters where both tend to make boastful claims regarding what they will do in the rematch can be regarded as simply providing promotional hype as well as good sound bytes for assembled media, Tyson Fury was direct in saying that he intended to forgo his normal elusive and awkward Boxing style in favor of implementing a more straightforward physical approach in the rematch. Despite the view of this observer in saying that it would likely be a mistake for Fury in previewing this fight, it was nevertheless an element of interest as the second encounter approached.

On February 22nd a sold out crowd packed the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV to see the highly anticipated second encounter between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury. It did not take long to see that Fury was indeed serious in his claims that he would be more aggressive and physical as compared to the first fight as he immediately pressed forward and looked to apply pressure on Wilder. This created something we had not seen in Deontay Wilder’s career up to this point. Although Wilder had scored knockouts in forty-one of his forty-two career wins prior to this fight, he had never been forced to fight moving backward and was used to being the fighter who came forward and looked to walk his opponents down. 

For a period of time, this rematch was fought at a tactical pace, but it was clear that Fury intended to use his bigger size and 273lb. weight to his advantage. Despite the tactical pace of the combat, both fighters had success early on. For Wilder, he was able to land several right hands during the first two rounds and to Fury’s credit, he was able to absorb the punches the champion was able to land and return with offense of his own. What impressed me about Fury was how well he was able to establish that it would be him that would dictate how this fight would be fought.

Despite his 6’9 imposing frame, Fury is not known as a fighter that carries significant punching power. When you have the gift of height and being able to compete at a world class level at a heavier weight than most Heavyweights however, those physical advantages can appear to your benefit and produce punching power. As this rematch progressed, this is exactly what Tyson Fury was able to use to his advantage. In round three, Fury began to connect more frequently with his right hand and it was a right hand to the head that sent Deontay Wilder down. Fury, who suffered knockdowns in the ninth and twelfth rounds of the first fight, had answered the question of whether he had the power to be able to knock Wilder off his feet.

Wilder appeared clearly hurt following this knockdown, but what became more of a concern to this observer was an obvious problem with Wilder’s equilibrium in that even though he was able to get up from the knockdown, he had difficulty maintaining his balance from this point on. This was confirmed when following the third round,Wilder was bleeding from his left ear. Although yours truly is not a medical doctor, normally when a fighter is bleeding from inside the ear and it did not come as a result of a foul such as biting, it is a sign of either a ruptured ear drum or a broken one and can explain equilibrium problems. 

Having seen injuries occur like this in the past, most notably the January 2003 encounter between Kostya Tszyu and Jesse James Leija, where Leija suffered an injury to his right eardrum, a fight this observer covered, upon seeing Wilder bleeding from the ear, I felt the fight should have been stopped immediately. I also noticed Wilder bleeding from the mouth and was concerned of the likelihood of him swallowing blood as the fight progressed, which is also dangerous and potentially life threatening. The opinion of this observer not withstanding, the fight continued. Wilder however, was clearly compromised and it became a one-sided fight in favor of Fury as Wilder’s inability to regain his balance along with his decreasing offensive output became the story of the fight.

Wilder would be knocked down for a second time in round five from what appeared to be a body shot from Fury. Readers should keep in mind my previous statement that I felt the fight should have been stopped after round three. Following the second knockdown, I felt that Referee Kenny Bayless having seen the champion’s condition would stop the fight, but he gave Wilder the benefit of the doubt as most world champions are given under similar circumstances. Even though I disagreed with Bayless to allow the fight to continue after the second knockdown, I also wondered how long Wilder’s corner would allow their fighter to take punishment as it became more and more clear that he was compromised.

It is important for me to also state for the reader that I am in no way questioning Wilder’s heart and desire to defend his world championship. There comes a time however, where a fighter needs to be protected from their natural instincts. For Wilder, that time came in round seven. Wilder’s co-trainer Mark Breland threw the towel in to prevent his fighter from further punishment making Tyson Fury officially a two-time World Heavyweight champion.

Breland, a former two-time Welterweight world champion as a professional and one of the most accomplished fighters in the history of the United States as an amateur, was heavily criticized by some including from within the Wilder camp for stopping the fight. Although it is understandable both due to the natural instinct of a fighter to want to go out on their shield as Wilder himself has said in the days that have followed the rematch, there comes a point where common sense has to enter into the equation.

In the days that have followed this fight, this observer has also faced some criticism for my opinion that the fight should have been stopped after round three. I was even told by a few folks that the reason why the fight needed to continue was due to the fact that the bout was broadcast on pay-per-view with the absurd price tag of $79.95 on most cable/satellite providers as well as through the Fox Sports and ESPN streaming apps. While this was the point of view of a few people ranging from the casual fan, to the Boxing enthusiast, to some within the sport, I disagree…

The subject of pay-per-view and it’s inflated pricing model is one that longtime readers are used to seeing yours truly criticize and point out the flaws thereof in an evolving and changing technological landscape on a regular basis here on The Boxing Truth®️ as well as elsewhere and I will continue to do so as long as such a model that increasingly is overpriced, undervalued, and holds no real benefit to the fans/consumers that support the sport, continues to exist in its current form. It is irresponsible and dangerous to use such a model as an excuse/justification as to why a fight should continue when it is clear one fighter’s long-term health may be at risk.

It is true that Boxing is a combat sport and by the very nature of the word “Combat “ there is a risk attached to it. Although 2019 was by most standards a successful year for the sport and its growth, Boxing also suffered several tragedies throughout the year resulting in deaths due injuries that occurred during bouts inside the ring. Normally when such circumstances occur, the critics of the sport and there are many come out in full force to call for reforms and/or an outright ban of the sport.

When this occurs, there are some in the sport as well as fans who dismiss such criticism and calls as grandstanding as merely publicity stunts. One of the best ways and perhaps the best way to prevent those outcries and prevent the critics of Boxing and by extension all of combat sports from being given the ammunition to make such calls is for Boxing and other combat sports to adjust from within. Knowing when a fight should be stopped is the first step.

For his part, Wilder has downplayed the severity of the injury to his left ear as Wilder told Boxing Scene that he did not know how the cut occurred and that it was not the cause of the problems he had with his legs and balance throughout the fight. Wilder also has claimed that the issues were related to the costume he entered the ring with, which was said to weigh forty pounds.  While it is true that Boxing is a form of entertainment and theatrics have increasingly become part of the presentation for the sport’s major events as this rematch was, I am not an expert on the weights and/or material used for costumes that for the purposes of Boxing are unnecessary, and can only comment on what I see during a fight. With all due respect to Deontay Wilder, who was a great champion who defended his portion of the World Heavyweight championship successfully ten times over five years, champ I disagree. I will say however if there is indeed merit to that claim, the fighter as well as the fighter’s corner do have a right to say no to the use of elaborate unnecessary wear/costumes if they feel it will have a negative impact on the fighter’s performance inside the ring.

This observer will take nothing away from Deontay Wilder or any other fighter who has the courage to get inside the ring. No one can ever dispute the heart Wilder showed in this fight, but what yours truly finds troubling are statements Wilder has made in the past in eluding to wanting a body on his record, despite the tragedies the sport has suffered. An equally troubling statement was one the former WBC world champion made to Boxing Scene where he stated that he wanted to go out on his shield and saying death is better than a defeat.

Although anyone reading this column and those who know me personally should know I strongly disagree with such a statement given what the Boxing community has endured in recent times as well as throughout the sport’s history, Deontay Wilder has a true fighter’s mentality and it is not often where you will see a fighter, especially one as proud as Wilder acknowledge that a trainer was acting in their best interest in stopping a fight. In this case, I feel Deontay Wilder’s view is one of a proud champion who just lost his crown. With that in mind, I do not want to be overly harsh in what I say here, but as much as it is the responsibility of those within the sport to adjust from within to hopefully prevent tragedies from occurring, it is also the responsibility of the fighters who compete in the sport to represent the sport and show Boxing is just that a sport and not something that can be simply described as “Barbaric.” It is my hope that Wilder takes some time to reflect on things and realizes that such statements, which for better or worse are attention-grabbing, diminishes the fighter he is. I would also suggest reaching out to those effected by the recent tragedies that have impacted the sport and ask for their point of view on such statements. While this observer is viewing things from the outside, having experienced and suffered tragedies in my own life, I would be surprised if there is much support for such statements. In closing, Mark Breland made the right decision, but it was a decision that frankly yours truly would have made sooner.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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