Monday, April 25, 2022

Was Victory Over Whyte Fury’s Finest Hour?


The fight between undefeated two-time Heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury and WBC number one Heavyweight contender Dillian Whyte was more than the practice of a world champion fulfilling his mandatory defense obligations. For Fury’s second defense of his WBC crown, it was both a fight for a portion of the World Heavyweight championship as well as an event. 


An enthusiastic crowd of over 94,000 spectators packed the legendary Wembley Stadium in London, England to witness what had become one of the most anticipated fights of 2022. Why was it so anticipated? It is important to keep in mind that this was a bout that went beyond the description of a world champion defending his title against a longtime contender who had a lengthy wait to get the title shot that he had earned due in part to the politics that be in the sport. Both Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte are two of the Heavyweight division's top stars and in particular in the United Kingdom, both have drawn sell out crowds when they have competed. When one throws into the equation that this was Fury’s first fight in the United Kingdom in several years, it was certainly not hard to understand how a fight like this could draw a record crowd in a historic venue such as Wembley Stadium. 


Although the atmosphere provided by the massive crowd in attendance was a big part of the story of this encounter, the fight itself was also compelling because it pitted two fighters that are comparable of ending fights quickly if the opportunity arose. Some might argue that a large part of the appeal of the sport as a whole is due to the anticipation prior to a Heavyweight championship fight with such a scenario. 


There were two questions that this observer had in mind prior to this bout. One, what would Tyson Fury have left in him as a fighter after participating in a grueling trilogy with Deontay Wilder, with the last of the three bouts last October being the most brutal in the series. As I pointed out in previewing this fight, despite the fact that Fury emerged from that trilogy still unbeaten and as a two-time world champion, each fight does take something out of a fighter even when the results of those fights are victories. It was on this basis that I felt it was a fair question to ask. The second question was whether Dillian Whyte would be able to pull off what many would consider an upset being at a significant height, weight, and reach disadvantage compared to the champion. 


Even though every box that one could checkmark in terms of the physics of this bout as well as advantages in overall skillset seemed to favor Fury, Whyte did still have a punchers chance and could not be dismissed, especially when one considers that Fury had been dropped four times over the course of the trilogy with Deontay Wilder and had been knocked down five times in his career overall. It would nevertheless be a difficult task for the challenger to combat. 


It did appear as though Whyte had a strategy in mind as he began the fight aggressively and looked to focus his attack on Fury’s body. Something that many previous opponents have neglected to pursue. This is due in part to Fury’s ability to bait opponents into thinking that he is open for punches to the head, and using upper body movement to evade punches and counter punch effectively. While such an elusive style can be frustrating for opponents to combat, for Fury it has proven quite effective. This was however, the first time in this observer's recollection that an opponent attempted to focus an attack on Fury’s body from the outset. Despite Whyte having only sporadic success due largely to the difficulty he had getting inside Fury’s reach, I felt he did enough to win the first round based largely on that success in landing offense to the champion's body. 


An illustration of Fury’s skillset and ability to quickly adapt was seen as early as the second round of the fight as he began to utilize his reach to his advantage using his jab to keep Whyte at a distance where Fury could control the tempo. It was Fury’s ability to use his jab and right hand, the classic one, two combination that allowed him to control the combat. While Whyte was still able to sporadically land offense, the rhythm was such that Fury could box contently and choose to pile up rounds if he wanted to. One aspect that worked against Whyte in addition to being at a physical disadvantage was a lack of head movement. 


When a scenario of a fighter who is blessed with both height and reach goes against a shorter opponent, there are usually two ways short of what would amount to what some would call a “Lucky Punch” for the shorter fighter to succeed from a tactical standpoint. The first would be to use head movement, make the taller/bigger fighter miss and attempt to move inside his reach in the process. A second tactic, which also involves some elements of head movement would be for the shorter fighter to get low.  


Some may wonder what yours truly means by the term “Get Low,” while obviously easier said than done, in simple terms it means attempt to crouch down as the taller fighter attempts to throw punches and try to move in as punches hopefully go over the shorter fighter’s head and shoulders to get on the inside. Instead, Whyte became a target for Fury’s jab and right hand. This added to increasing frustration for the challenger as he began to lunge with his punches in what turned out to be vain attempts to land something that would turn the ebb and flow in his favor. What made things worse for the challenger was whenever he would get close, the champion would tie him up and use his body weight to his advantage. This resulted in some ugly grappling scuffles throughout the fight particularly in the fourth round. 


Although such tactics that were implemented by the champion are not exactly legal, as I have said numerous times over the years in covering fights where a fighter with a significant height and weight advantage over a shorter fighter, if a referee does not call the infraction of the rules and will allow the taller fighter to use their physical advantages, it is a wise move for said fighter to try and take advantage of it for as long as they are allowed to. While yours truly has seen far worse instances in a taller fighter being able to lean, grapple, and prevent a shorter fighter being able to get consistent offense in, it is important to note that Referee Mark Lyson did issue warnings to Fury and Whyte throughout the fight. 


Despite the warnings, Lyson did not deduct any points from the champion or challenger and for the most part Fury was allowed to use those tactics to his advantage. This in addition to Whyte’s inability to tactically adjust presented a scenario where barring the chance of a “Lucky Punch,” the challenger had two options.  Be thoroughly out boxed over the course of twelve rounds or become overly aggressive and get caught. As it would turn out, both options turned out to be what happened as Whyte was out boxed convincingly by Fury before a sudden end to the bout occurred in round six. 


In a scenario quite similar to the one in August 2020 where Whyte was knocked out in his first fight against Alexander Povetkin, Whyte would be knocked out by a Fury right uppercut to the head behind a jab. Readers may recall in previewing this fight, that I brought up this exact scenario in stating that Whyte had to keep in mind that Fury was a solid counter puncher and could land uppercuts with both hands. A slight difference between Povetkin’s knockout of Whyte and what happened in this fight was Whyte was ahead on the scorecards at the time of that knockout and was caught by being overly aggressive by a shot that he did not see coming. This time, Whyte was falling behind on the scorecards and while not aggressive at the moment in which Fury’s knockout blow landed, he still did not see the punch coming. The right uppercut from Fury landed followed by a slight push by the champion that sent the challenger backward on his back on the canvas.  


Although some may argue that the push by Fury was what caused the knockdown, this observer feels that Whyte was on his way down from the uppercut and while the push is not legal, it was likely an attempt by Fury to prevent Whyte from attempting to hold. Mark Lyson not calling the push, did not change the fact that Whyte fell on his back and hard on the canvas. While unlike his knockout loss to Povetkin, Whyte was not knocked out cold, he staggered to his feet on unsteady legs and the bout was stopped.  


Fury’s second title defense of the WBC Heavyweight world championship was successfully in the books. A performance that was ugly at times, but near flawless by the champion was one that some might call the best of his career. With his title defended before 94,000 fans, some might go as far as to say it was Fury’s finest hour. 


As someone who has covered many of Tyson Fury’s fights both before his two reigns as a Heavyweight world champion and in between when he was on the comeback trail after a lengthy absence to deal with mental health struggles, I believe this was the best Fury has looked in his career. The obvious question is what happens now? 


In the build-up to this bout, Fury was quite vocal in saying that this would be his last fight in saying that he had promised his wife that he would retire. While there is not much left currently for Fury to accomplish having held every world championship there is to hold in the sport across two separate reigns as a world champion, there is one thing left that he has not accomplished that could keep him in the ring a little longer. To become Undisputed Heavyweight champion of the world in holding all five recognized world championships in the division at once, something that has never been accomplished in the history of the sport in what is known as the five belt era. Having said this and keeping in mind that there is no shortage of lucrative paydays for Fury moving forward if he continues Boxing, there is something to be said for a fighter’s family and those who care for the person outside the ring. 


Some can indeed forget and/or take for granted the sacrifices that a fighter’s family makes while they pursue their careers. What can also be overlooked by some fans is the toll a family goes through over the course of a fighter’s career both in terms of relationships as well as emotionally. Although we live in an era where anyone can express their point of view thanks to the advent of social media, which good, bad, or indifferent, whether based on facts or biases, do not always take things like what a fighter’s family goes through into consideration before expressing such points of view. It also goes without saying that long after a fighter’s career is over, it will be the fighter’s family who will look after them. Regardless of what one’s point of view might be, any time a fighter can exit the sport on their own terms with all their physical and mental faculties intact and be financially secure going forward, it is truly a victory. 


Whether Tyson Fury continues his second reign as a Heavyweight world champion remains to be seen, but if he chooses to walk away from the sport at this point with his health intact and hopefully, with wise financial investments that can keep himself and his family secure in the long-term, it is a decision that needs to be and should be respected. 


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