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Fury vs. Wilder Echoed Holmes-Shavers; Now the Gypsy King Has an Easier Assignment

Bernard Fernandez

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It’s not an exhibition bout per se, but Saturday night’s matchup of lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and Sweden’s Otto Wallin at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, to be streamed via ESPN+, almost certainly should be considered a mortal-lock victory for the “Gypsy King.” Fury, coming off a blowout of Tom Schwarz, is -3,500 according to the most recently posted wagering line, meaning you’d have to put up $3,500 on him to come away with a skimpy $100 profit. Wallin is a +1,300 long shot, both lines indicating that the Scandinavian southpaw absolutely should not be looked upon as a potential second coming of the late Ingemar Johansson. Despite his undeservedly high No. 4 ranking from the WBA, Wallin has about as legitimate a chance of taking down Fury as might Bjorn Ulvaeus, the 74-year-old singer/songwriter for the Swedish pop group ABBA, whose last single to chart in the U.S. was in 1981.

Instead of his typical boasting, Fury (28-0-1, 20 KOs) is doing his darndest to portray the scheduled 12-rounder, if it lasts that long, as something akin to serious competition. He cites Wallin’s WBA ranking as proof that the Swedish mystery man (20-0, 13 KOs) isn’t merely a steppingstone on the way to a much-anticipated rematch with WBC champion Deontay Wilder, or maybe a go at the winner of the Dec. 7 do-over between WBA/IBF/WBO titlist Andy Ruiz Jr. (33-1, 22 KOs) and former unified champ Anthony Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs). If Fury elects to take an even bolder stab at acting humble, he might mention that, in his American debut on April 20, 2013, at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, he was on the wrong end of a flash knockdown in the second round against former cruiserweight king Steve Cunningham, who at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds and with an 82-inch reach, was giving away 44 pounds, six inches in height and three inches in reach. Fury regrouped from that momentary embarrassment and went on to win on a seventh-round stoppage.

But, hey, that was then and this is now. Nobody ever knows with absolute certainty what will transpire inside the ropes, but it says here that the biggest, most-compelling heavyweight fight that can be made in the foreseeable future, even bigger and more compelling than Ruiz-Joshua II, is a second pairing of Wilder and Fury, who fought to a controversial, entertaining and ultimately inconclusive split draw on Dec. 1, 2018, at the Staples Center in LA.

It is what happened in the 12th and final round of that fight that fully legitimized Fury in my mind, maybe even more so than his functional if excitement-deficient points dethronement of the long-reigning Wladimir Klitschko on Nov. 28, 2015 in Dusseldorf, Germany. It is easy for any talented fighter to look good when he is having his way with an outclassed opponent, quite another when that fighter has to pick himself off the deck against a power hitter accustomed to having his hand raised once he puts his man down and seemingly out.

I would have liked to ask Fury if he answered any questions about himself by not only barely beating the count against Wilder, who to all the world appeared to think he had just registered his 41st exclamation-point victory in 42 bouts, but my request for a one-on-one telephone interview hit a snag while wending its way through channels. Still, like Earnie Shavers, another big bopper from another era with a ridiculous knockout percentage, Wilder can be excused for believing that Fury, who was nailed with a jolting overhand right and follow-up left hook before his shaven skull bounced hard off the canvas, was done for the night. Nor was the “Bronze Bomber” alone in that assumption.

After Wilder sent an unmoving Fury flopping onto his back as if tranquilized, Showtime blow-by-blow announcer Mauro Ranallo nearly hyperventilated in screaming, “Deontay Wilder has done it!” But referee Jack Reiss had another idea and initiated a count that more than a few others in his position would have dispensed with. He had reached nine when Fury lurched to his feet, prompting analyst Paulie Malignaggi to say, almost in disbelief, “Wow, he got up.”

Not only was Fury up, but after fending off a cavalry-charge attack by a disbelieving Wilder, he even dipped deep enough inside himself to carry the fight to the WBC champion in the closing moments.

“At that moment (of the knockdown), did anyone in this arena really think Tyson Fury was going to get up?” veteran analyst Al Bernstein asked, rhetorically.

“Guys, I thought the fight was over when Deontay Wilder dropped Fury,” Ranallo chipped in.

Malignaggi then added another astute observation, noting that “maybe hitting the canvas woke (Fury) up.”

The entire sequence of events reminded me of another fight, the rematch of WBC heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and knockout artist Shavers, on Sept. 28, 1979, at Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace. Holmes was riding his best weapon, a stinging, accurate, state-of-the-art jab, to a big lead on the scorecards when, in the final minute of the seventh round, Shavers – whose nickname, “The Acorn,” had been conferred upon him by Muhammad Ali – delivered a crushing right hand that had primarily contributed to 56 of his 58 inside-the-distance victories up to that point. Holmes went down as so many others had, rolled onto his side and decided, hey, I’ve come this far, why not get up and go a bit more?

Shavers, as Wilder would nearly 39 years later, raised his arms in exultation on his way to a neutral corner, so certain was he that he had just become heavyweight champion of the world. But when he turned around, Holmes was upright and prepared to carry on, which he did en route to winning via 11th-round TKO.

“I always tell Earnie that he hit me too hard,” Holmes would often say later. “If he hadn’t hit me quite so damn hard, he would have knocked me out for sure. That punch actually kind of woke me up when I hit the floor.

“Man, I still got knots in my head where he hit me. Earnie could punch very hard, incredibly hard. I hear people say, `Aw, man, he couldn’t possibly hit that hard as everybody says. They think that the stories about Earnie’s power are exaggerated. It’s no exaggeration. That power was real.”

There are means, scientific means, of calibrating a boxer’s punching power. The usual formula is for them to drill a padded bag in which instruments are housed to measure pounds per square inch. But fight fans aren’t particularly geeky, and the word of a respected champion usually means more to them than a computer printout. In 2003 Shavers was listed as the 10th greatest puncher of all time by The Ring, which is understandable considering that Holmes, Muhammad Ali, Ken Norton, Ron Lyle, Tex Cobb and Joe Bugner all tabbed him as the hardest puncher they ever faced. Another list – aren’t all of these things subjective? – had Mike Tyson as the hardest-hitting heavyweight of all time with Shavers No. 6. Holmes fought both but was nearly 40 years of age and hadn’t fought for two years when, with scant time to train, he was stopped in four rounds by Tyson on Jan. 22, 1988.

“There’s no doubt in my mind who hit the hardest – Earnie Shavers,” the “Easton Assassin” said when contacted for this story. “Mike Tyson hit me when I wasn’t in shape. I was in shape for Earnie Shavers, so when he hit me I was able to get up. Mike Tyson knocked me down and I got up, but I wasn’t in any kind of shape. If you’ve been off for two years and you don’t get a couple of months to get ready for a fight like that, you’re probably going to get knocked out.”

It would be interesting if there was some way to accurately gauge the power of a Shavers, and the resiliency of an in-his-prime all-time great like Holmes, in relation to the power of Wilder and the recuperative powers of Fury. All any fight fan can do is to marvel at the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object, which is when any boxing match can elevate itself from sporting event to incredibly high drama.

Here’s hoping that Wilder-Fury does not remain on the back burner much longer. Until it does come to pass, snack on the celery stalk of Fury vs. Wallin until the real entrée is served piping hot.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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Late Sub Jonnie Rice Bursts Michael Coffie’s Bubble on a PBC Card in Newark

Arne K. Lang

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Every thing that could go wrong went wrong as promoter Al Haymon and his associates were patching together tonight’s card at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. But it couldn’t have worked out better for journeyman heavyweight Jonnie Rice who turned his career around with a smashing TKO of heavily favored and previously undefeated Michael Coffie.

Positive Covid tests scuttled two 10-round fights on the undercard. The main event had already been disheveled when Coffie’s original opponent Gerald Washington flunked his Covid test. Enter Rice (pictured on the right) who was on standby and seized the moment.

Rice, a Columbia, South Carolina native who has been living and training in Las Vegas, came in sporting a 13-6-1 record but five of his wins had come against no-hopers in Tijuana and he had yet to defeat an opponent in a match where he was the “B” side. But these facts were misleading as five of his six losses had come against hot prospects with undefeated records and he had honed his craft sparring against the likes of Tyson Fury, Filip Hrgovic, and Michael Hunter.

Based on “strength of schedule,” Rice, 34, had the edge over Coffie, the 35-year-old ex-Marine who brought a 12-0 record but was relatively untested. And Rice, who started fast, took the fight to Coffie and out-landed him. Coffie’s left eye was swelling and he wasn’t firing back when the referee waived it off in the fifth round.

Dirrell-Brooker

Tonight’s PBC fare came in two helpings with appetizers and the main event on FOX preceding a club-level show on FOX’s affiliate FS1. The main event of the nightcap was a 10-round light heavyweight bout between Andre Dirrell and Christopher Brooker.

Dirrell, who previously held an interim version of the IBF 168-pound world title, looked very sharp coming off a 19-month layoff, scoring three knockdowns before the fight was waived off in the third round. The Flint, Michigan native improved to 28-3 (18). Philadelphia’s Brooker fell to 16-8.

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Junior middleweight Joey Spencer (13-0, 9 KOs) scored an 8-round unanimous decision over James Martin (7-3). Spencer won comfortably on the scorecards – 80-72 and 79-73 twice – but was unimpressive.

Local fan favorite Vito “White Magic” Mielnicki Jr (9-1, 5 KOs) rebounded from his first pro loss with an impressive second-round stoppage of Noah Kidd (6-4-2).

Philadelphia welterweight Karl Dargan (20-1, 9 KOs), a former two-time national amateur champion, returned to the ring after a long absence and  stopped LA’s Ivan Delgado (13-4-2) in the third round.

New Jersey heavyweight Norman Neely advanced to 9-0 (7) with a unanimous decision over rugged Texas brawler Juan Torres (6-4-1). Neely won all six rounds on all three cards.

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Leigh Wood’s Big Upset Spangles the Rebirth of Eddie Hearn’s Garden Party

Arne K. Lang

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Last summer, hamstrung by the pandemic, Eddie Hearn hit upon the idea of holding boxing events outdoors in the expansive backyard of the family estate on the outskirts of London (now Matchroom Sport headquarters) where he grew up. Four shows were staged there.

The series has been revived. Today was “episode 1” of Season Two of Matchroom Fight Camp, otherwise known as Eddie Hearn’s Garden Party. Two more shows are penciled in over the next two weekends.

The match-up getting the most buzz was the welterweight contest between fast-rising Conor Benn and battle-tested Adrian Granados. Unfortunately, Benn tested positive for Covid-19. But the main event, a WBA world featherweight title defense by Can Xu (aka Xu Can) against Nottingham’s Leigh Wood stayed intact and produced a memorable upset.

Xu, who is co-promoted by Oscar De La Hoya, was installed a 4/1 favorite. Although he wasn’t a big puncher with only three knockouts to his credit in 20 starts, he rode into Hearn’s backyard riding a 15-fight winning streak for the third defense of his WBA “regular” title. But he started slow, perhaps the result of ring rust — it was his first fight of 2021 after missing all of 2020 – and he never did crank up the volume that had carried him to victory in his three title fights.

Wood, a stablemate of Josh Taylor who has made great gains since hooking up with Ben Davison and Lee Wylie, landed the heavier punches and was ahead on the cards when he took the fight out of the judges’ hands in the final minute of the final round. He decked Xu with a hard right hand and then trapped him on the ropes, forcing the stoppage that came with only 17 seconds remaining.

The 32-year-old Wood improved to 25-2 (15). Xu falls to 18-3. The deposed champion has a rematch clause so we may have a sequel.

Other Bouts

Chris Billam-Smith, trained by Shane McGuigan, won a hard-fought 12-round split decision over Belfast’s Tommy McCarthy in a cruiserweight scrap with three domestic titles at stake. The judges had it 116-112 and 115-114 for Billam-Smith, now 13-1, with the dissenter favoring McCarthy (18-3) by a 115-114 tally.

McCarthy wobbled Billam-Smith late in the first round with on overhand right, but could never land his Sunday punch on the Bournemouth fighter in a see-saw struggle with many close rounds. There were no knockdowns but McCarthy suffered a cut over his right eye near the end of round six from an apparent head butt.

McCarthy had Carl Frampton helping out in his corner which infused the contest with the aura of a grudge match. Frampton was the best man at Shane McGuigan’s wedding, but their friendship dissolved in a bitter court fight. At the end of the grueling fight, Billam-Smith and McCarthy embraced in a show of mutual respect.

Liverpool super-welterweight Anthony Fowler whose lone setback came at the hands of Scott Fitzgerald (a split decision) won his sixth straight with an eighth-round stoppage of Germany’s Rico Mueller whose cornerman was on the ring apron when the slow-acting referee waived it off at the 2:12 mark. Fowler, who is also trained by Shane McGuigan, improved to 15-1 (11). His next bout is expected to come against fellow Scouser Liam Smith in October. This was the second fight this month for the game but out-gunned 33-year-old Mueller (28-4-1) who was subbing for veteran Tex-Mex campaigner Roberto Garcia who pulled out with a back injury.

Also, Jack Cullen (20-2-1, 9 KOs) scored a 10-round unanimous decision over Avni Yildirim (21-4) in a 10-round super middleweight contest. Yildirim, from Turkey, was looking to atone for his hollow performance against Canelo Alvarez this past February. While he had his moments, he was out-worked by the lanky Lancashire man who won by scores of 100-90, 08-92, and 97-93.

Photo credit: Alan Walton / Matchroom Boxing

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Avila Perspective, Chap 146: De La Hoya Returns Plus Other Boxing Notes

David A. Avila

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Sitting in front of several dozen reporters, the favorite son of Los Angeles area boxing, Oscar De La Hoya, and former MMA champion Vitor Belfort spoke about their mutual return to prizefighting.

“I can’t lie. I miss getting hit,” said De La Hoya.

It was a statement also shared by Belfort.

After years away from the prize ring, both return to exchange hits as boxing’s De La Hoya (39-6, 30 KOs) meets MMA’s Belfort (26-14, 18 KOs) on Sept. 11, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Triller Fight Club card will be shown on pay-per-view via FITE.tv and other modes.

De La Hoya, 48, last absorbed hits from a fighter when Manny Pacquiao battered him almost 13 years ago back in December 2008. It was a shock to the senses to see the great East L.A. fighter take blow after blow while unable to hit back.

He was only 35.

Many attribute that loss to a ridiculous agreement to weigh under 145 pounds before facing Pacquiao. At the time De La Hoya was the real gate attraction and pay-per-view king. He held all the cards but agreed to the demands acutely devised by Freddie Roach. It proved to leave De La Hoya too weak to fight back and after eight rounds the one-sided beating was stopped.

De La Hoya retired after that fight. Ironically, he called for a press conference and it was held right where he recently announced this upcoming fight against Belfort. It’s also near a statue built in his honor.

Sitting nearby, Belfort patiently waited his turn to speak. For the Brazilian MMA fighter, it’s only been a mere three years since he exchanged blows in a prize fight. It was a knockout loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 224 in Brazil.

When Belfort spoke to the media, he expressed a desire to get hit too.

“Its fun. I’m going to have joy when I get hit. You cannot get better than that,” said Belfort.

It’s a common sentiment held by former greats. I’ve heard the same comments from James “Lights Out” Toney who ridiculously was not voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame this past year.

Getting hit becomes as common as breathing for most professional fighters, especially those that began boxing at a young age such as De La Hoya.

“The truth is I miss it. I miss it very much,” said De La Hoya who began lacing up gloves as an amateur at five years old.

According to oddsmakers, Belfort is the favorite to win. Probably for a number of reasons including he fought a mere three years ago. Belfort is the heavier fighter and has fought foes in the 205 pound-division called light heavyweight in MMA. Plus, he is simply bigger than his foe.

“I hope I don’t end up killing him, but everything is on the table,” said Belfort. “If he doesn’t have joy in what he does he could come back in a coffin.”

Prizefighters are masochists. All truly good fighters have a streak of masochism inside. They know they’ll be pummeled with blows that truly hurt and they look forward to it. But the bitter truth is taking hits in your 30s and taking hits near your 50s are two vastly different scenarios.

It’s an extremely dangerous fight for both.

As someone who spent nearly a month in a hospital after experiencing a cerebral hemorrhage, otherwise known as a “brain bleed,” I’m stunned by the fact that more boxers are not damaged from brutal blows. I pray nothing like this occurs to De La Hoya, Belfort, or any retired boxer who returns to the prize ring for a possible payday.

They are prizefighters and like any former high-performance athlete, they miss competition.

“When you love it, no matter what happens, I’m ok with it,” said De La Hoya.

Fans will attend Staples Center by the thousands simply to see “the Golden Boy” once again and pay tribute to one of the greats. Many of those attending will be praying silently for the fighter’s safety.

I know I will.

England Fights

WBA featherweight titlist Xu Can (18-2, 3 KOs) defends against Leigh Wood (24-2, 14 KOs) on Saturday July 31, at Brentwood, England. DAZN will stream the world title fight.

This is the third defense for Can who has not fought in almost two years. The last defense was at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California when he soundly defeated Manny Robles III.

Can took the title from Puerto Rico’s Jesus Rojas, a rough and tumble fighter who takes a pound of flesh from everyone he faces. Against Can he was unable to deal out the usual punishment.

Wood is a former super bantamweight contender who has never really faced international competition. He did face former world champion Gavin McDonnell but was stopped. Perhaps the move up in weight will help.

Fights to Watch

Fri. Estrella TV 7 p.m. Erick Leon (14-1) vs Juan Marcos Rodriguez (10-3).

Sat. DAZN 11 a.m. Xu Can (18-2) vs Leigh Wood (24-2).

Sat. FOX 5 p.m. Michael Coffie (12-0) vs. Jonnie Rice (13-6-1)

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