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Tyson Fury Must Hope to Avoid Same Pitfalls That Bedeviled His Namesake

Bernard Fernandez

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Tyson Fury

It is eerily prophetic that when former boxer John Fury’s tiny son came into the world on Aug. 12, 1988, in Manchester, England, three months prematurely and weighing just one pound, the father nonetheless determined that he should be named Tyson Luke Fury, after then-heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.

The baby, who was hardly assured of surviving an expectedly difficult infancy, not only made it to adulthood, he sprouted into a veritable giant of a man at 6-foot-9 and 260-plus pounds. Even more stunning is the fact that Tyson “The Gypsy King” Fury became, like his famous namesake, heavyweight champion of the world, completing a circle of improbability the odds of which had to be Powerball Lottery-winning long.

His immense size alone separates Tyson Fury from that other Tyson, a much more compact fighter who topped out at 5-foot-10 and was at his best at an optimum fighting weight of 217 or so pounds. In terms of their boxing styles, the two Tysons are just as dissimilar, the hulking Fury a dancing bear of a man with decent but not particularly devastating punching power, in stark contrast to the magnificently muscled “Iron Mike,” who in his prime was arguably the hardest hitter in the history of the heavyweight division.

But it is other, less laudatory links between the two Tysons that have raised questions about whether the now-30-year-old Fury (27-0, 19 KOs) can survive a potential crisis of another sort when he challenges WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs) in the Showtime Pay Per View main event Saturday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Like that other Tyson, whose spectacular rise to the top of his profession was derailed by a host of physical, emotional, legal and societal issues, the comebacking Briton of Irish descent must demonstrate – if he can – that he has moved past the litany of problems that took down Mike Tyson, the youngest heavyweight champion ever at 20, well before the onetime Brooklyn bad boy’s mesmerizing promise should have reached its expiration date. Just as the baby Fury had a premature beginning, so too did the mid-30s Mike Tyson have a premature and disappointing ending to a career that was as spectacular in its flameout as was his too-brief reign as a regal successor to the legendary likes of Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali.

As of now, Mike Tyson, now 52, is not among the celebrities who have confirmed they will be at the Staples Center to witness what many are calling the most important heavyweight matchup since Lennox Lewis knocked out, yes, a severely diminished Tyson in eight one-sided rounds on June 8, 2002, in Memphis.

Tyson lost two of his final three bouts, shocking stoppages at the hands of Danny Williams and Kevin McBride, after the last vestiges of his former aura of invincibility were smashed to smithereens by Lewis. Quitting on his stool before the start of the seventh round against the relatively pedestrian McBride on June 8, 2005, Tyson wearily said, “I don’t have the stomach for this. I don’t have that ferocity. I’m not an animal anymore.”

An acknowledgment of depleted commitment to a sport that demands total dedication was particularly noteworthy coming as it did from Tyson, the snarling beast of yore who, before his watershed, one-round destruction of Michael Spinks on June 27, 1988, in Atlantic City had boasted, “I’ll break Spinks. I’ll break them all. When I fight someone, I want to break his will. I want to take his manhood. I want to rip out his heart and show it to him.”

Such pronouncements of savage, violent domination are more common to knockout artist Wilder, too long and lean to be a physical prototype to Tyson, than to Fury, but the expressions of supreme confidence are more or less the same. Fury has had only two fights over the last three years, a fourth-round stoppage of the relatively unknown and much smaller Sefer Sefari on June 9 of this year and a 10-round decision over the somewhat more formidable Francesco Pianeta on Aug. 18, but to hear him tell it he is as good if not better than he was in his career-defining victory, a unanimous-decision dethronement of long-reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko on Nov. 28, 2015.

“I will stand and prove what I’m going to do to this idiot (Wilder),” Fury said at the London stop of a three-city, two-country media tour to hype the event. “I will punch his face right in for him. Not a problem. Seven days a week and twice on Sunday. If we fought 30 times, I’d win 30 times. That’s how confident I am of beating Deontay Wilder.”

And this, in New York: “He’s a big swinger. OK, he’s knocked a few bums out. He’s had 40 fights and 35 of them have been against total tomato cans who can’t fight back. If he thinks he can land one of those big swinging windmills on my chin, he should think again. After he feels a bit of power and a few stiff jabs in the face, his ass is going to fall out. Around (rounds) eight, nine, 10, welcome to my world. How am I going to let this little, skinny spaghetti hoot beat me?”

There are those who are convinced that Fury’s impressive mobility for such a large man, coupled with the height and heft that has enabled him to wear down opponents by putting his weight on them in strength-sapping clinches, will enable him to flummox the favored Wilder, as he had Klitschko. After that fight in Dusseldorf, Germany, future Hall of Famer Klitschko – who landed just 52 of 231 punches, a puny average of 4.3 per round (and an incredibly low 1.5 power shots), was almost sheepish in saying that “I couldn’t find the right distance to land those shots. Tyson was quick with his hands and his body movement and his head movement. I couldn’t land the right punches.”

But instead of capitalizing on his sudden notoriety and acclaim, Fury appeared to have a mental meltdown that very publicly dragged on for over two years. Not only did he go on an epic cocaine binge and ballooned to nearly 400 pounds (“I got fat as a pig,” he admitted), but he rattled off a series of politically incorrect statements that smacked of sexism (“I believe a woman’s best place is in the kitchen and on her back”), LGBT bias (“It’s like you’re a freak of nature if you’re normal”) and anti-Semitism (“I won’t be brainwashed by all the Zionist, Jewish people who own all the banks, all the papers, all the TV stations”).

All those missteps were reminiscent of the Mike Tyson who, after having amassed the kind of fortune and fame most fighters can only dream of, lost everything, or close to it, in a downward spiral of self-destruction. That Tyson did two prison stretches, one for rape, consumed copious amounts of cocaine and alcohol, and gorged his way to nearly 300 pounds, which is as unsightly on a 5-foot-10 guy as 400 pounds are on a 6-9 guy. He was fined and suspended by various commissions and sanctioning bodies, and left without a title after the second of his two heavyweight championship reigns ended on an 11th-round stoppage by Evander Holyfield on Nov. 9, 1996. The Mike Tyson of our memories was terrific for a time, but not as terrific as he could have been, and maybe should have been.

It remains to be seen if a victorious Wilder, as a heavyweight with aspirations of greatness, is a reasonable replication of the vintage Tyson – or of Holyfield or Lewis, for that matter – but it’s highly likely that Fury can at least temporarily reclaim much of what he frittered away should he pull off the upset against the Tuscaloosa, Ala., resident with the crushing overhand right that thus far has paid such major dividends. While lost in a stupor of drugs and gluttony, he was first stripped of his IBF title for agreeing to a rematch with Klitschko instead of facing IBF mandatory challenger Vyacheslav Glazkov. A bit further down the line he twice tested positive for cocaine, leading to a pair of postponements for the second Klitscho fight that never came off, resulting in his voluntary relinquishment of his WBA, WBO and IBO titles before those organizations could also strip him. His long period of inactivity also led to his being stripped of his lineal and The Ring magazine championships.

To his credit, Fury has sought and received treatment, as did Mike Tyson, from mental health professionals who understand that the line separating preening egomaniacs and manic depressives is thin and easily crossed, depending on circumstances. Although they come from decidedly different worlds, the prejudices and rejection both men faced while growing up shaped them in ways that no amount of success inside the ropes could permanently alter.

For Mike Tyson, much of who he was, is and forever shall be is the result of his upbringing in the blighted Brownsville section of Brooklyn, N.Y., where the poor black child with the lisp found himself an object of derision, finding a measure of solace only in his membership with a street gang, the Jolly Stompers, that hewed to the proposition that if its members couldn’t afford to get what they wanted, it was better to take it by force than to do without. It was a lifestyle that frequently landed Tyson in juvenile hall until boxing offered him a reprieve that never fully removed him from his roots.

Fury’s Jolly Stompers equivalent is his heritage as an Irish Traveller, some 40,000 nomadic people in the United Kingdom and Ireland who never stay long in any one place, moving about as tightly knit caravan communities. But wherever they go, the Travellers are apt to find hostility and hatred. Even after his defeat of Klitschko, Fury was reminded of the taint he presumably bears and might never be able to completely erase. Denied service at a UK restaurant for himself, wife Paris and their three children, Fury complained that “I’m the heavyweight champion of the world and I’ve been told, `Sorry, mate, you can’t come in. No Travellers allowed.”

Whether Mike Tyson is in the Staples Center audience on Saturday night remains to be seen, but he has weighed in on the bout and seemingly is leaning toward the “Gypsy King.”

“Although Wilder’s punch is strong, nothing can compare to the mental strength Fury has shown both in and out of the ring,” Tyson said. “It’ll be a close call, but I think Fury’s got a true fighting chance.”

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Recalling Three Big Fights in Miami, the Site of Super Bowl LIV

Arne K. Lang

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The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs collide on Feb. 2 in Miami in Super Bowl LIV (54) in what will assuredly be the biggest betting event to ever play out on American soil. It’s the 10th Super Bowl for the South Florida metropolis which ties it with New Orleans as the most frequent destination for football’s premier attraction.

With its heavily Latin population, Miami would seem to be natural for big fights. However, this hasn’t been the case. Several great champions fought here, including Roberto Duran who twice defended his world lightweight title in these parts, but these weren’t big fights. In the case of Duran, his opponents were lightly regarded and the Panamanian legend was still three years away from his first encounter with Sugar Ray Leonard, a match that increased his name recognition a hundred-fold.

There were, however, three fights in Miami that summoned the interest of virtually all of America’s A-list sportswriters. Here they are in reverse chronological order.

Aaron Pryor vs. Alexis Arguello (Nov. 12, 1982)

Alexis Arguello (72-5) was bidding to become boxing’s first four-division champion. In his way stood WBA junior welterweight title-holder Aaron Pryor (31-0, 29 KOs), a man now widely regarded as the best 140-pound boxer of all time.

Arguello, a Miami resident, having been exiled from his Nicaraguan homeland by the Sandanista rebel occupation, was a textbook boxer who defeated his opponents with surgical efficiency. Pryor was a typhoon. He mowed down his opponents with relentless pressure. It was a great style match-up and it didn’t disappoint. Contested before nearly 30,000 at Miami’s iconic Orange Bowl, Pryor vs. Arguello was a fight for the ages.

“There was power, finesse, poise, courage and a tremendous ebb and flow,” said Associated Press writer Ed Schuyler who dubbed it Manila in Miniature. In the ninth, 11th, and particularly the 13th rounds, Arguello hit Pryor with straight right hands that would have felled an ordinary fighter, but Pryor had an iron chin.

In the 14th, Pryor buckled Arguello’s knees with a straight right hand and then unloaded a furious combination as Arguello fell back against the ropes. He was out on feet when referee Stanley Cristodoulou intervened and he would lay prone on the canvas for several minutes before he could be removed to his dressing room.

Sonny Liston vs. Muhammad Ali (Feb. 25, 1964)

If you happen to find a poster for this fight with the name Muhammad Ali on it, don’t buy it. It’s bogus. Liston met up with Muhammad Ali in their second fight. In their first encounter, Liston opposed Cassius Clay.

Clay’s Louisville sponsors, after a brief flirtation with Archie Moore, settled on Angelo Dundee as his trainer. Angelo operated out of his brother Chris Dundee’s gym located at the corner of 5th Street and Washington Avenue in Miami Beach. The fighter who took the name Muhammad Ali trained here and kept a home in Miami for most of his first six years as a pro.

Clay/Ali was 22 years old and had only 19 fights under his belt when he was thrust against heavyweight champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Liston was riding a 28-fight winning streak after back-to-back first-round blowouts of Floyd Patterson.

In a UPI survey, 43 of 46 boxing writers picked Liston. “Clay has no more chance of stopping Liston than the old red barn had of impeding a tornado,” wrote Nat Fleischer, the publisher of The Ring magazine.

This would be the first of many famous fights for Muhammad Ali who emerged victorious when Liston quit after the sixth frame citing an injured shoulder. What is not widely known, however, is that the fight, which was shown on closed-circuit in the U.S. and Canada, was a bust at the gate. The 16,448-seat Convention Center was only half full.

The expectation that Liston would take the lippy kid out in a hurry depressed sales, as did sky-high ticket prices ($250 tops when $100 was the norm). And there may have been more subtle factors. “This may not be the best place for a fight between two Negroes,” wrote Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times, cognizant that people of color were not welcome as guests at the ritzy beachfront hotels along Collins Avenue.

Jack Sharkey vs. W. L. (Young) Stribling (Feb. 27, 1929)

A big fight, as I define it, doesn’t have to be a blockbuster. An important fight that produces an upset automatically becomes a bigger fight in hindsight. The Sharkey-Stribling fight of 1929 didn’t draw an immense crowd by Jack Dempsey standards, but the turnout, reportedly 35,000, far exceeded expectations and the fight – which preceded Miami’s first Orange Bowl football game by six years — really established Miami as a potentially good place for a big sporting event.

Promoted by the Madison Square Garden Corporation, the bout was originally headed to a dog racing track but it quickly became obvious that a larger venue was needed. A stadium was erected on a Miami Beach polo field, taking the name Flamingo Park (not to be confused with the thoroughbred track of the same name).

Slated for 10 rounds, the bout was conceived as one of two “eliminators” to find a successor to Gene Tunney who had retired. What gave the fight it’s primary allure, however, was the North-South angle. Sharkey, born Joseph Zukauskas, hailed from Boston. Stribling, born into a family that traveled the fair circuit with a variety act, was from Macon, Georgia.

The fight, which aired on the NBC radio network, was a dud, a drab affair won by Sharkey who had the best of it in virtually every round. Both went on to fight Max Schmeling for the world heavyweight title. Stribling, dubbed the “King of the Canebrakes” by Damon Runyon, lost by TKO in fight that was stopped late in the 15th round. Sharkey took the title from Schmeling on a split decision after losing their first meeting on a foul.

Young Stribling died in a motorcycle crash at age 28, by which time he had engaged in 251 documented bouts, the great majority of which were set-ups. Jack Sharkey lived to be 91.

—-

The strong earnings of the Sharkey-Stribling bout inevitably drew the Madison Square Garden Corporation back to Miami for an encore. On Feb. 27, 1930, Jack Sharkey opposed England’s “Fainting” Phil Scott. Four years later, on March 1, 1834, Primo Carnera defended his world heavyweight title here against former light heavyweight champion Tommy Loughran, the Philadelphia Phantom.

Both bouts were big money losers, as were the great majority of major fights during this period. Eight months after the Sharkey-Stribling cash cow, the stock market crashed, plunging the United States into the Great Depression. Few Americans could afford to vacation in Florida, let alone travel anywhere for a big fight.

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Star Power: Ryan Garcia and Oscar De La Hoya at West L.A. Gym

David A. Avila

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Under gray skies and very cool temperatures Ryan Garcia arrived with his father and a couple of others at the Westside Boxing Gym on Monday.

Waiting anxiously were about 100 people comprised of mostly videographers and photographers who had already surrounded Oscar De La Hoya who arrived earlier.

Golden Boy greets the Flash.

Garcia (19-0, 16 KOs) has a fight coming soon against Nicaragua’s Francisco Fonseca (25-2-2, 19 KOs) on Friday Feb. 14, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The Golden Boy Promotions show will be streamed by DAZN.

“I’m ready for this fight,” Garcia said quickly.

Some say it has been a rather quick road for the fighter from Victorville known as the Flash. But if you ask Garcia, it has been too slow.

“I think he (Garcia) will be world champion this year,” said De La Hoya, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions.

Years ago, De La Hoya arrived with the same hoopla but his travel to the top seemed even faster. By his fifth pro fight he was matched with Jeff Mayweather. Yes, those Mayweathers. At the time Mayweather had fought 27 professional fights and had only two losses. De La Hoya stopped him in four.

In his eighth pro fight De La Hoya met Troy Dorsey, a tough Texan who had formerly held the IBF featherweight world title and who would later win a super featherweight world title. De La Hoya stopped him in one round.

Two years after winning the Olympic gold medal in Barcelona, the Golden Boy met WBO world titlist Jimmi Bredahl at the Olympic Auditorium and after dropping him several times finally stopped him in the 10th round. It was De La Hoya’s first world title and he was 21 years old.

Garcia is now 21 and ready to test the loaded lightweight division waters. For a while he was fighting at super featherweight, a division loaded with talent. But lightweights are the Maginot Line when it comes to boxing’s big hitters. Everybody can punch in the 135-pound limit lightweight division.

When Garcia met Romero Duno last November in Las Vegas many expected the speedy Victorville fighter to get his come-uppance. Instead the lanky slugger lit up the strong Filipino fighter and dropped him into the ether world.

It was mesmerizing stuff.

Now he’s back with a load of credibility after shutting down detractors with his devastating knockout win over Duno. It wasn’t supposed to be that easy. Just like it wasn’t supposed to be that easy when De La Hoya raced by world champions like Secretariat did in the Kentucky Derby decades ago. It’s not supposed to be that easy, but for some it truly is.

Garcia seems to be headed for a journey so remarkable that he has other world champions like WBC titlist Devin Haney eyeing him for their next challenges. It barely results in a yawn for the fighter who will be facing a very credible foe in Fonseca next month.

“I’m not even the champion and he’s calling me out,” said Garcia with a whatever kind of look.

Other fighters and promoters can see what Garcia represents and want to get a slice of it too. Its intangible yet most of the boxing world can sense something is coming and Garcia might be part of it.

That’s called star power and it’s difficult to explain. Some have it, many want it and others have no chance of ever attaining it.

Time will tell how far Garcia’s star power will venture.

One man lived that life and, in a sense, still lives that life and that is De La Hoya. Even he senses a déjà vu moment with Garcia.

“It’s why we made him one of the richest young prospects in boxing today,” De La Hoya said.

Expect several thousand ardent fans of Garcia to fill the seats on Valentine’s Day. How else can you explain it but, star power.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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The Much Maligned Boxing Judge

Ted Sares

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Identifying bad judges is pretty easy, but that’s not the purpose of this essay. To the contrary, the emphasis here is on fine judges and the many ways they can be unjustly labeled.

Now to name a few of today’s best boxing judges is to risk excluding others and that’s admittedly unfair but space is limited. Quickly coming to mind, however, are these judges, all currently active: Julie Lederman (pictured), Steve Weisfeld, Glen Feldman, Dave Moretti, Glenn Trowbridge, Joe Pasquale, Max DeLuca, Hubert Earle, Benoit Roussel, Burt Clements, Tom Shreck, Don Trella, Gary Ritter, Patricia Morse Jarman, Pat Russell, Pinit Prayadsab, Raúl Caiz, Jr., and, of course, the South African legend Stanley Christodoulou.

Boxing judges, unlike referees, are far easier to criticize because the average fan can score a fight using whatever criteria he or she selects and the view from a TV is pretty good. This contributes to the relatively high number of maligned boxing judges.

Being a boxing judge is a thankless endeavor where attention is received only when something controversial and/or negative occurs. And once a judgment is made about a bad job, that judgment influences future perceptions. This is known as “confirmation bias.” Thus, when a boxing commentator like the outspoken Teddy Atlas launches into a tirade over the judging in a particular fight, he may be engaging in confirmation bias—a kind of “See, I told you so.” Those who might criticize based on one poor performance may feel their suspicion of botched judging confirmed. Thus, the tagged judges’ reputation may be unfairly tarnished in the future.

Out-of-town fighters going to Texas to fight are aware of the risks based on the post-fight rants of Paulie Malignaggi, Atlas and many others. If so, the solution is to use out-of-state judges or avoid Texas altogether.

However, even if the elite judges make one “questionable” call in the eyes of fans and certain boxing commentators (or have an off day) they can be labeled as “bad” judges while simultaneously serving as a dart board for Bob Arum’s selective and quite nasty criticism.

No judge is perfect. They deal in a subjective world. Even the legendary IBHOF member Harold Lederman was harshly criticized for his scoring in the Maurice Harris vs. Larry Holmes fight in 1997. And even his daughter Julie has served as a target for some of Arum’s especially vicious criticism.

“She is the best judge in our household”—Harold Lederman

“You have people who are concentrating for three minutes, looking at nothing but the gloves, nothing but the punches. These other people are judging from TV, they’re judging from twenty rows back and they don’t see the effect of the punches all the time.”—Dave Moretti

“It’s easy to criticize boxing judges. But it’s not that easy to have a sound basis for the criticism. One needs to see the fight the judge saw to be in the position to rightly criticize. Critics should temper criticisms in light of the situations boxing judges are in when judging fights. And judges should likewise understand criticisms from the boxing public, however baseless these may seem.   Epifanio M. Almeda (PhilBoxing.com)

All it Takes Is One Bad Apple

In the recent Jesse Hart vs. Joe Smith Jr. fight in Atlantic City, a somewhat under-the-radar judge got it terribly wrong. Two judges had it for Smith, 98-91 and 97-92, but the judge in question shockingly had it 95-94 for Hart. He was scorned, tagged, labeled and God knows what. The criticism took on the form of a tsunami.

Bob Arum had this to say: “That judge should be banned from scoring a fight — and I promote Hart. How can you ever score that fight for Jesse Hart? It was a terrific fight, good for boxing, good action fight, and then you have a damn judge who screws it up.”

Al Bernstein added, “…He should never be allowed to judge again….”

A look at his past record as a judge since 2015 doesn’t reveal anything untoward. But he has now been tagged—perhaps justifiably so– and if he somehow gets through this and slips up again, there will be one very loud “we told you so.” It’s the nature of the beast; It is what it is.

The Pod Index

Matt Podgorski (a former boxing official) came up with a method to evaluate the performance of judges worldwide by determining the percentage of instances his or her scores are consistent with the other two judges working the same fights. He calls it the Pod Index. “Boxing and MMA judges are often evaluated based on whether or not they have had a controversial decision. This is a poor way to assign and regard professional judges,” said Podgorski in an interview with former RingTV editor Michael Rosenthal.

Matt’s Disclaimer: “We are not claiming that judges with low Pod Index scores are bad judges. The Pod Index is simply a measurement of round by round variation compared to other judges.”

Steve Farhood

farhood

2017 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Steve Farhood is a lot of things: analyst, writer, historian, commentator, and an unofficial judge for Showtime fights. If he were an official judge, his Pod Index score would undoubtedly be at or near the top. Steve seldom gets it wrong. He may be the best “judge” in boxing.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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