Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Tszyu-Fundora: A High Stakes Showdown In Las Vegas

What was originally supposed to be a pay-per-view debut for the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) group of promoters on March 30th on their new broadcast platform of Prime Video, that some would call a new chapter, which was to be headlined by a non-title Jr. Middleweight bout between former WBA Welterweight world champion Keith Thurman and undefeated WBO Jr. Middleweight world champion Tim Tszyu, saw a wrinkle emerge last week when Thurman was forced to withdraw due to what has been reported to be a bicep injury. While this might have caused the promotional banner to postpone the card under most circumstances, the pay-per-view production, which will take place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV will be moving forward.

On what was a little more than twelve days notice, rather than competing in what was to be a non-title bout, Tszyu will now defend his WBO crown against contender Sebastian Fundora. It is not unusual for a change of opponent to occur on short notice, which at times can be shorter than the under two-week window in which this fight has come about. Injuries that occur during training for a fight, which is what happened to Keith Thurman, is unfortunately something that comes with the territory of all combat sports, not just Boxing. What is unusual however, is in this case two fighters, who were each preparing to compete on the same card in separate bouts, now are facing each other under a scenario where the stakes are high.

This is due to not only the fact that Tszyu, who is unbeaten in twenty-four professional fights, will not only be putting his WBO world championship on the line, but both fighters will now have an opportunity to become a unified world champion in the 154lb. Jr. Middleweight division as the vacant World Boxing Council (WBC) world championship will also be at stake. Although there will no doubt be some criticism of that as well as the fact that Fundora, who is coming off of a knockout loss in his last fight, now essentially has the chance to hit a jackpot, it is a scenario where for all the uncertainty that has surrounded the PBC group of promoters in recent years, as well as losing their longtime broadcast home Showtime Sports at the end of last year, when its parent company Paramount global decided to end the network’s 37 year involvement in the sport of Boxing and along with it, completely shuttered Showtime’s sports division as well, this, one might argue, is a case where they have made the best out of a bad situation.

After all, Las Vegas is known as a high stakes city where thousands upon thousands travel every year to test their luck and roll the dice in hopes of winning big and having the opportunity, at least in theory, to change their lives in an instant. While the previous statement by this observer might be viewed by the reader as essentially a promo that could be used by one of the many casinos on the Vegas strip, in a Boxing context, the winner of this fight, one that prior to a week ago was not in the works, will not only emerge as a unified world champion, but will arguably be the number one fighter in the 154lb. Jr. Middleweight division.

The fight itself features what could be on paper a collision of two fighters with a similar approach. Both Tszyu and Fundora are come forward pressure fighters that are aggressive and look to break their opponents down. The edge in terms of punching power likely will land on the side of the champion Tszyu, who much likes his father many years ago, the Hall of Famer Kostya Tszyu, has knockout power in either hand and has scored seventeen knockouts in his twenty-four career wins, registering a career knockout percentage of nearly 71% compared to Fundora’s thirteen in twenty career wins with a current career knockout percentage of 65%.

Where things may tip in favor of the challenger is in terms of both height and reach. Fundora in addition to being a southpaw, stands at nearly 6’6 and has an 80” reach, which will give him a significant advantage over the champion, who stands at nearly 5’9 and has a near 71” reach. Despite his physical advantages, which is rare for a Jr. Middleweight, Fundora often neglects those natural gifts. Although he tends to throw a lot of jabs, which if done properly should keep a shorter opponent on the outside where he has trouble getting inside of that reach where opportunities to land punches theoretically open up, Fundora willingly gives up that advantage and has shown a willingness to fight on the inside where the physics are not in his favor. It was such willingness that led to his downfall in his last fight when Fundora engaged in a fight with Brian Mendoza, who was able to knock Fundora out with a left hook, right hand combination to the head in the seventh round in April of last year.

While the knockout loss Fundora suffered at the hands of Mendoza, who went on to lose a twelve round unanimous decision to Tszyu later in 2023, should not be viewed as a career-ender as brutal as it was, Fundora has been given a golden opportunity to fight for a unified world championship coming off of such a loss. It will be interesting to see if he has learned in the near year since that fight how to use his physical advantages, to “Fight Tall,” because if he does not respect Tszyu’s punching power, it could prove costly in this fight.

In contrast to Fundora, Tszyu, who boxes out of an orthodox stance, must find a way to get on the inside of the challenger’s reach. While this can be easier said than done, there are a few aspects that the champion might be able to use to his advantage. Beyond Fundora’s neglecting his natural advantages physically in previous fights, he also has a habit of keeping his right hand low and tends to leave his chin up where if he can get close, he is susceptible to being hit, as he was against Mendoza, who frequently connected with right hands, the primary way to combat a southpaw if you are a conventional boxer, which worked well for Mendoza. The key for the champion will be whether or not he will be able to time Fundora’s jab, which he tends to pump out with consistency and volume from the opening bell to get on the inside, assuming the challenger has learned to use his physical attributes rather than willingly fight in close. If Fundora uses a similar approach as he did in his last fight, it will play right into Tszyu’s hands and we could see a similar outcome as the one Fundora experienced against Mendoza.

While this fight is one that due to the circumstances that brought it to fruition does not offer either fighter much time to prepare, it indeed comes with the territory in combat sports and the top fighters in any combat sport should know how to adapt to a change of opponent on short notice. From a business perspective however, it remains to be seen how successful this fight and event will be for the PBC group of promoters as they embark on their next chapter in a streaming age with Prime Video as its broadcast home. Despite the criticism the PBC has taken in recent years for over using the pay-per-view model in an era where consumers are continuing to reject its use in favor of more consumer-friendly subscription-based options, which led to the downfall of Showtime Sports  this is a case where they are trying to make the best of a bad situation. 

Whether or not this pay-per-view debut ends up exceeding expectations remains to be seen.  Tszyu-Fundora does figure to be an entertaining fight if the styles that both champion and challenger have shown in the past each emerge in this fight.  With a position as a unified world champion and a chance to be the central figure in the Jr. Middleweight division on the line, we will see who comes out on top on Saturday, March 30th.

“And That's The Boxing Truth.” 

PBC: Tszyu vs. Fundora takes place on Saturday, March 30th at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV.  The full card can be seen on digital streaming network Prime Video on a pay-per-view basis for $69.99 and will be available to both Amazon Prime members as well as non-members to stream beginning at 6PM ET/3PM PT with free preliminary bouts, which will be followed by the main pay-per-view card beginning at 8PM ET/5PM PT. The card will also be available on traditional cable/satellite providers.  Contact your cable/satellite provider for ordering information.  To order on Prime Video download the Prime Video app on your streaming device of choice or click the following link PBC On Prime. (*Prime Video access to this event available in the United States and Canada Only. * *Check your local listings internationally.*)

(*Card and Start time subject to change.*)

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