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Wilder Puts ‘Irrelevant’ Joshua on the Back Burner Until Further Notice

Bernard Fernandez

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Wilder vs Fury

It’s funny what a devastating 12th-round knockdown, a Lazarus-like rising from that knockdown and a controversial split draw can do to alter the current landscape of the heavyweight division, or at least some people’s perception of it.

Until late Saturday night – or very early Sunday morning for Showtime Pay Per View subscribers on the East Coast – WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua was the pivotal figure in heavyweight boxing, holder of three of the four widely recognized alphabet titles, the biggest box-office draw and the guy all the wannabe poachers of what Joshua possesses hoped to fight for pride, popularity and profit.

But that was before the mesmerizing standoff at Los Angeles’ Staples Center that changed everything, at least for the moment. A strident minority of on-site spectators and Showtime viewers came away believing that WBC champion Deontay Wilder, who registered the fight’s only two knockdowns, including the one in the final round that has become the stuff of instant legend, had done enough to come away with a come-from-behind victory. A just-as-argumentative majority supporting challenger and still-lineal-champ Tyson Fury is convinced that the massive Briton had built enough of a lead through the early and middle rounds to be rewarded with the decision. (Respondents to a Showtime viewer poll favored Fury by 65 percent to 35 percent.) But regardless of which side of the dividing line fans are on, apparently all of them, as well as the principals, now demand a final resolution to a conflict that produced no winner, but a raging tsunami of dispute.

An outcome that could and maybe should have been determined by the judges (Alejandro Rochin favored Wilder by 115-111, Robert Tapper had Fury by 114-112 and swing judge Phil Edwards saw it at 113-113) ultimately hinged on referee Jack Reiss’ allowing Fury, on the wrong end of that devastating 12th-round knockdown, to fight on after he somehow made it to his feet at the count of nine, seemingly with enough time remaining for the bull-rushing Wilder to finish him off. But Fury, amazingly, not only evaded the champion’s follow-up assault, but launched an improbable counter-attack that blunted Wilder’s momentum and had him holding on at the final bell.

It all made for high drama, as well as raising several questions. Was Reiss – a veteran whose work throughout the bout was praised by the Showtime broadcast crew – a bit slow on his count, as Wilder contends? And even if he wasn’t, would he have been justified in stopping a bout which more than a few other refs would have called then and there, what with a semi-conscious Fury laying on his back, unmoving, seemingly more in need of an ambulance than a reprieve?

“I don’t know how this man got up,” an incredulous Wilder said during a teleconference with the media on Tuesday. “(Fury) don’t even know how he got up. I feel that God got this man up, for the rematch.”

References to Lazarus and The Undertaker – that would be the WWE headliner, not a mortician, known for his dramatic rallies from the specter of imminent defeat – were rife from all concerned during the 50-minute session with the media, during which it was made clear that Wilder-Fury II will happen next, sometime in the spring of 2019 or possibly early summer, with Wilder-Joshua or Fury-Joshua, depending on the survivor of the rematch, moving to the back burner until further notice. Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), who seemingly had been holding a pat hand, would seem to have been dealt out of any immediate discussions involving highly lucrative matchups with Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs) or Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs). To Wilder, making Joshua wait constitutes justice of a sort, a penalty for arrogance that salves the disappointment of having had to settle for a draw, which usually leaves no one satisfied.

“I haven’t even thought about Joshua,” Wilder said when asked about the 800-pound gorilla in the room that apparently has been shunted to a corner. “They’re (Joshua and his promoter, Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn) getting what they deserve. They felt like they were the only people in the heavyweight division that people cared about. They felt like they were running this sport. We had to show them they’re not the only ones. Me and Fury came together to show the world what it looks like for the best to fight the best. Look at the outcome. No one has talked about Joshua in I don’t know how long. And we plan on keeping it that way.

“They had the opportunity. For four months they had their opportunity (to negotiate a full-unification showdown with Wilder). They led people on. It could have been me and Joshua to have this excitement going on. He could have had (Luis) Ortiz, he could have had Fury, he could have had me. But their egos got the best of them. So let them continue to fight the second-tier fighters. Who knows? We don’t care about them no more.”

To be fair, Joshua hasn’t spent 2018 sifting through the discard bin of possible opponents. His first fight this year was a unification with then-WBO champ Joseph Parker, whose title Joshua claimed on a 12-round unanimous decision on March 31 in Cardiff, Wales. He followed that up with a seventh-round stoppage of highly regarded Russian Alexander Povetkin on Sept. 22 in London. But with Wilder and Fury both seemingly unavailable for now, Joshua might have to settle on Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller (23-0-1, 20 KOs) as his first opponent of 2019. It’ll draw a big crowd somewhere in the United Kingdom, to be sure, but it won’t be as significant as Joshua-Wilder or Joshua-Fury would have been, or Wilder-Fury II will be.

“For us, the overriding priority is the health of the fighters,” Stephen Espinoza, president of Showtime Sports, said when asked for a possible date for the do-over. “That was a tough, tough fight. So we’re not going to rush anything to fit anything into a specific timetable. Both of those guys earned a long rest.

“May would be great. June would be great. April sounds a little quick to me. But it will happen, and it will happen at its natural time.”

Truth be told, Wilder-Fury was not without its faults. First and foremost was Wilder’s unshakable belief that he could blast Fury out of there as he had blasted almost everyone else out of there previously. As round after round tolled by, with Fury putting them into his account the way squirrels store acorns in preparation for winter, the “Bronze Bomber” seemed oblivious to the entreaties of trainers Mark Breland and Jay Deas to compose himself and diversify his one-note tactics.

“I definitely got overanxious to knock Tyson Fury out,” Wilder said. “I said I would do it, and I got very anxious to see the response and know I had the world’s attention. I didn’t know what to expect. This was my first time on pay-per-view. I know I had a lot of stuff going on. This was the moment and it got the best of me. I wanted to end it on a great note. I wanted to end it on a devastating knockout, and I pressed too much. I think I applied more pressure on myself than anything and it allowed me to get out of character, to just abandon the game plan.

“I was fighting against Tyson Fury and I was fighting against myself.”

Wilder broke through Fury’s commendable defense and his own obstinance in the ninth round, when he landed a chopping right hand to the back of the ear to floor the challenger for a nine-count. Fury regrouped to win the 10th and 11th rounds, setting the stage for the 12th round drama that elevated what had been a good heavyweight fight into something more meaningful and special. That pulverizing right hand landed first, augmented by a follow-up left hook, with the hulking Fury – all 6-foot-9 and 256½ pounds of him – falling hard, with the force of Wilder’s 1-2 supplemented by the way the back of Fury’s head struck the canvas. At that moment, Wilder had every reason to believe he had done exactly what he had been attempting to do all along, only later than he expected.

But Fury, the “Gypsy King,” made it to his feet before Reiss had completed the 10-count, maybe the most stunning turnaround from such an emphatic knockdown since Larry Holmes arose after having been decked by Earnie Shavers in the seventh round of their WBC heavyweight title fight on Sept. 28, 1979. Holmes went on to retain his title on an 11th-round stoppage.

“I’ve been having a recurring thought in my head since Saturday night about the commercials for the next fight,” said Wilder’s promoter, Lou DiBella, who also was on the call. “You know, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. A giant 6-foot-9 man went down like a tree and slammed into the canvas. And then popped up like The Undertaker! The look on Deontay’s face at that moment was like one of those scripted looks that you’d see in a WWE Wrestlemania match. He just saw a guy get up, and had no idea how that was possible. That’s a million buys for the next pay-per-view.”

The lead-up to Wilder-Fury II presumably will feature less trash-talking and more mutual respect, but the quotes should still be entertaining. Both men have outsized personalities that make for nifty sound bites and Internet click-bait. Wilder’s back story as an outcast Irish Traveller who rose to the top of his profession, plunged to the bottom in a morass of gluttony, cocaine bingeing and mental issues before righting himself, is as compelling as ever. And now we have both guys seeking to prove what they contended in the first place, that each is better than the other and only a definitive ending can bring the kind of closure that no draw ever can.

“We are the best in the division,” Wilder said of himself and Fury. “We wanted to prove to each other who is the best in the heavyweight division. We did that, and it was amazing. I’m ready to do it again. The fact that he did survive makes it better for the rematch. It’s an even playing ground. When I do knock him out the next time, then I want my full credit.

“Who knows? We might even have a trilogy.”

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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Chris Arreola is Back!

Ted Sares

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Chris Arreola

Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola is an emotional and very likable guy. Over the course of his career, there have been ups and downs providing the grist for a compelling story if one were inclined to write it. He’ll kiss a beaten opponent (Joey Abell) or cry if beaten (Vitali Klitschko) and his language during a post-fight interview is, well it’s special.

After his corner stopped the fight following the 10th round with Klitschko, and with tears streaming down his cheeks, he thanked the fans (as is his wont) and later, while being interviewed in the ring, said  “F–k that, I’m coming back.”

It was his first loss after 26 straight wins out of the professional gate. For that “terrible” indiscretion, he was punished by the selectively politically correct World Boxing Council. WBC president José Sulaimán proposed a six months ban for vulgar language and the ban was approved by the WBC Board of Governors.

Arreola, who rarely uses filters, was brutally candid again after his first round KO over Erik Molina in 2012. The Nightmare cut loose on Don King, Molina’s promoter, calling him a “f—ing a–hole and a racist,” causing Showtime’s Jim Gray to  terminate the post-fight interview forthwith. “Honestly Don King called me a wetback, and other Mexicans,” Arreola told Fightnews.com. “That’s a strong word. It’s like me dropping N bombs. You don’t say things like that.”

No ban this time.

Arreola’s weight varies but when he is fit and ready (and under 250), he is a very dangerous heavyweight, especially in the early rounds. Once he has his opponent hurt, there are few boxers who can close as well as this Southern California Mexican American tough guy who was an accomplished amateur fighter and knows his way around the ring.

His level of opposition has been stiff. In fact, his five losses have been to fighters who have held world titles at one time or another. Bermane Stiverne had Chris’s number and beat him twice—the second time by way of a nasty knockout. However, he has a number of solid wins over the likes of Malcom Tann, Chazz Witherspoon, Travis Walker, Jameel McCline, Brian Minto, Curtis Harper –yes, that Curtis Harper who gave Chris all he could handle — and many others who came in with fine records. His first round blowout of once promising Seth Mitchell was quintessential Arreola. Mitchell retired after the fight.

In July 2016, The Nightmare was stopped by Deontay Wilder in yet another title bid but he did not disgrace himself. He then took off for over two years to assess whether he wanted to continue. Boxing fans pretty much forgot about him. Few took notice when he came back to stop the very stoppable Maurenzo Smith on the Wilder-Fury undercard on Dec. 1 of last year.

Fast Forward

Last weekend, on the undercard of the huge Errol Spence Jr. vs. Mikey Garcia PPV fight in Dallas, “The Nightmare” was matched against unbeaten but unheralded Jean Pierre Augustin (17-0-1).

Chris, now 38, came in at a svelte 237 pounds and looked fit and ready to go. The weary look on Augustin’s face during the announcement said it all. True to form, Arreola was in blowout mode and stopped the Haitian who simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Arreola wobbled Augustin with a brutally hard jab that connected flush to his face in the third round. After more heavy shots, a bloodied Augustin went down and upon getting up, was battered until the referee halted matters. Chris closed things like he had done on so many other occasions and in front of millions of fans tuning in around the world.

With a female interviewer, the elated “Nightmare” was polite during the post-fight ceremonies and, holding his daughter, signaled that he is BACK! That’s good news for boxing fans because when Chris Arreola is fit and focused, he is entertaining and very competitive.

With a current record of 38-5-1 with 2 ND (the “no-contests” resulting from Chris‘s apparent affinity for non-medicinal marijuana), a fight with someone like Adam Kownacki would be a boxing fan’s dream.

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and Strongman competitors and plans to compete in at least three events in 2019. He is a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA).

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Nobody Wants to Fight Dillian Whyte

Kelsey McCarson

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Dillian Whyte

Dillian Whyte is one of the most dangerous fighters in the world. The 30-year-old is a former British heavyweight titleholder, a former kickboxing prodigy and an undefeated mixed martial artist. Overall, Whyte’s professional fighting record is a sterling 46-2. He’s 25-1 as a boxer, 20-1 as a K1 kickboxer and 1-0 as an MMA fighter.

So while the battle rages on between various television networks and streaming platforms over securing the top talent in the heavyweight division, one that includes Tyson Fury signing a multi-fight deal with ESPN and Deontay Wilder reportedly mulling over his future with PBC, perhaps something just as important right now is that the single most dangerous and deserved heavyweight contender in the world remains without a dance partner for his next fight.

Never mind Whyte being the No. 1 ranked contender by the World Boxing Council. That sanctioning body instead deemed Dominic Breazeale the mandatory challenger to Wilder’s WBC title after the potential rematch between Wilder and Fury fell by the wayside.

Here’s all that needs to be said about that grift. Breazeale only had to defeat Eric Molina to get his mandatory title shot while the WBC wanted Whyte to face Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz, one of the top heavyweights in the sport.

And nobody seems to care that Whyte gave unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua the toughest test of his career (this side of Wladimir Klitschko anyway), when the two squared off in 2015 for the British and Commonwealth titles. Despite the obvious talent gap between the two fighters, Whyte gave the young Joshua just about all the former Olympic champion could handle in a seven-round war.

To hear Whyte tell the story, promoter Eddie Hearn must have intentionally lowballed Whyte for the proposed 2019 rematch in order to ensure Joshua could invade America on June 1 against the likely less dangerous Jarrell Miller. That makes sense for Joshua from a monetary perspective, but it doesn’t do the same in terms of true competitiveness.

According to various reports, Whyte is currently considering a multi-fight deal to appear on ESPN, a move that would give the British battler a path to facing Fury who some consider the lineal heavyweight champion. Fury recently signed a multi-fight deal to be co-promoted by Bob Arum for appearances on the U.S.-based television network ESPN. It’s the move that shelved a potential Wilder rematch and also opened up a huge can of worms in regards to what kinds of fights Fury might actually be able to secure. Currently, the Top Rank-promoted stable of heavyweights is best characterized by fighters who don’t really move the needle in regards to title challenges, fighters like Oscar Rivas, Bryant Jennings and Kubrat Pulev.

Overall, though, the main problem about the heavyweight landscape is that there are three heavyweights who all have a claim to being heavyweight champion. IBF, WBA and WBO champion Joshua is promoted by Hearn and exclusive to DAZN. WBC champ Wilder is attached to the PBC whose television partnerships include Showtime and Fox. Fury is set to embark on his own ESPN crusade. Long story short, these guys probably aren’t fighting each other anytime soon.

Worse is that while all three men are in desperate need of viable opponents, none have seemed all that interested in tussling with Whyte.

It’s no wonder. As good as Whyte has been over the course of his 7-year professional boxing career, the scariest thing about the fighter is that he always seems to be getting better. In his last two fights, Whyte outfought talented former titleholder Joseph Parker and knocked out gritty UK heavyweight Dereck Chisora. In defeating Parker, Whyte was facing someone absolutely in need of a win to maintain his status among heavyweight contenders. In beating Chisora, Whyte was in tough against an opponent he had only defeated by split-decision two years prior. Both wins illustrate just how far Whyte has come as a professional prizefighter.

As it stands, Whyte is the clear top contender among all heavyweights, especially among those who have not yet been granted a shot at a world title. He’s ranked No. 4 behind Joshua, Fury and Wilder by The Ring magazine and the same by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

The only question that remains is which title claimant will prove the toughest holdout. Whyte’s ultimate choice, in whether to stick with promoter Hearn on DAZN, link up with Arum and ESPN or continue playing the WBC shell game, will probably end up being tied to which path gets him the title shot that he so desperately craves first.

And it absolutely should happen. It’s one thing to crave title opportunities and another to have earned them. Whyte’s done both now, and it’s time for boxing fans and the media to take notice. Better yet, it’s time for Joshua, Fury and Wilder to pit themselves against their most dangerous competition. Since they’re not facing each other, Whyte become the next logical choice for any or all of them.

Because Dillian Whyte is one of the best heavyweight boxers in the world, and he’s done enough by now to warrant the chance to prove it.

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The Hauser Report: St. Patrick’s Day at Madison Square Garden

Thomas Hauser

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Conlan

Boxing’s three “major leagues” showed their respective wares this past weekend. On Friday night, DAZN presented a nine-bout card in conjunction with Matchroom USA. On Saturday, Fox and Premier Boxing champions teamed up for the Errol Spence vs. Mikey Garcia pay-per-view event. Then, on Sunday, ESPN and Top Rank had their turn in the form of a St. Patrick’s Day card at Madison Square Garden headed by Belfast native and former Olympian Michael Conlan.

The star of the show was St. Patrick, the fifth-century saint widely credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. In his honor, there were three Irishmen on the card: Conlan, flyweight Paddy Barnes, and welterweight Lee Reeves. That said; there was a Hispanic flavor to the proceedings. The sixteen combatants included Eduardo Torres, Victor Rosas, Juan Tapia, Ricardo Maldonado, Adriano Ramirez, Oscar Mojica, Joseph Adorno, John Bauza, Luis Collazo, Ruben Garcia Hernandez, and two Vargases (Josue and Samuel).

Irish-Americans have a record of supporting Irish fighters, particularly on St. Patrick’s Day. This was no exception. The announced crowd of 3,712 arrived early. During the final pre-fight press conference, Top Rank president Todd duBoef had paid homage to the fans, although he did voice the view that, on St. Patrick’s Day, “Their cognitive behavior is manipulated by the beer.”

On fight night, the in-arena music was chosen accordingly. What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor? was played twice over the Hulu Theater sound system.

There was also green lighting.

Lee Reeves (2-0, 2 KOs) of Limerick, Ireland, opened the show with a four-round decision over Edward Torres.

In the third bout of the evening, Vladimir Nikitin (2-0, 0 KOs) won a majority decision over Juan Tapia. Nikitin defeated Conlan in the quarter-finals at the 2016 Olympics. Presumably, they’ll fight again at a time of maximum opportunity for Conlan.

Flyweight Paddy Barnes (5-1, 1 KO) of Belfast was a teammate of Conlan’s at the 2016 Olympics but lost in the first round to Spain’s Samuel Carmona. On St. Patrick’s Day, Barnes was matched against Oscar Mojica (11-5-1), who had one career knockout and had gone 3-5-1 in his previous nine outings.

Mojica broke Barnes’s nose in round one and knocked him down with a body shot in the second stanza (although to the mystification of those in the press section, referee Danny Schiavone waved off the knockdown). It was a spirited outing in which both men were too easy to hit for their own good. Barnes rallied nicely in the second half of the bout and arguably did enough to win the decision. But two of the three judges thought otherwise, leading to a 58-56, 58-56, 56-58 verdict in Mojica’s favor.

In the next-to-last fight of the evening, Luis Collazo (38-7, 20 KOs) took on Samuel Vargas (30-4-2, 14 KOs).

Collazo now 37 years old, reigned briefly as WBA welterweight champion twelve years ago. Since then, he had cobbled together twelve victories (an average of one per year) against six losses in eighteen fights. Vargas had one win in his previous three outings and has never been able to get the “W” against a name opponent.

It was a phone booth fight, which worked to Collazo’s advantage because Luis’s legs aren’t what they once were. The decision could have gone either way. Two judges scored the bout 96-94; one for Collazo and the other for Vargas. Frank Lombardi turned in a wide-of-the-mark 98-92 scorecard in Collazo’s favor.

Then it was time for the main event.

Conlan (10-0, 6 KOs) is best known to boxing fans for having given the finger (two middle fingers, actually) to the judges after coming out on the short end of a decision in the second round of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. His skill set is better suited to the amateur than professional ranks. But his Irish heritage is a significant marketing plus. And Top Rank specializes in both savvy matchmaking and building narratives.

This was the third consecutive year that Conlan, now a featherweight, celebrated St. Patrick’s Day weekend by fighting at Madison Square Garden. His ringwalk was marked by Irish-themed pageantry. And Ruben Garcia Hernandez, his opponent, was tailor-made for him.

Conlon controlled the fight with his jab. Nothing much else happened. “Mick” emerged victorious 100-90 on all three judges’ scorecards. And the fans went home happy because their man won.

*     *     *

The sad news that New York Mets pitching great Tom Seaver is suffering from dementia and will retire from public life is a reminder that all people from all walks of life are susceptible to the condition, not just fighters.

Seaver was on the list of A+ athletes who rose to prominence in the 1960s when advances in television were redefining the sports experience. Muhammad Ali was at the top of that list. Years ago, sportswriter Dick Schaap told me about an evening he spent with Ali and Seaver.

“In 1969, the year the Mets won their first World Series,”Schaap reminisced, “I spent the last few days of the regular season with the team in Chicago. Ali was living there at the time. I was writing a book with Tom Seaver, and the three of us went out to dinner together. We met at a restaurant called The Red Carpet. I made the introductions. And of course, this was the year that Tom Seaver was Mr. Baseball, maybe even Mr. America. Ali and Tom got along fine. They really hit it off together. And after about half an hour, Ali in all seriousness turned to Seaver and said, ‘You know, you’re a nice fellow. Which paper do you write for?’”

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Protect Yourself at All Times – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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