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HITS and MISSES from Another Huge Weekend of Boxing

Kelsey McCarson

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HITS and MISSES from Another Huge Weekend of Boxing

Some of boxing’s best fighters were on display over the weekend, including pound-for-pound star Terence Crawford making the third defense of his WBO welterweight title against Egidijus Kavaliauskas in the main event of a Top Rank on ESPN card in New York.

Additionally, lightweight terror Teofimo Lopez took a stab at winning his first world title against dangerous IBF lightweight champion Richard Commey in the co-main event, and welterweight prospect Vergil Ortiz Jr. attempted to finish off his impressive 2019 run by defeating Brad Solomon on a separate card featured in DAZN.

Once again, it’s time to name the biggest hits and misses of another huge weekend in boxing.

HIT: Teofimo Lopez Jr.’s Takeover Being Revealed in Full Measure

Super-charged lightweight talent Teofimo Lopez Jr. completely dismantled Richard Commey on Saturday night in the co-feature of the Terence Crawford-Egidijus Kavaliauskas card at Madison Square Garden.

With all eyes in the sporting world pointed sharply toward the Heisman Trophy ceremony just 15-minutes down the street where LSU’s Joe Burrow was awarded college football’s highest honor, Lopez was striking his own metaphorical pose of sorts after stopping Commey for the IBF lightweight title in just two rounds.

Lopez had certainly looked like generational talent as he worked his way up the ranks, but nobody really knew what might happen when he stepped in against a fighter as exceptional and accomplished as Commey.

But the 22-year-old from Brooklyn proved beyond doubt the elite status he holds among his peers. Now, the world awaits a superfight between Lopez and unified champion Vasyl Lomachenko that would potentially crown the first undisputed champion in the division since Pernell Whitaker accomplished the feat almost 30 years ago.

I say potentially because I don’t think anyone has really decided yet how to interpret the WBC Franchise belt the sanctioning body created earlier this year that Lomachenko wears in comparison to the belt Devin Haney now possesses

MISS: Michael Conlan’s Shortsighted Strategy in Olympic Grudge Match 

Top Rank seems to envision a bright future for 28-year-old featherweight contender Michael Conlan, but seeing the undefeated prospect rise through the rankings has left me to question whether he’s more John Duddy than Carl Frampton.

Duddy was a fun professional prizefighter, but one who left his chin out too much to ever seriously compete for a world title. Frampton, on the other hand, is smackdab in the middle of enjoying one of the greatest professional fighting careers of any Irish fighter to date.

Sure, Conlan avenged his controversial 2016 Olympic loss to amateur rival Vladimir Nikitin, 29, from Russia, on Saturday night on the undercard of Crawford-Kavaliauskas by scoring a wide unanimous decision victory.

The problem, though, is that Conlan consistently puts himself into vulnerable situations by trying to trade punches with his opponents rather than boxing them. It might win him some fans right now, but that strategy is sure to falter once he moves up to face top-level opposition for one simple reason: He’s not very good at it.

HIT: Terence Crawford’s Single-Minded Mean Streak to Stop Mean Machine

It’s one thing for an elite fighter like pound-for-pound star Terence Crawford to bolster fantastic boxing skills and the amazing propensity to be just as effective from both the orthodox and southpaw stances, but it’s quite another thing for the welterweight to carry a chip on his shoulder the size of a bowling ball.

When Crawford faces his opponents, one gets the sense that just beating them isn’t quite good enough. He often becomes a fierce and aggressive stalker, and this special trait is something that helped him already achieve historically important credentials such as becoming the lineal lightweight champion in 2016, undisputed junior welterweight champion just a year later, and WBO welterweight champion since June 2018.

Crawford’s patented single-minded mean streak mindset also helped overcome the bigger-than-expected challenge Egidijus Kavaliauskas presented him on Saturday. Kavaliauskas, 31, from Lithuania, was truly the “Mean Machine” his handlers at Top Rank had promoted him to be, even going so far as to hurt Crawford early in the fight.

But Crawford, as it turns out, is the meanest machine of all. The 32-year-old knocked down Kavaliauskas three times total (once in the seventh and twice in the ninth) on his way to scoring an impressive ninth-round stoppage win.

MISS: Top Rank Not Getting Middleweight Prospect Edgar Berlanga More Rounds

Twenty-two-year-old middleweight prospect Edgar Berlanga scored his 13th straight first-round knockout when the Brooklynite stopped Cesar Nunez at 2:45 of round one on the Crawford-Kavaliauskas undercard.

Berlanga appears to be a fighter worth keeping an eye on right now. After all, just about everyone in boxing loves knockout punchers, and make that double for those of them that hail from historically important U.S. boxing hotbeds like Brooklyn.

But is Berlanga really the next great middleweight (or super middleweight) power puncher? Or has he just not been matched tough enough quite yet for us to tell?

Far be it from me (well, mostly) to question the methods of Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum and arguably boxing’s top matchmaker Brad Goodman, but it seems like finding just one opponent in 13 tries that could give Berlanga more than three-minutes or less of work shouldn’t be too big an ask.

Not even Gennady Golovkin, the last great middleweight terror, or Deontay Wilder, arguably the hardest puncher in boxing history, scored as many first-round knockouts during the early parts of their careers, and that was probably best for them in long run.

HIT: Vergil Ortiz Jr Cementing His Status as Boxing’s Top Prospect 

Welterweight prospect Vergil Ortiz Jr. again showed why most people see the 21-year-old Texan as one of the brightest prospects in boxing by stopping Brad Solomon in just five rounds at Fantasy Spring Casino in Indio, California.

Ortiz had already won all 14 of his professional fights by knockout, including step-up bouts earlier this year against Mauricio Herrera and Antonio Orozco.

While Golden Boy Promotions usually isn’t considered as being in the same league as Top Rank in the matchmaking department, it did seem important for the development of Ortiz to be matched up against a mover like Solomon.

Sure, Ortiz had already tracked down the crafty Herrera, but once the Dallas-native starts competing for world titles he’ll find it more important than ever to have his footwork down pat so he can do the things he wants to do.

Overall, Ortiz enjoyed a great 2019 campaign, going 3-0 with 3 KOs. More importantly, he solidified his status as one of the top prospects in the sport, perhaps even next year’s Teofimo Lopez: a fighter transforming talent into making good on a world title opportunity.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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Is Great Britain Finally Achieving Dominance in the Sport it Invented?

Bernard Fernandez

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Is Great Britain Finally Achieving Dominance in the Sport it Invented?

It is one of those interesting facts that means everything, or nothing, depending upon one’s allegiance to a particular flag.

There are presently 193 member countries in the United Nations. At one time or another, the United Kingdom invaded 176 and controlled or ruled over each of them, including 13 rebellious British colonies in North America that in 1776 declared their intention to gain independence as a new and free nation. By and by, Great Britain’s global reach, which at its peak covered 13.7 million square miles, or 24% of the Earth’s surface, receded to a point where Britons no longer could proudly claim that theirs was “the empire on which the sun never sets.” And with the UK’s transfer of Hong Kong to China in 1997, that empire, for all intentions and purposes, ceased to exist.

But even when the Union Jack flew over most of those far-flung lands, it had to be irksome for citizens of the island nation, where modern professional boxing was basically invented in the 19th century, that for decades its finest pugilistic big men were routinely flattened by a succession of justifiably confident Yanks who came to view the heavyweight championship of the world as a sort of U.S. birthright. During one especially lengthy drought, British heavyweights went up against American titlists 13 times and lost every bout, most coming inside the distance

But that was then, and this is now. British heavyweight boxing is on such an upswing that it not only has gained parity with its American counterparts, but in many ways surpassed them. That should be obvious to everyone who saw the 6-foot-9, 273-pound Tyson Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs) basically have his way with Deontay Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) en route to a seventh-round technical knockout that was justified, whether or not Wilder’s co-trainer, Mark Breland, made the correct decision by tossing a towel into the ring to save his man from additional punishment. By that point in an increasingly one-sided beatdown, Fury had established himself as the superior fighter in the rivalry, their previous and controversial split draw of Dec. 1, 2018, notwithstanding.

Although Wilder has 30 days to decide if he wants to exercise his option for an immediate rematch, Fury-Wilder III is no longer the heavyweight megafight that most fans, on either side of the pond, most want to see. Nor should they get it as early as June or July, the projected target date for another do-over. (Note: this story was written prior to Wilder announcing that he would indeed immediately enforce the rematch clause in his contract for a third fight with Fury.)

Contacted by Talk Sport shortly after Fury retained his lineal title and added the vacant The Ring magazine belt, Matchroom Sport’s Eddie Hearn, who promotes WBA/IBF and WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs), the 2017 super heavyweight gold medalist at the London Olympics and a fellow Briton, said Fury-Joshua cannot be put on hold because moments like this not only come along rarely, but virtually never.

“I’ve spoken to AJ and he wants to go into this (Fury) fight next,” Hearn said. “We have to make this fight happen. We will never, ever get the chance for two Brits to fight for the undisputed heavyweight world championship. I promise you we will do everything we can to make this fight. It has to happen.

“(Joshua) has no fear of fighting Tyson Fury. He has been through everything and he wants to be undisputed. This is the chance for our sport to have one of those legacy moments that we will never get the opportunity to have again.”

Logic, however, has a way of getting lost in the snarl of conflicting business interests and personal animosity. Joshua is aligned with the streaming service DAZN; Wilder is co-promoted by Frank Warren and Top Rank’s Bob Arum, which means his bouts are shown in America on ESPN+. A Fury-Joshua showdown for all the hardware would guarantee another sellout of 90,000 in London’s Wembley Stadium, but finding middle ground on any number of contract details could prove problematic, as would the fact that Hearn’s relationship with both Arum and Warren is frostier than a Siberian winter. Even agreeing on a start time could be vexing; 5 or 6 p.m. Eastern Time opening bell in the U.S. would suit stay-at-home British fans just fine, but a 3 a.m. London time start to benefit American TV viewers would not.

But if the drawn-out negotiations that led to the long-delayed pairing of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao in 2015 proved anything, it’s that if the public demand is great enough, any deal can be made if each side is willing to yield a little. For Fury-Joshua, however, the need to make it happen sooner rather than later raises the stakes considerably. No one should be so adamant about gaining every possible concession that discussions are drawn out four or five years before contracts can be signed. Even a facsimile of a Mayweather-Pacquiao repeat is a water-torture situation that simply won’t do.

Fury-Joshua necessarily would go onto the back burner, at least temporarily, if Team Wilder – unwisely, in more than a few people’s opinion — exercises its option for an immediate rematch. The “Bronze Bomber” would seemingly benefit from a longer than usual layoff, given all the damage he incurred in the most grueling test of mind and body he’s ever been in, and like many formerly undefeated fighters who get their first bitter taste of defeat, he could benefit, even in his mid-30s, from a confidence-rebuilding fight or two against less daunting opponents before trying his hand again vs. Fury.  Oh, sure, the Alabaman still packs dynamite in his right hand, but the seeming friction between co-trainers Jay Deas, who saw hope for a miraculous comeback where little seemed to exist, and Breland, the compassionate realist, will need to be addressed if all parties are to remain on the same page going forward.

Certainly, the marked improvement in Fury’s offense justified his decision to replace on short notice more defensive-minded trainer Ben Davison with Javan “Sugar” Hill, the nephew and protégé of the late Emanuel Steward. Manny always instructed his Kronk Gym fighters to aggressively go for knockouts whenever possible, a mindset shared by Hill that clearly appealed to Fury, who didn’t want to risk another disappointment by pencil, or worse.

“Not bad for someone with pillow fists,” Fury said after he bloodied Wilder’s nose and left ear, raising some facial lumps along the way as well.

Steward, it should be remembered, was the chief second of lightly regarded Oliver McCall when he traveled to London to challenge WBC heavyweight champion and future Hall of Famer Lennox Lewis on Sept. 24, 1994. McCall stopped Lewis in two rounds, whereupon Lewis ditched trainer Pepe Correa for Steward. Manny’s makeover of Lewis made him a dangerous dude even more so, the most obvious improvement in his transformation of his new pupil’s soft, range-finding jab into a hard, accurate weapon that served to better set up a devastating overhand right. The long professional relationship of Lewis and Steward helped enhance each man’s legacy, as was the case when Steward made over another long-reigning heavyweight champ, Wladimir Klitschko, into a better version of himself. A couple more training camps together with Hill, Manny’s nephew and disciple, might have the same indisputable therapeutic effect on Fury.

But, even if circumstances are such that Fury and Joshua continue to peer at one another across an unbridgeable chasm, maybe even forever, the state of British heavyweight boxing is deep enough to withstand even that annoyance. Now that each has a victory, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Joshua and Mexican-American Andy Ruiz Jr. got together for a rubber match. Dillian Whyte (27-1, 18 KOs), whose only loss was a competitive seventh-round stoppage against Joshua on Dec. 12, 2015, remains a top-five-type talent, and on April 11 two more Brit big men worth following, Joe Joyce (10-0, 9 KOs) and Daniel Dubois (14-0, 13 KOs), square off in London with the winner sure to draw a closer look from both Fury and Joshua.

Contrast the relatively robust health of British heavyweight boxing at this time to the wheezing state of the division in the U.S., now that Wilder has been so outclassed that he might require some rebuilding. There was an IBF heavyweight elimination bout on the Wilder-Fury II card between brief alphabet belt-holder Charles Martin, who lasted only two rounds against Joshua, and Gerald Washington, who somehow made it to the fifth round against Wilder. The quasi-contenders engaged in an exercise in tedium before Martin won on a one-punch KO in the fifth round. It is reflective of the severe lack of depth in U.S. heavyweight boxing that fighters such as this can turn up in world ratings that once featured names like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe.

Until or if Wilder returns to form, the U.S. hopes this may have to be carried by the excessively fleshy Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, a recent Top Rank signee whose dream shot against Joshua went to Ruiz after Miller tested positive for an illegal substance, and Polish-born, Brooklyn-based Adam Kownacki, whose fan base even in the New York borough primarily consists of displaced Poles waving that country’s flag.

In heavyweight boxing’s latest edition of Star Wars, it would appear that it’s what’s left of the British Empire that is striking back.

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Kelsey McCarson’s HITS and MISSES (Wilder vs. Fury 2 Edition)

Kelsey McCarson

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The entire sports world seemed to stand still for the heavyweight championship rematch between WBC titleholder Deontay Wilder and lineal champ Tyson Fury over the weekend in Las Vegas. This was truly heavyweight boxing in its finest form featuring two undefeated champions competing in the biggest and best boxing event of the entire year.

Here are the biggest HITS and MISSES after Wilder vs. Fury 2.

HIT: Tyson Fury’s Career-Defining Victory

Fury’s dominating performance against Wilder on Saturday night at MGM Grand in Las Vegas was one of the better performances by a fighter in recent big-fight history. It wasn’t just that Fury nabbed the important win along with all the hardware and accolades that come with it. It was that he completely destroyed arguably the most feared puncher in modern boxing history. Fury’s 7th round stoppage of Wilder will long be remembered as the 30-year-old’s career-defining performance. Nobody had ever manhandled Wilder that way before, and the idea that Wilder vs. Fury 2 would go down as it did would have seemed wildly outrageous to anyone outside of Fury’s team beforehand. But Fury pulled it off, and unlike Fury’s outstanding win against longtime champion Wladimir Klitschko in 2015, this one was fun to watch.

MISS: Jay Deas Not Protecting His Fighter 

It’s certainly understandable why Jay Deas, Wilder’s longtime trainer who helped guide the 34-year-old heavyweight from obscurity to being a world champion, would want to give the power-punching Wilder the benefit of the doubt. After all, Wilder’s fantastic fists had gotten him out of some jams before, and the American was still trying to change things with a single punch in the face of Fury’s tremendous assault.

But Deas seems to have lost sight of the single most important thing that was happening inside the ring. Wilder wasn’t just losing the fight. He was getting completely outclassed and appeared to be finished way before Wilder’s other trainer, Mark Breland, finally asked for the fight to be stopped. Wilder looked bad. He was bleeding, stumbling around and didn’t appear to have any zip left on his punches. Luckily, Breland was there to save Wilder from further damage.

Deas brought Breland onto the team after Wilder turned pro. That was the right move. But not wanting to stop the fight when it was clear Wilder was in some real danger with no hope of winning was the wrong one.

HIT: Deontay Wilder’s Courage and Determination in Defeat

Wilder’s courage and determination in the face of such certain defeat should be noted. There have been many other big punchers in boxing history that have essentially turned out to be nothing more than big bullies once all the chips were down. But Wilder didn’t shrink in the moment. He kept fighting no matter how much bigger and better Fury was, and he showed real class after the fight by being humble in defeat.

Wilder went underappreciated for years. While it’s nice to have seen so many people jump on the bandwagon over the last two years or so, it would have been better if it had happened sooner. He’s a great American athlete who became a very good heavyweight boxer in a relatively short amount of time. Wilder will go down in history as one of the best knockout artists ever, and his WBC heavyweight title reign was certainly something very special, too.

MISS: Kenny Bayless and the 5th Round Point Deduction 

I’m usually comforted by the sight of referee Kenny Bayless in the ring on fight night, but something seemed off about how he officiated Wilder vs. Fury 2. You never want to feel as if one of the fighters in the ring has two opponents. Yet, it seemed as if Fury was being treated differently than Wilder throughout the night.

That was nowhere more apparent than when Bayless inexplicably took a point away from Fury during the 5th round for throwing a punch after being told to break. But why was that instruction being given in the first place? Fury had just corralled Wilder into the corner and appeared to be on the verge of stopping him. And imagine if the fight had been closer and come down to the judges’ scorecards?

I’m not sure what was going on during Wilder-Fury 2, but I’ve seen way better performances from Bayless than that.

HIT: Bob Arum and Al Haymon Making a Huge Fight Happen

So, it turns out Bob Arum and Al Haymon can work together. Wilder vs. Fury 2 was a fantastic night of boxing featuring two of the biggest stars in the sport. The complication of having both ESPN and Fox Sports tied to each side of the street turned out to be a huge boon to how the event could be promoted across the channels, and the usually sharp-tongued Arum had nothing but positive things to say about his PBC counterparts.

All that’s great, as is the fact that the tracks have now been laid for Arum and Haymon to make other big fights soon. A good way to keep things going would be to start getting WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford fights against the PBC’s vast cadre of top 147-pound talent. The next superfight on the horizon is Crawford vs. Errol Spence, and that should happen just as soon as the latter is fully recovered from the injuries he sustained in last year’s car wreck.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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The Hauser Report: Wilder – Fury II in Perspective

Thomas Hauser

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On Saturday night, February 22, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Tyson Fury knocked out Deontay Wilder in round seven of a rematch of their December 1, 2018, draw. With Anthony Joshua having faltered as a fighter since his comeback victory over Wladimir Klitschko three years ago, the consensus is that Fury is now the #1 heavyweight in the world.

Wilder-Fury II shaped up from the start as an intriguing drama. Fury has a fighter’s name (first and last). “Deontay” sounds like a fashion designer’s moniker. But don’t be misled. Wilder has an aura of menace about him. In the ring, he evokes images of a deadly raptor ripping its prey to shreds with a single strike.

Fury has an erratic persona. By his own admission, he has struggled with severe depression for most of his life. On November 28, 2015, he decisioned Wladimir Klitschko to claim the WBA, IBF, and WBO belts. Then he began spouting homophobic, misogynist, anti-Semitic dogma before abandoning boxing to deal with his emotional problems.

“Part of the attraction with Fury,” British journalist Ron Lewis writes, “has always been, you genuinely don’t know what he is going to say. Sometimes he will just make stuff up. In the modern boxing media where video journalists generally outnumber writers, the soundbite is king. Soundbites are rolled out and the outlandish remarks are gobbled up as good material. And Fury gives good soundbites. Whether they are true or not doesn’t really matter. What counts is that people click.”

Fury returned to the ring in 2018 after a thirty-month absence and notched lackluster victories over Sefer Seferi and Francesco Pianeta. On December 1, 2018, he survived ninth and twelfth-round knockdowns en route to a draw against Wilder. Less-than-impressive triumphs over Tom Schwarz and Otto Wallin followed.

In his most recent ring appearance, Tyson journeyed to Saudi Arabia for an October 31, 2019, staged wrestling spectacle that pitted him against WWE strongman Braun Strowman.

Fury has good boxing skills for a man his size. He stands close to 6-feet-9-inches tall and fights in the neighborhood of a non-svelt 260 pounds. There’s a lot of jiggling when he moves around the canvas. At age 31, he entered the ring for Wilder-Fury II as an undefeated professional boxer with 29 wins, 20 knockouts, and a draw in 30 fights.

Wilder captured a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics as a raw 23-year-old. Seven years later, he annexed the WBC heavyweight title by decision over Bermane Stiverne. Since then, he has successfully defended his belt ten times against mostly pedestrian opposition. His most credible opponents were Luis Ortiz (twice) and Fury.

Deontay has made some good life choices and also some bad ones. There have been incidents of violence outside the ring and public utterances that made him look and sound like a bully. There’s a nagging feeling that he unwisely left a lot of money on table and lost an opportunity to consolidate all four heavyweight championship belts when he blew off a three-fight $100 million offer from DAZN last year.

That said; Wilder can punch. Bigtime. Entering the ring on February 22, he had 40 knockout victories in 42 fights, with only Fury and Stiverne having gone the distance against him. And Stiverne was obliterated on a first-round knockout when they met in the ring for the second time.

As writer Carlos Acevedo noted, “There is no softening-up process necessary for Wilder to demolish an opponent. Cumulative damage is not a prerequisite. He picks his high-spots (moments when he fully commits to his bludgeonous right hand) with care, and few can withstand its direct impact.”

Fighters are associated with certain phrases . . . Joe Louis: “He can run but he can’t hide” . . . Mike Tyson: “They all have a plan until they get hit” . . .

Wilder sums up nicely when he says of each opponent, “He has to be perfect for twelve rounds. I have to be perfect for two seconds.”

Let’s say it again. Wilder can punch. His right hand is devastating. And not only isn’t he afraid to throw it; his entire fight plan (at the risk of losing round after round on the judges’ scorecards) is about trying to land it. His conventional boxing skills are limited. His chin is suspect, but he has learned to use his height and reach to protect it. Give him time to set up and proceed at his leisure, and he will destroy you.

Moreover, Wilder carries his power late. As Fury found out in round twelve of their first encounter, Deontay is dangerous until the final bell.

“This is a gladiator sport,” Wilder says. “It ain’t no room for weakness in this sport, especially when you’re a champion because you’ll always be a target. You’re always gonna have a bullseye on your back. So you’ve gotta have a mentality like that. It’s good to be nice and kind and shit like that. But when it comes to boxing, you can’t show no weakness. You’ve gotta show that you’re a savage, that you ain’t nothing to be messed with, and that’s what I show. Put fear in these guys’ hearts and really mean it. When you fight Deontay Wilder, I take something from you. I take years from your life.”

As for Fury’s psychiatric issues, Wilder acknowledged, “We all have mental problems. Ain’t nobody one hundred percent. I’m crazy at times. I go do things at times. I been had a gun in my hand before thinking about committing suicide. I mean, shit. It ain’t no different. I can be a role model, but you have to accept me and embrace me for who I am. I may say some crazy stuff. I may make up my own words at times. I’m human. I don’t walk a straight path and a lot of things may go wrong in my life and it’s going to be up to me to correct them. I just tell people to accept me for who I am. I am who I am. I’m not perfect.”

For a while, Wilder was skeptical that the rematch would take place.

“Fury doesn’t want to fight me again,” Deontay said. “He’s satisfied with the draw and he wants to run with a moral victory.” That was followed by reference to Fury rising from the canvas after what initially seemed to be a fight-ending knockout: “I knocked some marbles out his head. When a man doesn’t know how he got knocked onto the ground or how he got up, that ain’t no good sign. His family don’t even want him to fight me again. He don’t want to either, but he’s got to.”

In due course, the rematch was signed with the two sides agreeing to a 50-50 revenue split.

It would be Wilder (backed by Premier Boxing Champions and FOX) versus Fury (in league with Top Rank and ESPN). Thereafter, Top Rank CEO Bob Arum predicted that Wilder-Fury II would engender two million pay-per-view buys. That left a lot of observers willing to bet the “under,” since Wilder-Fury I was generously estimated to have generated 325,000.

In truth, neither Fury or Wilder had sold well to the public in the past.

Wilder had headlined two previous fight cards in Las Vegas. According to numbers released by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, 4,074 tickets resulting in a live gate of $755,200 were sold for his 2015 outing against Bermane Stiverne. Deontay’s 2019 rematch against Luis Ortiz generated a live gate of $4,063,141 on 7,403 tickets sold. Depending on whom one believes, Wilder-Ortiz II (which was distributed on pay-per-view by Fox) engendered between 225,000 and 275,000 buys. Since FOX is reported to have guaranteed 500,000 buys for Wilder-Ortiz II, that translated into a lot of red ink.

Meanwhile, the live gate for Fury-Schwarz at the MGM Grand was $882,145 with 5,489 tickets sold. The live gate for Fury-Wallin at T-Mobile Arena was $999,723 with 3,577 tickets purchased. There were more comps (3,898) for Fury-Wallin than tickets sold.

To state the obvious, these are not good numbers. But ESPN and FOX (which jointly handled the pay-per-view for Wilder-Fury II) went all-in on promotion of the rematch.

FOX is available in 120 million American homes. ESPN has 83 million domestic subscribers. ESPN put the promotion into high gear on December 28 when Fury appeared on its College Gameday program prior to the Bowl Championship Series semi-final football game between LSU and Oklahoma. Then, on February 2, FOX broadcast two Wilder-Fury II commercials during Super Bowl LIV. According to Nielsen Media Research, the first Super Bowl promo (which ran at 8:02 PM eastern time) was seen by 103.5 million viewers. The second (which aired 35 minutes later) drew 101.1 million. There were also seven pre-game promotional spots that averaged 18 million viewers each.

Given the fact that in-game Super Bowl commercials normally cost advertisers as much as $10 million a minute, this marked a significant investment by FOX in the promotion.

The lead-up to Wilder-Fury II was marked (and sometimes marred) by back-and-forth utterances between the fighters.

Fury did his part to debase the public dialogue during a media scrum immediately after the January 13 kick-off press conference in Los Angeles. Discussing his preparation for the rematch, he declared, “I’m masturbating seven times a day to keep my testosterone pumping. Pump it, pump it, pump it, pump it up! Don’tcha know! I gotta to keep active and the testosterone flowing for the fight.”

Later, Tyson declared, “I look at Wilder and I don’t see a tough fight. I see a long-legged pussy that I’m going to break in. A big 6-foot-7-inch virgin that ain’t been rodded before. I’m going to bend him over and scuttle him backwards nice and slowly.”

Fury further pledged, “After this fight, I’m going to binge on cocaine and hookers. Is there anything better than cocaine and hookers? I go to the cheap thirty-dollar ones. Always give yourself a shot of penicillin before shagging ‘em. If you haven’t got the penicillin, always double-bag up.”

Wilder responded more simply, saying, “This is unfinished business that I will finish. Come February 22, I’m going to rip his head off his body. The first fight was a very controversial fight. We left people confused about who won. This is where we come and settle everything. This is judgment day.”

When fight week arrived, the hype machine went into overdrive, proclaiming that Wilder-Fury II was one of the most anticipated heavyweight championship matches of all time. There was a massive amount of network shoulder programming including extensive on-site coverage from February 18 until fight night.

ESPN and FOX, which talk breathlessly about “unified titles” when match-ups like Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Jose Pedraza occur, suddenly forgot that the WBA, WBO, and IBF (each of which recognizes Anthony Joshua as its heavyweight champion) exist. Also forgotten was the fact that, in Wilder-Fury I, the fighters had landed a total of only 155 punches between them. That’s six punches per fighter per round.

No matter. The twelfth-round knockdown and Fury getting up from it had elevated Wilder-Fury II as a commercial attraction. The fight sparked high interest in the boxing community. Whether or not this interest was spilling over to general sports fans and beyond was a separate issue. Tickets were available at list price until three days before the fight.

Fury predicted that he’d knock Wilder out in the second round. That earned a scornful rejoinder from Deontay, who proclaimed, “Fury has got pillows as fists. We all know he don’t have no power. He’s just a tall big man that can move around a ring and that’s about it. As far as him knocking me out, he don’t believe that himself. He can’t even see that in his dreams.”

There was the usual idiotic (and dangerous) shoving and shouting at the final pre-fight press conference on Wednesday, all of which was gleefully distributed as a marketing tool by the promotion (except for the part where Wilder and Fury trashed each other as being unmarketable).

Among other things, Wilder berated Fury, saying, “When I found you, you was strung out on coke. When I found you, you was big as a house, contemplating about killing yourself. So don’t you ever forget who brought you to bigtime boxing. I brought you back. I put food on your table for your family to eat. Don’t you ever forget that.”

On Thursday, to its credit, the Nevada State Athletic Commission ruled that, for security reasons, the fighters would not be allowed to engage in the ritual staredown at the close of Friday’s weigh-in. Arum complained about the ruling, but all was not lost. After the weigh-in, as Fury and Wilder stood on opposite sides of the stage with six commission inspectors between them, Fury gave Wilder the finger and Deontay responded by grabbing his crotch.

For their first encounter, Wilder had weighed in at 212-1/2 pounds. This time, he tipped the scales at 231 (his heaviest ever). Fury had weighed 256-1/2 pounds the first time around. Now it was 273 (three pounds less than his all-time high). The general feeling was that the extra weight would help Wilder and hurt Fury.

It was a pick ’em fight with a slight edge in the odds, if any, toward Wilder. Looking at the two bouts that each man had engaged in subsequent to their first encounter, Deontay had seemed to be improving (against Dominic Breazeale and Luis Ortiz). Fury, on the other hand, had appeared to be stagnating (against Tom Schwarz and Otto Wallin).

“Deontay does not get the credit that he deserves for the improvement,” Jay Deas (Wilder’s co-trainer and adviser) said in a February 12 media conference call. “I don’t think people totally get what they’re seeing, and sometimes they don’t understand the nuances of the sport. We do what we call a six-month test. Every six months, we ask ourselves, ‘Would you right now beat you from six months ago?’ And I can answer one hundred percent honestly that, since the beginning of the first day that he came in the gym, that answer has been yes. He keeps getting better and better and better and smarter and refined with the technique. The things that people don’t really get is the timing, the distance, the spacing, the positioning, all those things that allow you to land those big punches. That’s skill. And he wants to learn. He’s the kind of guy that is still hungry to get better and better.”

ESPN commentator Teddy Atlas was in accord, saying, “I feel like Wilder has added something. He’s added a delivery system where he mesmerizes you with the jab and then BOP, the right hand is right behind it, George Foreman did it, Teofilo Stevenson did it. They lie to you. They make you think you’re safe because they’re only throwing the jab three-quarters so you think that’s the end of the line for danger. But it’s not. It’s about three inches further because they didn’t extend the jab. And Wilder has learned how to do that by making you think you’re safe. You cooperate a little, and then BOOM!”

In December, Fury announced that he was replacing trainer Ben Davison with Sugar Hill and that Stitch Duran (not Jorge Capetillo) would be his cutman for the February 22 rematch. Fury and Hill soon began talking about tapping into a new reserve of power. But as Don Turner (who trained Evander Holyfield and Larry Holmes late in their respective ring careers) observed, “You don’t take a fighter in his thirties, change his style, and teach him to punch with more power in an eight-week training camp. The fighter makes the fighter. The trainer only helps.”

Those who picked Wilder to win the rematch noted that, as Wilder-Fury I progressed, Deontay seemed to figure Tyson out. He’d knocked Fury down in both the ninth and twelfth rounds and was likely to set up his punches more effectively the second time around.

Also, there was the matter of “the cut.” Fury had suffered a gruesome gash along his right eyebrow courtesy of a left hook from Wallin in round three of their September 14 bout. The cut bled profusely throughout the fight and required 47 stitches to close.

The scar tissue from that cut would be an attractive target for Wilder. “No matter what he does,” Deontay said, “when he fights me, it’s going to open right back up. I’m going to pop it right back open. He can get plastic surgery, duct tape or staples, super glue or hot glue, cement glue. Shit, he can go get some of that flex glue. It ain’t gonna to matter. I definitely look forward to re-cutting open that eye.”

And finally, there was the biggest factor of all – Wilder’s power.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Bob Arum (who co-promotes Fury with Frank Warren) said. “It’s actually accentuated by the fact he doesn’t know how to box. He’s a horrible boxer. He puts on a clinic of how not to box, but he has that right hand.”

“For one punch,” Teddy Atlas added, “just one punch, I think Wilder is the hardest puncher in the history of the sport.”

Yes, Wilder was a one-trick pony. But it was quite a trick.

Meanwhile, the case for a Fury victory began with Wilder’s limited repertoire. Bart Barry spoke for many when he wrote, “Wilder only took what he did best and committed to doing it better. If the holes in his style aren’t any larger now than when he started, they are, surprisingly, no smaller.”

Fury’s partisans also reasoned that their man would be in better shape for the rematch than for the first fight and wouldn’t tire down the stretch as he had before. Also, they were confident that, this time, in addition to making Wilder miss, he’d make Deontay pay when he missed.

Asked what he’d learned from Wilder-Fury I, Tyson responded, “He’s got a big right hand and that’s it. He’s a one-dimensional fighter. The biggest mistake I made last time was not making him pay when he was hurt. I didn’t know what I had in the tank last time. This time, I know I can go the distance. I’ll throw everything but the kitchen sink at him, and he won’t know what hit him.”

As for the knockdown in round twelve of their first encounter, Fury explained, “I backed up in a straight line and got clipped with a right hand and it was good night, Vienna. That was all she wrote. But then I rose from the canvas like a phoenix from the ashes to get back into it, take him up, and finish the fight the stronger man.”

There were a host of battles between ESPN and FOX behind the scenes with regard to a whole range of issues. Finally, it was agreed as to on-air talent that Joe Tessitore (ESPN) would call the blow by blow with expert commentary from Lennox Lewis (FOX) and Andre Ward (ESPN). Host Brian Kenny (FOX) would be joined at the fight-night desk by Max Kellerman (ESPN), Shawn Porter (FOX), and Timothy Bradley (ESPN). In addition, Mark Kriegel (ESPN), Kate Abdo (FOX), and Bernardo Osuna (ESPN) would serve as ringside reporters while Larry Hazzard (FOX) would be the unofficial scorer and rules expert.

There was a lot of chatter during the televised portion of the pay-per-view undercard about how this would be Wilder’s eleventh consecutive heavyweight title defense, breaking a tie that he’d held with Muhammad Ali. This ignored the fact that Ali was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world during his reign while Deontay was one of many. Max Kellerman then analogized Fury’s boxing skills and elusiveness in the ring to that of Wilfred Benitez and Willie Pep.

Viewers were also told that the live gate for Wilder-Fury II had surpassed $17 million which made it the largest live gate in the history of heavyweight boxing in Nevada. Lewis-Holyfield II in 1999 had grossed $16.86 million. Of course, accounting for inflation, $16.86 million in 1999 would be worth $26.28 million today.

Fury, wearing a red velour robe and sitting on a throne, was wheeled to the ring by four buxom women while a recording of Crazy sung by Patsy Cline played over the public address system. Wilder’s opted for glitzy black body armor accessorized by a black mask during his ring walk with rapper D Smoke providing the soundtrack.

Then came the moment of reckoning.

Fury dominated the action from beginning to end. He came out aggressively in the first two rounds, stalking and outjabbing Wilder, who hardly jabbed at all. As is usually the case, Deontay did little to set up his punches and looked simply to land the big one. His deficiencies as a boxer showed.

Boxing Fury is a bit like boxing a mountain. Wilder was having trouble coping with a bigger man who chose this time to come right at him, throwing punches.

With 38 seconds left in round three, Fury dropped Wilder with a clubbing overhand right that landed on Deontay’s left ear. If Wilder had looked bad before, from that point on, he looked awful. His legs were weak. His balance was unsteady. He bled profusely from his left ear and seemed confused if not dazed. He wasn’t just losing rounds. For the first time in his career, he was getting beaten up.

Referee Kenny Bayless helped Wilder a bit by breaking the fighters at times when Fury was working effectively inside. Then, not long after Tyson dropped Deontay with a hook to the body in round five, Bayless (without previous warning) took a point away from Fury for hitting on the break.

By round six, Wilder was fighting like he was out on his feet. And more significantly, his power had deserted him. It no longer looked as though he had the ability to change the course of the fight with one punch. It was then that Fury had the poor taste to lick Deontay’s neck during a clinch to taste the blood that was flowing from his ear.

The mauling continued. One minute 37 seconds into round seven, with Wilder trapped in a neutral corner and Fury pounding away, Mark Breland (Deontay’s chief second) threw in the towel.

“Things like this happen,” Wilder said in a post-fight interview with Bernardo Osuna. “The best man won tonight. I just wish my corner would have let me go out on my shield.”

He’s fortunate that they didn’t.

Fury’s story is a remarkable tale of redemption given the mental health issues that forced his hiatus from the ring four years ago. As for what comes next; Wilder has thirty days to exercise a rematch clause for a third fight that would be contested with a 60-40 revenue split in favor of Team Fury.

Meanwhile, in the weeks ahead, there will be a lot of talk about “greatness.” Thus, it’s worth considering the thoughts of Carlos Acevedo who wrote, “Of all the concepts, phrases, and words that have devolved in boxing over the years, none has slipped so drastically as the notion of greatness. Writers and reporters take many of their cues directly from press releases, publicists, promoters, and network puffers. This is like taking advice from a three-card monte dealer on where the queen of hearts may be.”

In his most recent fight preceding Wilder-Fury II, Fury struggled against Otto Wallin. Against Wilder on Saturday night, at times he looked sloppy. Two victories – against Wladimir Klitschko and now Wilder – don’t qualify a fighter for greatness.

Fury himself seems to understand that notion. During a media conference call to promote Wilder-Fury II, he declared, “The only thing that means anything to me is winning these fights. That’s it, period. I’m a purebred fighting man through and through. And when it’s over, it’s over. I’m not really concerned about the legacy. I’m not overly concerned about what happens when I’m done. We can only take one chapter of our lives at a time, and I’m just enjoying living in the moment right now. I’m living my dream, my childhood dream, my young adult dream, and my midlife dream. I really don’t care about legacy because what somebody thinks of me when I’m finished is unimportant. It’s all sticks and stones. Whether it’s good or bad, everyone is entitled to their opinion. And there will be somebody else to replace me just like every other champion.”

Photo credit: Al Applerose

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing– 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. On June 14, 2020, he will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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