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Art and Heroism in a Corrupted Sport

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Tyson Fury: Art and Heroism

Tyson Fury lay in the ring like the Pietà in still life. Deontay Wilder’s right hand put him there, one of a scant few he didn’t get underneath. It landed behind his ear and sent his head flopping into the path of a left hook that sent all six-feet-nine-inches of him down with a crash.

The faces in the crowd—glomming, mouths agape, eyes burning with mad glee—morphed into a Bellows painting.

“…Two,” said referee Jack Reiss.

Fury was the only figure in the house that wasn’t moving. He stared at the ceiling as if something fearful was there, and a strange sound came from his throat—a raspy exhale, the kind you’d expect to hear from a man in the midst of night terrors. Unlike the Pietà, no one was holding him.

“…Three…”

He’d been there before; in that lonely place, flat on his back, nowhere to look but up. The desert monks called it acedia and considered it a form of existential despair. They were familiar enough with it to name it—the “noonday devil” attacks when the sun is highest, when everything is at its most brilliant.

Fury encountered it in 2015, after defeating Wlad Klitschko to become heavyweight champion. He was at the top of the world; he could reach up with one finger and touch the sun, but something was very wrong. “I had everything that a man could possess . . . but it meant nothing,” he said. So he did what rock stars do. He filled his emptiness with bodily pleasures, with animal beatitudes. “I was on Tony Montana and beer. Twenty pints, four or five times a week.” At four hundred pounds (“and counting”), his career was lost. His family moved out of the house. Legions of fans deserted him when he reached up with the wrong finger and sparked outrage with off-the-cuff and likely off-his-head comments about Jews, women, and gays.

“It was one of the greatest collapses in modern sports history,” said Rolling Stone.

“I don’t want to live,” said Fury.

He was all but finished. Then he blinked and made a decision.

That’s how recovery always begins: with a decision, a private commitment. The great “I will.” At first it was a narrowing of glazed eyes; he’d come back to the ring, have a few fights, see what happens. He told his wife, who saw only his flushed face and whale blubber. “Don’t try,” she said.

But Fury was looking beyond mere sport.

A product of a gypsy culture that reveres the figure of “the fighting man” most of all, he instinctively understood that this battle was personal. It had to be brought into the desert. His objective was not to reclaim lost glory but to transition from darkness into light the only way he knew how, by giving himself a familiar purpose, by devoting himself to daily discipline—and one look at him on a StairMaster was enough to prove that his twelve-step program required far more than twelve steps. He made sobriety a habit, lost a hundred forty-four pounds, and surrounded himself with men who brought hope first, expertise second.

In June and August, he defeated two respectable opponents and then sought out the most ferocious puncher in the heavyweight division.

—And dominated him in almost every exchange, demonstrating defensive superiority and an agility no giant ought to possess. Wilder, a one-dimensional puncher unconcerned with strategy and impervious to the pleadings of his corner, threw bomb after bomb that sailed over Fury’s ducking, dipping, slipping head a hundred times. In the ninth round, one of them finally got in, bouncing off the back of Fury’s head and sending him down. He wasn’t hurt; he saluted something over his head and proceeded to win the tenth and eleventh rounds on all three scorecards.

Wilder’s singular intention to get Fury out of there had gone from a confident plan A-no-need-for-B to a desperate hope. When he dropped Fury hard in the twelfth round, he swaggered off to a neutral corner and made a throat-slashing gesture with his glove to disguise his relief. As he stood ticking off ten seconds in his head, his manager was running along ringside ready to celebrate.

“…Five…”

Fury was staring at the ceiling, as motionless as marble. Then he blinked.

“…Six…”

He blinked again like a man with the rising sun in his eyes, the kind who doesn’t hit snooze, who gets up and goes to work.

He did just that. In the last minute of the last round, he was back in inspiration-mode. He hit Wilder with a right hand and left hook, stunning him and forcing him to grab hold.

The bell rang and it was bedlam in the Bellows crowd. Everyone in the raucous Staples Center and in living rooms across two continents was asking the same question: “How’d he get up?!”

Wilder was mystified. “I don’t know how he got up. Everyone knows I got heavy hands and I hit hard. I literally seen his eyes rolling in the back of his head,” he said at the post-fight conference. “Only God know how he got back up.”

When Fury came out and sat at the microphone, reporters forgot to honor the current zeitgeist and take Christ out of Christmas. “Did Jesus Christ come down and wake you up?” asked one of them. “What happened?”

“I think so. I had the holy hands upon me tonight and I was brought back. Rose me to my feet at the brink of defeat.” Fury said it matter-of-factly, then wavered. “I can’t tell you because I don’t know. I don’t know what happened.”

It was a miraculous, career-best performance that should have seen him up on the cards by at least eight rounds to four and up by at least two points despite two knockdowns. But this is boxing and it’s a corrupted place. Fury got no better than a draw.

Judge Alejandro Rochin—who had the wrong fighter winning seven rounds to five—is the Laszlo Toth of this story. He took a hammer and vandalized a stirring experience. What was he thinking? At best, he confused Wilder with Fury for the first four rounds and scored accordingly. At worst, someone or somebody with a substantial financial interest in Fury not winning got to him. At the very least, bank deposit slips of such judges should be examined and they should be deported from the sport like Toth was from Italy.

Why Great Britain’s Phil Edwards scored the seventh round for Wilder and thus forced the draw is a mystery. It should require his appearance in a locked room to review that round with a competent judge and Teddy Atlas.

Art and heroism don’t flourish amid corruption. When they do, they’re magnified. Brilliance is blinding in the dark. That, and referees like Jack Reiss, are about all that keep us coming back to a sport that cannot differentiate between a champion and a contender any better than Rochin can fighters four feet in front of him. Even so, Fury’s soul-stirring round twelve against Wilder measures up against any great heavyweight round of the last thirty years. It’s as stirring as Evander Holyfield’s round ten against Riddick Bowe and almost as stirring as George Foreman’s round ten against Michael Moorer. It is added unto the rich folklore of the flagship division.

Holyfield fought for little guys routinely outgunned, Foreman for old-timers. Fury has an eighty-five-inch reach and stretched his arms further than both. It was while he was laying there all but finished, he said—especially then, that he was representing “everybody who suffers round the world.” And everybody, one supposes, includes not only those with mental illness but Jews, women, and gays.

The Pietà depicts the compassion of one who knows first-hand what suffering is, and how redemptive it can be. Michelangelo grasped the higher context of his work and sought to honor it. He was doing more than carving stone. Fury, neither hero nor artist, sought to do more than simply win a prizefight. “It’s no secret what I been through,” he said. “I had to show that you can continue and you can carry on, and anything is possible.”

Yeah. That’s good. Inspiring. But how’d he get up?

__________________

Springs Toledo is the author of The Gods of War (2014), In the Cheap Seats (2016), and Murderers’ Row (2017). Smokestack Lightning: Harry Greb, 1919 is scheduled for release on 1/1/2019 as an eBook.

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Haney-Garcia Redux with the Focus on Harvey Dock

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Saturday’s skirmish between Ryan Garcia and WBC super lightweight champion Devin Haney was a messy affair, and yet a hugely entertaining fight fused with great drama. In the aftermath, Garcia and Haney were celebrated – the former for fooling all the experts and the latter for his gallant performance in a losing effort – but there were only brickbats for the third man in the ring, referee Harvey Dock.

Devin Haney was plainly ahead heading into the seventh frame when there was a sudden turnabout when Garcia put him on the canvas with his vaunted left hook. Moments later, Dock deducted a point from Garcia for a late punch coming out of a break. The deduction forced a temporary cease-fire that gave Haney a few precious seconds to regain his faculties. Before the round was over, Haney was on the deck twice more but these were ruled slips.

The deduction, which effectively negated the knockdown, struck many as too heavy-handed as Dock hadn’t previously issued a warning for this infraction. Moreover, many thought he could have taken a point away from Haney for excessive clinching. As for Haney’s second and third trips to the canvas in round seven, they struck this reporter – watching at home – as borderline, sufficient to give referee Dock the benefit of the doubt.

In a post-fight interview, Ryan Garcia faulted the referee for denying him the satisfaction of a TKO. “At the end of the day, Harvey Dock, I think he was tripping,” said Garcia. “He could have stopped that fight.”

Those that played the rounds proposition, placing their coin on the “under,” undoubtedly felt the same way.

The internet lit up with comments assailing Dock’s competence and/or his character. Some of the ponderings were whimsical, but they were swamped by the scurrilous screeching of dolts who find a conspiracy under every rock.

Stephen A. Smith, reputedly America’s highest-paid TV sports personality, was among those that felt a need to weigh-in: “This referee is absolutely terrible….Unreal! Horrible officiating,” tweeted Stephen A whose primary area of expertise is basketball.

Harvey Dock

Dock fought as an amateur and had one professional fight, winning a four-round decision over a fellow novice on a show at a non-gaming resort in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. He says that as an amateur he was merely average, but he was better than that, a New Jersey and regional amateur champion in 1993 and 1994 while a student New Jersey’s Essex County Community College where he majored in journalism.

A passionate fan of Sugar Ray Leonard, he started officiating amateur fights in 1998 and six years later, at age 32, had his first documented action at the professional level, working low-level cards in New Jersey. The top boxing referees, to a far greater extent than the top judges, had long apprenticeships, having worked their way up from the boonies and Dock is no exception.

Per boxrec, Haney vs Garcia was Harvey Dock’s 364th assignment in the pros and his forty-second world title fight. Some of those title fights were title in name only, they weren’t even main events, but, bit by bit, more lucrative offerings started coming his way.

On May 13, 2023, Dock worked his first fights in Nevada, a 4-rounder and then a 12-rounder on a card at the Cosmopolitan topped by the 140-pound title fight between Rolly Romero and Ismael Barroso. It was the first time that this reporter got to watch Dock in the flesh.

Ironically (in hindsight), the card would be remembered for the actions of a referee, in this case Tony Weeks who handled the main event. Barroso was winning the fight on all three cards when Weeks stepped in and waived it off in the ninth round after Romero cornered Barroso against the ropes and let loose a barrage of punches, none of which landed cleanly. Few “premature stoppages” were ever as garishly, nay ghoulishly, premature.

With all the brickbats raining down on Weeks, I felt a need to tamp down the noise by diverting attention away from Tony Weeks and toward Harvey Dock and took to the TSS Forum to share my thoughts. Referencing the 12-rounder, a robust junior welterweight affair between Batyr Akhmedov and Kenneth Sims Jr, I noted that Dock’s Las Vegas debut went smoothly. He glided effortlessly around the ring, making him inconspicuous, the mark of a good referee. (This post ran on May 15, two days after the fight.)

Folks at the Nevada State Athletic Commission were also paying attention. Dock was back in Las Vegas the following week to referee the lightweight title fight between Devin Haney and Vasyl Lomachenko and before the year was out, he would be tabbed to referee the biggest non-heavyweight fight of the year, the July 29 match in Las Vegas between Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr.

The Haney-Garcia fight wasn’t Harvey Dock’s best hour, I’ll concede that, but a closer look at his full body of work informs us that he is an outstanding referee.

While the Haney-Garcia bout was in progress, WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman threw everyone a curve ball, tweeting on “X” that Devin Haney would keep his title if he lost the fight. Everyone, including the TV commentators, was under the impression that the title would become vacant in the event that Haney lost.

Sulaiman cited the precedent of Corrales-Castillo II.

FYI: The Corrales-Castillo rematch, originally scheduled for June 3, 2005 and aborted on the day prior when Castillo failed to make weight, finally came off on Oct. 8 of that year, notwithstanding the fact that Castillo failed to make weight once again, scaling three-and-a-half pounds above the lightweight limit. He knocked out Corrales in the fourth round with a left hook that Las Vegas Review-Journal boxing writer Kevin Iole, alluding to the movie “Blazing Saddles,” described as Mongo-esque (translation: the punch would have knocked out a horse). After initially insisting on a rubber match, which had scant chance of happening, WBC president Jose Sulaiman, Mauricio’s late father, ruled that Corrales could keep his title.

Whether or not you agree with Mauricio Sulaiman’s rationale, the timing of his announcement was certainly awkward.

Haney’s mandatory is Spanish southpaw Sandor Martin (42-3, 15 KOs), a cutie best known for his 2021 upset of Mikey Garcia. A bout between Haney and Martin has the earmarks of a dull fight.

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In a Shocker, Ryan Garcia Confounds the Experts and Upsets Devin Haney

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Its good to be crazy. Like a fox.

Ryan “KingRy” Garcia knocked down WBC super lightweight titlist Devin Haney three times to remind everyone of his fighting abilities in winning by majority decision on Saturday.

“I just knew what I could do,” Garcia said.

Fans will not forget the lanky kid from Victorville, California now.

Garcia (25-1, 20 KOs) fooled everyone in playing crazy weeks before the fight, then showed shocking power to hand Haney (30-1, 15 KOs) his first loss as a professional at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Haney’s WBC super lightweight title was not at stake for Garcia because he weighed three pounds over the limit.

After Garcia seemingly acting out of control on social media, Haney’s guard must have slipped in the first round during the first few seconds as Garcia connected with that hellish left hook and Haney, with a look of shock in his eyes, almost went down. He barely survived the first round.

“He caught me with it,” said Haney.

During the next few rounds, Haney proceeded to advance toward Garcia seemingly fully aware of the lethal left hook. He used feints and rights to score with a busier approach as Garcia seemed cocked and ready to counter with a left hook.

In the fourth round it seemed Haney was confident he had regained control of the fight, but every time he opened up with more than a two-punch combination Garcia reminded him whose hands were faster and more dangerous.

Though Garcia seldom jabbed he seemed bent on looking for the right moment to unleash his deadly left hook. And every time the Southern California fighter opened up with a combination he scored and Haney dare not exchange.

A few times Haney smiled as if signifying he escaped.

In the seventh round Haney looked to punish Garcia’s body and instead was met with a three-punch combination included a left hook to the chin and down went Haney slumped on the ground. He managed to beat the count and as soon as Garcia came within reach Haney wrapped his arms around him with a python grip. Despite the warnings by referee Harvey Dock, the fallen fighter would not release and Garcia impatiently fired a weak punch during the break. The referee deducted a point from Garcia though he could have deducted a point from Haney for not obeying his instructions to release his hold. Haney actually went down three times in the round but only one was counted by the referee.

From that point on Haney was very cautious but still looking to win by decision.

Though Garcia kept using a shoulder-roll defense that left his body exposed, he would retaliate with three and four punch combinations that usually Haney could defend against other fighters.. But Garcia’s blazing combinations were too fast to defend.

In the 10th round Haney looked to attack and was countered by Garcia’s right and a blinding left hook to the chin and another two blows that sent the former undisputed lightweight champion to the floor again.

It didn’t look good for Haney to survive.

Garcia walked into the 11th round still composed and never out-of-control He dared Haney to exchange and when within striking distance Garcia unleashed another lightning combination and down went Haney again with a defeated look.

Both fighters had fought each other as amateurs six times so there were no surprises between them. But Garcia’s power and speed were superior and that was the difference in a professional fight.

In the final round both were cautious with Garcia’s combination punching proving too dangerous for Haney to open up. Garcia celebrated early as the round ended confident of victory.

After 12 rounds Garcia was seen the victor by majority decision 112-112, 114-110, 115-109.

“You really thought I was crazy,” Garcia told the interviewer and the crowd. “You guys hated on me.”

Other Bouts

Arnold Barboza (30-0) won a curious split decision victory over United Kingdom’s Sean McComb (18-2) in a 10-round super lightweight fight. McComb’s long reach and busy southpaw style gave Barboza trouble. But he managed to win the fight though the crowd was not pleased.

Bektemir Melikuziev (14-1, 10 KOs) defeated France’s Pierre Dibombe (22-1-1) by technical decision after eight rounds due to a cut on his eye from an accidental head butt. It was a very competitive super middleweight fight.

Costa Rica’s David Jimenez (16-1, 11 KOs) outworked John “Scrappy Ramirez (13-1, 9 KOs) in a 12-round scrap to upset the Los Angeles based fighter. After a few close rounds Jimenez simply bullied his way inside and forced Ramirez against the ropes and unloaded his guns.

After 12 rounds two judges saw it 117-111 and 116-114 all for Jimenez.

“I’m a hard-working man from Cartago I come from nothing,” said Jimenez. “My corner told me I had to work inside.”

Charles Conwell (19-0, 14 KOs) stepped on the gas early with vicious body shots and uppercuts and blasted through the resilient Nathaniel Gallimore (22-8-1, 17 KOs) for several rounds. After a brutal fifth and sixth round the referee halted the one-side beating in favor of Conwell who was fighting for the first time under the Golden Boy banner.

Another winner was Sergiy Derevyanchenko (15-5) by decision over Vaughn Alexander (18-11-1) in a super middleweight match.

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Haney and Garcia: Bipolar Opposites

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Haney and Garcia: Bipolar Opposites

One young man flew halfway around the world to take on a world champion in his own living room; not once, but twice. The other young man quit prior to one fight, and then again during another one.

The first guy mentioned is an obedient son of an ultra-streetwise father.  The type of parent where, if he doesn’t know the answer (and more times than not he most likely does), he will know where to find it. The second guy doesn’t appear to have that quality guidance scenario going on for him, which is probably for the best, because he believes he has all the answers.

The first guy is on record as saying he wants to go down in boxing history as an all-time great.  The other guy?  He decided not to continue in a fight while he was still sporting an undefeated record.  You may think to yourself if there was ever a time to soldier through, right?

Then yesterday, that same guy missed making weight by 3.2 pounds, and seemed to be more than fine with it, to the point where he actually appeared to be quite pleased with himself.

If you haven’t heard, Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia are going to share a boxing ring in a twelve round go for God knows what will be at stake by the time they actually punch off.  The fact that no one from Garcia’s team has stepped in and rescued him from these unfolding events, his own personal well-being, and/or not to mention Devin Haney is, well, troubling in and of itself.

Back in the amateur days, the record shows they split six fights.  They were boys back then, so it means zero.  If anything, you’d want to be the older of the two, and Ryan had over a three-month age advantage.  If you’ve only been on the planet for a total of 120 months or so, every extra month could be a big enough difference in strength and development. Now as world class professionals in their prime?  That’s different.  Younger is always better.  Devin is that guy.

Haney and Garcia fought six times for free but will fight only once as professionals.  Then one of them will continue with their march for historic greatness, while the other will head back to Kamp Krazy, where he’s the current Mayor.

It’s never smart to lay 8-1, 9-1 in boxing.  And if you see taking Garcia as a value bet with +500 to +600 and beyond, you don’t understand value and you evidently don’t like money.

There is, however, a wagering opportunity here.

Total Rounds:  Fight doesn’t go 10.5 rounds.

Take anything over +125.  It’s worth a unit on a scale of 5.  Logically, there are a lot of ways to cash this ticket: legitimate victory, meltdown, catching lightning in a bottle, etc.  Or simply the exiting stage left of a guy who may be already plotting his next career move.

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