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The Top Ten Heavyweights of the Decade 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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With the decade 2010-2019 now closed and a new one begun, a quick look at the chief champions and contenders of the sport’s flagship division seems pertinent. A curious rather than a scintillating decade, it was dominated early by two brothers and late by three fighters as different and divisive and, in some cases, reluctant to meet each other, as can be imagined. Here though, we will look at who these men did fight rather than who they didn’t, appraising accomplishments first and foremost as criteria for this Top Ten.

Rankings, a crucial tool for disassembling any period of history, are by The Ring magazine between 2000 and 2002 and by TBRB for all other years.

10 – Luis Ortiz

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the Decade: 31-2 Ranked For: 40% of the Decade

Here is a complete list of the ranked fighters that Luis Ortiz defeated during the past decade:

Bryant Jennings.

This is horrifying, but it is sadly not that unusual. David Haye managed to defeat zero ranked contenders during the five years for which he was an active heavyweight in the decade, Kubrat Pulev managed just one in the shape of Tony Thompson. There is no more distressing statistic in all of boxing than this, I think: Luis Ortiz obtained a peak rank of #3 and yet he has never proven himself the equal of even a fighter ranked in the top five.

Such is modern boxing.

Three things stand in support of his #10 ranking here: first, both his devastating knockout losses to Deontay Wilder were stirring efforts. Their 2019 encounter, especially, was a performance that felt like dominance with only Wilder’s power and, perhaps, Ortiz’s ageing legs preventing what would have been a serious upset. Secondly, Ortiz looks the part, at least technically. Behind the 3-day balloon sag of his emotionless visage is a talented fighter. Choosing my words carefully I’ll go so far as to say that his economy of movement is the best for any heavyweight from this century, and that covers footwork, defense and punching. The tiny head movements he chose to ditch many of Wilder’s punches would bring a tear to the glass eye of any veteran boxing trainer.

Finally, there isn’t really much competition for #10. Pulev and Tomasz Adamek were his closest competition for this slot and my preference for Ortiz’s understated technical acumen got him over the line.

09 – Andy Ruiz

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the decade: 31-2 Ranked for: 18% of the decade

Andy Ruiz nips in ahead of Ortiz based upon his achieving the indelible against Anthony Joshua. Briefly, it made Ruiz the planet’s number one heavyweight and although his inclusion here was not certain, nor inarguable, it means that every heavyweight who held the number one spot between 2010 and 2019 makes the list.

The rest of his decade was something of a blank, although he came very close to changing that in his December 2016 crack at Joseph Parker. Writing at the time I said that Ruiz had blown a “golden chance” to become the first Mexican American heavyweight belt-holder in a fight that was close enough to have been judged a draw. As it was, Parker squeaked past his rotund opponent with a majority decision win, 115-113 twice and 114-114. Ruiz, who threatened to out-speed a speedster in that fight, bagged all three of the opening rounds for me and forced Parker to sit down hard on his boxing in order to snag the decision.

Had the desperately close twelfth gone for Ruiz and against Parker, Ruiz is facing Joshua in a unification fight instead of as a substitute throwing punches on a wing and prayer. How might history have been different? It’s impossible to say although I will readily admit that when I wrote of Ruiz that he “has big fights in his future if he wants them” I didn’t have something quite as astonishing as that victory over Joshua in mind. It’s enough to squeak him into the ten.

08 – Joseph Parker

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the decade: 26-2 Ranked for: 39% of the decade

Joseph Parker benefits from a retrospective look at a victory that, at the time, was widely ignored.   When the New Zealander defeated Ruiz it was seen, if it was seen at all, as an embarrassingly narrow victory over an out of shape gatekeeper type who didn’t deserve the shot in the first place. Fast forward to Ruiz’s destruction of Joshua and suddenly Parker has a rather special victory under his belt.  Notwithstanding his own failed effort at Joshua, it is rather difficult to rank Ruiz ahead of Parker given that Parker toughed it out to beat the American-Mexican over twelve.

So, while it’s hard to argue that Parker unequivocally had the better decade overall, he has spent many more months than Ruiz as a ranked fighter and squared off more often against the best. Ruiz, Hughie Fury and Alexander Dimetrenko make for the cornerstone of a rather underwhelming resume though and after posting dual losses in 2018 he beat a hasty retreat for safer waters.

Parker isn’t quite out of the game yet though. A 2019 fight with Dereck Chisora was called off after Parker was bitten by a spider and that fascinating contest that can hopefully be rescheduled.

Whether the nicest man in heavyweight boxing can be a force in the division over the course of the next ten years may hinge on the outcome.

07 – Dillian Whyte

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the decade: 27-1 Ranked for: 19% of the decade

Numbers 7, 8 and 9 come off easy. Parker beats Ruiz and then Dillian Whyte beats Parker. We know which of these three is better and barring wild differences in matched men, who is more accomplished.  Whyte achieved a measure of fame in 2015 with a heart-fueled but failed crack at Joshua when both were making their divisional bones but by early 2017, Whyte had become a heavyweight of legitimate interest and by the end of that year he had legitimized himself as a threat to world level.

Whyte wrought a candidate for fight of the year that December against Dereck Chisora, but the closeness of this vicious contest raised questions of its own. Those questions were answered twice, first by Chisora cracking the rankings and pushing Whyte close again in a glorious rematch, then by further Dillian Whyte contests against the likes of Joseph Parker and Oscar Rivas. What they demonstrated is that the final incarnation of Dillian Whyte is always in good fights.

Even a turgid contest with a weary Mariusz Wach right at the end of 2019 had its moments, for all they were born of an undertrained, overweight Whyte struggling and failing to put away an inferior opponent but proving himself once more the division’s deluxe brawler for the decade. Not that Whyte is not proficient, but he isn’t using a box and move strategy to stay out of trouble like Parker nor using technical boxing to break down the opposition like Ortiz; rather he is out-thugging his opposition with a combination of persistence, heart and a withering punch.

06 – Vitali Klitschko

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the decade: 6-0 Ranked for: 35% of the decade

I am something of a Vitali Klitschko fan. I never understood the criticism, during his prime, of his “robotic” style. To me he was a granite-chinned gunslinger, eschewing traditional defensive technique in favor of low-handed high-volume aggression. He came to fight and did so without fear.

He is also principled and intelligent which is why it was so disappointing to see the WBC lead him around by his nose. Vitali went 6-0 between January first, 2010 and December of 2013 when he retired but only one of these “title-fights” was staged against one of the ten best in his division. -Some of his opponents couldn’t even be said to be ranked in the top thirty.

Zuri Lawrence victim Albert Sosnowski was likely the low point of this decade, while Cuban prospect Odlanier Solis or Polish veteran Adamek were the high points.

But whether he was thrashing a hapless Manuel Charr or battering Shannon Briggs in one of the ugliest beatings of the century, Vitali looked imperious. There is a very a reasoned argument that despite his limited competition and despite his advancing years he is the very best fighter on this list.

It is a shame he never really proved it.

#6, then, may be a little too high, but the difficulty in visualizing his defeat at the hands of many of the men ranked above or below him enhances his standing.

05 – Alexander Povetkin

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the decade: 27-2-1 Ranked for: 100% of the decade

Were we ranking fighters here upon their entire careers rather than just on what they did in the last decade, Povetkin would have a strong case for #3. Even in the 2000s he was ranked the #1 heavyweight in the world not named Klitschko at one stage, but it would be 2015 before he found himself in the ring with the long-reigning champion Wladimir.

The beating he absorbed was terrible; he showed heart and rare determination in continuing to take the fight to the champion despite the onslaught that saw him repeatedly dropped to the canvas in the course of losing a wide decision. For many, it would have represented a career-altering thrashing.

But not for Povetkin. “Vityaz” was made of stronger stuff. In fact, he would outlast Wladimir – just like he outlasted Carlos Takam, a ranked and a formidable man one year after his butchery at the hands of Wladimir. In his very next fight he obliterated #10 contender Mike Perez in a devastating right-handed showcase that is one of the most under-watched knockouts on YouTube: click here to help set that right; if you do, keep in mind that Perez had never been stopped before and has never been stopped since.

Povetkin added ranked men Johann Duhaupas and Christian Hammer as he campaigned for a shot at the newest heavyweight star, Anthony Joshua; he got his wish but that attempt ended almost as painfully as his tilt at Wladimir. But Povetkin has come yet again. He was fortunate, perhaps, to escape with a draw against Michael Hunter (another excellent fight) in 2019 but it’s a result that keeps him in the game and sees him embark on his third decade as a heavyweight contender.

Consider that Ruslan Chagaev, a former victim of Povetkin’s and his chief rival for the title “best of the rest” from the Klitschko era retired five years ago and Povetkin’s status as the decade’s ultimate survivor is thrown into sharp relief.

04 – Deontay Wilder

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the decade: 34-0-1 Ranked for: 53% of the decade

Being honest, Deontay Wilder ranking above Povetkin specifically for what they did in the last decade does not sit particularly well with me. I consider the early part of Deontay Wilder’s WBC run nothing less than shameful and his being recently introduced at a press conference as having “equaled the run of Muhammad Ali” as a travesty.

It’s not that Wilder hasn’t done some good work, for he has, but if your number two scalp is that of Bermane Stiverne then it could be argued that you do not belong in the top five for any given decade.  Nevertheless, to my admitted disgruntlement, Wilder’s paper record (the best on this list) and that incredible knockout of Ortiz in their recent rematch has slipped Wilder in at the #4 spot by the barest of margins. There is little doubt as to the attribute that has brought him this far.

“Wilder could knock out a bull if he hit it in the head,” claims 2015 victim Eric Molina. “If he touches anybody with that right hand, on any part of the head, they’re going to dance or go down and go to sleep. It is what it is.”

It is. You never know upon who the moth of natural talent will alite and it seems that Wilder is the most blessed heavyweight of this era. It also seemed, for a while, that he might squander that gift, but in facing Tyson Fury, Ortiz, and now Fury again in a forthcoming rematch, Wilder has become the toughest matched heavyweight in the world. He was lucky to escape with a draw in that first Fury fight but make no mistake, he is one victory away from becoming the preeminent heavyweight for the new decade.

Fourth is the absolute highest he can rank for the old one.

03 – Tyson Fury

Peak Ranking: Champion Record for the decade: 20-0-1 Ranked for: 52% of the decade

To tell another truth, Tyson Fury can’t be said to have done a great deal more than Wilder in securing the #3 spot for 2010-2019, but two things have him locked above his American rival: first, Fury was deserving of the decision in the first meeting between the two; second, he is the only man on this list to have defeated a lineal champion in that decade. While Fury’s own status is confused by his retirement and comeback, there is no disputing the status of Wladimir Klitschko when Fury took his titles from him in his German stronghold. Wladimir was surely past prime when Fury visited him, but it is forgotten now that the notion of Fury’s out-boxing him was hardly even considered possible. Fury’s brilliance in taking a clear twelve round decision on hostile territory can hardly be overstated.

It has been forgotten, too, in the wake of Anthony Joshua’s much more spectacular defeat of Wladimir that Fury beat him first, far less viciously but without the home advantage Joshua enjoyed. In summary, then: Fury is in possession of the single greatest victory from that decade of heavyweight boxing.

Since, he has defeated depression and addiction, or at least fought them to a standstill. No points for that here, but given that he, like Wilder, is undefeated, and that he, like Wilder, has wins in support of his very best that are rather underwhelming, #3 seems the fairest spot.

Probably the world’s number one at decade’s end, those mental health issues have sadly kept him from contention for the top two spots in an appraisal of all ten years.

02 – Anthony Joshua

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the decade: 23-1 Ranked for: 48% of the decade

While Fury struggled desperately with his demons, Anthony Joshua rolled in and with consummate professionalism stole his thunder and many of his potential opponents. As a demonstration of excellence – of fistic ability, promotional acumen, media handling – nobody has approached equaling it in the past ten years.

Joshua’s management team paid handsomely for their first alphabet strap, bribing Charles Martin to visit the UK allowing Joshua to force him to take the proverbial knee, which he quickly did under heavy fire. Martin had come by his belt after the IBF equally quickly stripped Tyson Fury after he defeated Wladimir Klitschko; Martin was named a challenger for the vacant belt but really that fight was meant to be a coronation for the anointed Vyacheslav Glazkov who damaged his knee so badly during the fight that he hasn’t fought since. It was as tortured and ridiculous a path to an alphabet title as has occurred, which is saying something.

Since, and despite much unfair criticism, Joshua has conducted himself with genuine ambition. Dominic Breazeale was deemed underwhelming, but he was, at least, legitimately ranked at #9; Wladimir Klitschko was as dangerous an opponent as the under-seasoned Joshua could have faced and their combat was as thrilling as any from this period. The selection of Carlos Takam was criticized, but Takam was ranked number six and was a late replacement for Kubrat Pulev, who was ranked even higher.  Joseph Parker stood the #3 heavyweight in the world when Joshua clearly out-boxed him, and Alexander Povetkin, for all that he was derided as past-prime, was still ranked at #5.

Then disaster struck. The defeat of Joshua by Ruiz will perhaps become no more than a footnote to a hall of fame career, but it does rule Joshua out as a contender to the #1 spot here. Make no mistake, had he buried Ruiz the first time around rather than requiring a rematch to reclaim his trinkets, Joshua’s record would have proven hard to resist. It is a fact that no heavyweight defeated more ranked contenders in the considered years.

01 – Wladimir Klitschko

Peak Ranking: Champion Record for the decade: 11-2 Ranked for: 64% of the decade

While no fighter defeated more ranked contenders than Joshua, only one fighter twice defeated the heavyweight ranked the best in the world excepting himself and that was the mighty Wladimir Klitschko.

He butchered Povetkin in a brutal shut-out in 2013. The following year he crushed the undefeated Kubrat Pulev in five savage rounds. He seemed, in that moment, unassailable.

Wladimir entered the decade the undisputed number one heavyweight in the world, even the return to action of his brother Vitali failing to muddy the waters to any real degree. In the absence of the older Vitali, Wladimir had developed an iron grip on his lofty status, contenders slipping from him like water over a river rock. Wladimir had a reputation for vulnerability, but by the opening of the decade he hadn’t been beaten in six years. By the time Fury unseated him in 2015, Wladimir was more than ten years removed from defeat. Few fighters have entire careers as accomplished.

Wladimir did build his inimitable if sometimes frustrating style primarily around weaknesses, however.  He wanted to protect his chin, so he kept his opponents very far away, on the end of his all-time great jab, or very close, on the receiving end of a frustrating habit to clutch and hold. He wanted to protect a gas-tank that had failed him the decade before and so he became perhaps the most complete general the heavyweight division has ever seen. Risk management, control of the ring’s real estate and control of the fight’s tempo were everything to him.

This frustrated many fight fans but to dispute his dominance of the first half of the decade based upon aesthetics would be fruitless. The unlikely figure of Andy Ruiz ensured that Wladimir Klitschko would be shorn of competition for the #1 spot for heavyweight of the decade 2010-2019 – it is fitting that they nearly bookended the top ten.

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Wilder – Fury 2: Points to Ponder (Plus Official Weights)

Arne K. Lang

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This afternoon’s weigh-in, scheduled for 6 PM ET, will be closely monitored by gamblers who want to inspect the merchandise before making a wager. Tyson Fury has indicated that he will likely tip the scales at about 270 pounds, which would be 13 ½-pounds more than he carried in their first meeting and 15 ½-pounds more than what he carried in his last engagement vs Otto Wallin this past September. Deontay Wilder has also indicated that he plans to carry more weight for the rematch.

Andre Ward, for one, thinks that the added weight will be a detriment to Fury. “250 pounds is plenty big enough to push Wilder around,” said Ward at a media confab yesterday where the former two-division world champion shared the dais with the other talking heads from the networks that will be showing the fight. The implication is that any gains that Fury achieves in strength would be offset by less mobility.

For the record, back in 2009, in his first scheduled 10-rounder, Tyson Fury carried 247 pounds for his match with British countryman John McDermott. That was a difficult fight for the Gypsy King with many in attendance believing he earned no better than a draw. Nine months later he met McDermott again, this time carrying 270 pounds, and Fury dominated en route to a ninth-round stoppage. So, putting on more weight for a rematch worked to his advantage.

Interestingly, Andre Ward doesn’t believe that Deontay Wilder has reached his peak in terms of his ring IQ. Wilder, 34, is a former Olympic bronze medalist but had a very brief amateur career, a “small sample size,” as Ward put it. The Bronze Bomber, he said, “is still learning on the job.”

But he’s still one-dimensional, noted former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis. Asked which fighter he would prefer to fight if he were still in his prime, Lewis opted for Deontay Wilder, saying that Wilder would cause him fewer problems than Fury because Fury “gives you more looks.”

Not once during yesterday’s media confab did anyone address the cut that Fury suffered against Wallin. It was a wicked gash that required 47 stitches. The view from here, and it’s a widely shared opinion, is that the fight would have been stopped if the stakes hadn’t been so high.

cut

Wilder has 36 minutes to land the punch that would turn the tide in his favor and thus far only two of his 43 opponents has lasted until the final bell. But the possibly of the cut re-opening, say several reporters with whom I brain-stormed, is just as likely as the fight ending via one of Wilder’s patented one-punch knockouts.

A shade over five months has elapsed since Fury suffered that bad cut. Was that a sufficient length of time for the cut to heal properly? And with this fight packaged as Chapter Two of a trilogy, a loss on cuts by Fury wouldn’t necessarily damage his pocketbook which may factor into the ring doctor’s decision of whether or not to stop it if this issue rears its head again.

If there is a third fight – and it’s supposedly a done deal – there’s virtually no chance that it will be staged in England. So says co-promoter Bob Arum. That’s because the PPV receipts for a mega-fight are far and away the biggest piece of the revenue pie.

If Wilder-Fury III were to be held in the UK, the fight would start in the late afternoon throughout most of North America. “The pay-per-view disappears when you hold a fight in England,” says Arum. “It’s true that you would pick up more subscribers in Europe, but that’s a little number compared to the big number you would lose.”

“What the heavyweight division has lacked in recent years,” said Mark Kriegel at yesterday’s confab, “has been a great rivalry.” Kriegel alluded to the three-fight series between Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield.

Will the Wilder-Fury rivalry become as celebrated as that intense rivalry or, more ambitiously, become as celebrated as the hallowed rivalry between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier? That’s asking an awful lot but stay tuned.

UPDATE: Tyson Fury tipped the scales at 273 (he weighed in with his shirt and shoes on)

Deontay Wilder came in at 231.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 86: Heavyweight Impact, Thompson Boxing and More

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 86: Heavyweight Impact, Thompson Boxing and More

Any time Yanks fight Brits, expect a battle of epic proportions, but when you add rival networks, well now it’s getting downright nasty.

When undefeated WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KOs) steps in to face lineal champion face Tyson Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs) on Saturday Feb. 22, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, it pits not only PBC versus Top Rank, but FOX versus ESPN pay-per-views.

These are all good things.

Aside from bragging rights for the winner’s side, the absolute winners could be boxing fans especially those waiting for other potential fights between PBC and Top Rank. This heavyweight clash could be the foot-in-the-door needed for boxing.

Think: welterweight showdowns between Top Rank’s Terence Crawford and PBC’s Errol Spence Jr. as a follow up. There are many other potential matchups.

All this could be the next step after this repeat heavyweight showdown.

Wilder brings his explosiveness against Fury’s tactical and incredible agility for this return match. Can they match their first encounter?

Back in December 2018, in Los Angeles, the two heavyweights boxed and slugged their way to history with the best heavyweight world championship fight of the 21st century, even topping 2003’s Lennox Lewis versus Vitali Klitschko that also took place in Los Angeles.

Great heavyweight battles are not as common as one would think. They don’t throw as many blows as welterweights and usually they are as slow as glaciers. They can lull you to sleep with their slowness.

“I’m the hardest hitting heavyweight of all time,” said Wilder when in Los Angeles.

Wilder and Fury mesmerized the public with their clash of styles especially after the tall Brit with the clever lines was dropped in the ninth and 12th rounds. How he got up to fight remains a mystery to me and many others.

“He put me down twice and here I am,” said Fury who twice beat the count after knockdowns in their first encounter at the Staples Center.

Very few heavyweight title fights can equal Fury-Wilder’s first meeting.

Memorable Heavyweight Battles of the Past

Here are a few heavyweight world title fights I saw that I actually think measure up:

Riddick Bowe versus Evander Holyfield 2 in Las Vegas on November 6, 1993.

Larry Holmes versus Ken Norton in Las Vegas on June 9, 1978.

Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier 3 in Quezon City, Philippines Oct. 1, 1975.

Wilder and Fury 2 should be similar to their first encounter but expect the fight to end in less than 12 rounds. They know each other’s tendencies, strengths, and definitely know each other’s weaknesses. Expect a knockout but it remains to be seen who gets the knockout.

Yes, we know Wilder has the power but does he have the chin?

This time Fury will be willing to test Wilder’s chin with a full-out attack and that should come early in the fight. This fight should not go past five rounds. Either Wilder goes down and out or Fury goes to sleep. Someone’s not beating the count.

I truly don’t know who wins this rematch.

20th Anniversary for Thompson

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I attended Thompson Boxing Promotion’s first boxing event at the very same Doubletree Hotel in Ontario, California back on March 5, 2001. Carlos “El Elegante” Bojorquez was the headliner on that card and the super welterweight fight ended in a technical draw due to a clash of heads opening a cut on Bojorquez.

That was the first Thompson Boxing card and here we are on Friday February 21, 2020 with the Orange County-based company showcasing another gem in Ruben Torres.

One thing about Thompson Boxing they know how to discover talent and have a string of world champions and contenders in its 20 years of existence. Torres could be the next. They still have Danny Roman who recently lost the WBA and IBF super bantamweight titles by a narrow decision. But regaining a world title remains a reality.

Torres (11-0, 9 KOs) faces Gabino Cota (19-10-2, 17 KOs) in an eight-round lightweight clash that will probably not go the distance.

I’ve seen all of Torres’ fights and through this three-year journey the 5’11” tall lightweight has been honed into a precision fighting machine by trainer Danny Zamora in Santa Fe Springs, California.

Zamora rarely gets credit for his ability to develop boxers into world class prizefighters but he has an extensive history of success. From Yonnhy Perez to Torres the Santa Fe Springs trainer has quietly produced multiple elite pugilists for just as long as Thompson Boxing has existed. Catch his act.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For tickets or information call (714) 935-0900.

Ryan’s World

It’s been nearly one week since Ryan “The Flash” Garcia knocked out Francisco Fonseca in the first round of their regional title fight at the Honda Center in Anaheim. If you haven’t seen the highlight, go ahead and take a look. The entire fight lasted only 1:20 and it seemed shorter.

Garcia was not fighting a low caliber fighter. Let’s get that straight. Fonseca gave both Tevin Farmer and Gervonta Davis a difficult time. He couldn’t do the same against Garcia.

Fonseca has a lot of talent and a good chin. In fact, the day after losing to Tank Davis by illegal blows behind the head, the fighter who lived in Costa Rica visited my home in Southern California and seemed more than healthy despite the fouls committed against him and allowed by the referee and Nevada State Athletic Commission. Though Fonseca’s team took their complaint to the Commission – with extensive footage showing the hits behind the head – the loss was not overturned.

Over the years I’ve seen Garcia fight both as an amateur and professional and it was obvious to me and almost every major promoter in America that he has talent. All were interested in signing Garcia once he turned 18.

Well, Golden Boy signed him and here he is on the precipice of a world title challenge. It’s not a surprise to those in the boxing game. It’s only a surprise to those that truly don’t know prizefighting. This kid is for real.

Oxnard

On open workout for the public will be held by Diego Magdaleno at La Colonia Gym in Oxnard, California on Friday, Feb. 21. The workout begins at 5 p.m. and equipment will be donated to the boxing club by Shannon Torres Gilman.

Magdaleno, a lightweight contender who scored a big win on national television last weekend on the Plant-Feigenbutz card, is the older brother of former world champion Jessie Magdaleno. He is also training and managing former female world champion, Crystal Morales, who is scheduled to fight on March 27 in Aguascalientes, Mexico.

Fights to Watch

Fri. 8 p.m. Thompsonboxing.com – Ruben Torres (11-0) vs Gabino Cota (19-10-2).

Fri. 11:30 p.m. Telemundo – Saul Juarez (25-10-2) vs Jonathan Gonzalez (22-3-1).

Sat. 6 p.m. FOX or ESPN pay-per-view – Deontay Wilder (42-0-1) vs Tyson Fury (29-0-1); Emanuel Navarrete (30-1) vs Jeo Santisima (19-2); Charles Martin (27-2-1) vs Gerald Washington (20-3-1); Javier Molina (21-2) vs. Amir Imam (22-2).

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Wilder, Fury Both Believe Providence is on Their Side

Bernard Fernandez

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Wilder, Fury Both Believe Providence is on Their Side

You hear it more and more frequently at the conclusion of significant sporting events, including boxing matches. The winner or key-play maker for the victors thanks God for His supposed intervention, thus giving the impression that the Almighty, like many humans who pray that their wagers pay off, plays favorites on the field or in the ring, perhaps even to the point of running a celestial bookie operation.

Remember how it was when Joe Louis knocked out Adolf Hitler’s favorite heavyweight, Max Schmeling, in the first round of their June 22, 1938, rematch at Yankee Stadium? Millions of Americans considered it an affirmation of Divine Intervention, of Star-Spangled good conquering the pure evil of all that the Nazis represented, and never mind that Schmeling found Der Fuhrer as repugnant as did Louis and his vast legion of admirers.

Nowadays, choosing whom to support in a major fight, emotionally and financially, is not always so cut-and-dried. Some will plunk their money down on someone representing their country or home region, more pragmatic types are apt to follow their heads instead of their hearts. But the bedrock principle of gambling still most often applies: when in doubt, root for whichever individual or team will yield a profit rather than a loss.

Given that Saturday night’s megafight between WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KOs) and lineal titlist Tyson Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs) is about as close as it ever gets to being a 50/50 proposition (Wilder is favored by the narrowest of margins), many of those backing their play with big bucks might have to confess that they’re doing so with fingers crossed and fervent prayers offered to a deity that may or may not have determined the outcome beforehand.

But there are two individuals who profess to be absolutely certain of a favorable outcome at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, and not just for reasons that are presumably based in fact or logic. Wilder, the pulverizing puncher from Tuscaloosa, Ala., has offered his opinion that God indeed has blessed his cause, much as it was widely believed nearly 82 years ago that the king of heaven wanted Louis (also a native Alabaman, for those who take note of such things) to whack out Schmeling. But a different certainty is being offered by Fury, the gigantic “Gypsy King” from the United Kingdom who also claims he has it on good authority that it is his destiny to emerge triumphant.

Wilder, who had an audience with Pope Francis in the Vatican in December, at which time he was named the papal Ambassador for Sport, said he has been aware since childhood of the plan God supposedly has for him.

“I’ve always had power,” he said. “I always tell the story of how my grandmother said I was anointed by God, that God is trying to use me for things. It’s just all about living, coming into this world and finding your purpose in life. I think I found one of my purposes in life, and of course that’s whupping ass and taking names. And I do that very well.

“I’ve just been blessed tremendously. It’s one of the things I can’t describe how it transpired. When you have a calling in life, it’s just that. I just have a calling all my life. I’m showing the world who I am and what I am.”

Fury doesn’t exactly identify God as the reason he will win. His explanation vaguely hints at Tarot cards and tea leaves, but he’s just as convinced that a mighty wave of predetermination will carry him to his inevitable success on fight night. He claims that it is his seemingly miraculous recovery from an emphatic 12th-round knockdown by Wilder in their first meeting, on Dec. 1, 2018, in Los Angeles, that has cloaked him in virtual invincibility.

“I didn’t know I was knocked down,” he said of the second of the two times he was dropped by Wilder. “It wasn’t a flash knockdown, like in round nine. It was like a knockout. I watched it on tape. He hit me with a right hand and when I was on my way down he hit me with a left hook. It should have been bye-bye. I remember opening my eyes after around four seconds. I thought, `Get up!’ I just jumped up. And then Wilder rushes in and hits me with another massive left hook right on the temple. But it was like I was bullet-proof. It was a more damaging shot than the one that buried me. But it wasn’t meant to be. It wasn’t Wilder’s time (to win). It wasn’t my time to lose.

“I come from a long line of gypsies going back thousands of years. I’m the latest king of our tribe, our people, whatever you want to call them. I believe it’s written in the stars. I don’t believe all the hard work, all the dedication, have that much to do with it. You have to do that as well, but some things that have happened to me in my life now make me 100% believe it’s written in the stars.”

(One has to wonder how Fury’s public pronouncement that frequent cunnilingus has helped strengthen his jaw was received by his wife and mother of the couple’s five children, the most outrageous such comment since Livingstone Bramble bragged that, counter to standard boxing protocol, he engaged in sexual activity with his wife multiple times a night right up to the day of his bouts.)

For fight fans hesitant to buy into the notion, proffered by either principal, that a higher power has a vested interest in what takes place inside the ropes in this much-anticipated do-over, standard factors are likely to ultimately prove the difference. Can Wilder’s superior power get him home should he find the mark with that devastating right hand? Will Fury’s more polished boxing skills flummox his bigger-hitting foe all the way to the final bell and a nod on points? Or will Fury keep his word that he will take the fight straight to Wilder in the center of the ring, a radical shift in strategy possibly orchestrated by his new trainer, Javan “Sugar” Hill?

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