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Ilunga Makabu is the Newest Champ in the Interesting Cruiserweight Division

Arne K. Lang

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The famed American promoter Don King owns a piece of new WBC cruiserweight champion Ilunga Makabu although it’s a tenuous piece that may not survive a court challenge. King being King, he wasted no time billing yesterday’s fight at Kinshasa between Makabu and Poland’s Michel Cieslak for the vacant WBC belt as “Rumble in the Jungle 2.”

That was over the top, but one could fairly claim that Makabu vs. Cieslak was the most important fight in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) since Muhammad Ali’s celebrated triumph over George Foreman here in Kinshasa in 1974. And when the smoke cleared, the local man, Makabu, claimed the vacant title, prevailing by a unanimous decision (116-111, 115-111, 114-112) over an opponent that had fared well in his recent bouts against African fighters, stopping Congo-born Youri Kalenga and Nigeria’s Olanrewaju Durodola.

Makabu was hurt in the third round which conveniently ended early, but he out-worked the previously undefeated Pole, now 19-1, in the late rounds and was fairly deemed the victor.

It’s been a long road for Makabu (27-2, 24 KOs) who ventured alone to Johannesburg, South Africa, at age 20 for his pro debut and was knocked out in 29 seconds. He was subsequently stopped by Tony Bellew in Liverpool in his first stab at this belt which was then likewise vacant.

Makabu, 32, fought his way back into title contention with seven wins in six different countries. He plans to celebrate his newly-won title with a tour of the continent of Africa and will undoubtedly have one-eye cocked at the forthcoming fight in Riga, Latvia, and the possible unification fight opportunity that will emerge from it.

The two best cruiserweights in the world (so say the most respected entities) will tangle there on March 21 when IBF title-holder Yuniel (aka Yunier) Dorticos meets Riga native Maris Briedis in the finals of the long-drawn-out WBSS cruiserweight tournament.

The 35-year-old Briedis (26-1, 19 KOs) and the 33-year-old Dorticos (24-1, 22 KOs) are holdovers from the inaugural edition of the WBSS cruiserweight tourney. Both advanced to the semis where they suffered their first loss. Briedis gave Oleksandr Usyk a difficult time before losing a majority decision. Dorticos was stopped late in the 12th round of a humdinger of a fight with Murat Gassiev, a match contested on Gassiev’s turf in Russia

Breidis and Dorticos looked impressive in advancing to the finals of Season 2, albeit Briedis’s third round stoppage of Krzysztof Glowacki was mired in controversy. He decked Glowacki three times, the first with an elbow and the second after the bell ending round 2 while visiting Nevada referee Robert Byrd, who turned 77 this past New Year’s Eve, was out to lunch. Dorticos lived up to his nickname “KO Doctor” with a highlight reel 10th round knockout of Andrew Tabiti. Both fights were held on the same card in Riga which has become something of the unofficial home of the WBSS 200-pound tournament.

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Wilder, Fury Both Believe Providence is on Their Side

Bernard Fernandez

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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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Wilder – Fury Predictions & Analyses from the TSS Panel of Writers

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Whenever there is a big fight with a high level of intrigue, we survey members of our writing community to get their thoughts. In terms of pre-fight intrigue, Saturday’s rematch in Las Vegas between fellow unbeatens Deontay Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KOs) and Tyson Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs) ranks among the top heavyweight title fights of all time.

As is our usual custom, we are listing our panelists alphabetically. The graphic is by Colorado comic book cover artist ROB AYALA whose work has attracted a lot of buzz. Ayala’s specialty is combat sports. Check out more of his very cool work at his web site fight posium.

MATT ANDRZEJEWSKI — In the first fight, my prediction was that Fury would easily out-box Wilder. I am sticking to my guns with the same prediction for the second fight. I know Fury is making a lot of noise about knocking out Wilder but I think this is more psychological than anything else. Fury will box cautiously behind the jab, pick his spots to counter and focus very carefully on his defense. He is not going to go for the knockout and will turn this into an even more tactical affair than the first fight. But he will be more successful this time and coast to a wide unanimous decision victory.

BERNARD FERNANDEZ — Fury is saying he’s going to meet Wilder in the center of the ring and take him out in two rounds. I’m guessing that’s a ruse, so I don’t put much stock in it. But even if the big Brit elects to outbox Wilder over 12 rounds, which he is capable of doing, that means he has to avoid getting clocked with a huge right hand for 12 rounds. Gotta go with the home run hitter here. Wilder by KO or stoppage in eight rounds.

JEFFREY FREEMAN — Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder are equally charged with restoring much needed prestige to the heavyweight division in America. It’s a long slow slog. As a result, the powers caring about this have to be careful not to give away what they can sell. That’s why the first Wilder-Fury fight was called a draw. Neither fighter can afford a loss on their undefeated record and Bob Arum won’t be giving paying fans an actual result in exchange for their hard earned PPV dollars. Not yet anyway. So, it’s going to happen again! Wilder-Fury II ends in another draw but don’t worry, you can pay for the trilogy rubber-match “tie breaker” spectacular soon enough!

ARNE LANG – We performed this exercise before the first-Wilder Fury fight. No one was more bullish on Wilder than me. Properly chastened, I am going to pass the buck this time. Here are the observations of a long-time friend who resides on the Isle of Man and is known for having a sharp opinion: “Fury was cut badly in his last fight and will be very cautious, having tasted Wilder’s power. Training at Kronk isn’t the same without Manny Steward there. Fury has had multiple distractions and I don’t regard him as a world class puncher. DW has 36 minutes to land the one punch that will turn the tide.”

KELSEY McCARSON — Can you imagine what Deontay Wilder might feel on fight night? Across the ring from him will again be Tyson Fury, the same fighter who ate Wilder’s best punch and got back up on his feet. The only other time Wilder didn’t score a knockout was when he faced Bermane Stiverne in 2015. But Wilder broke his right hand in that fight, so he could explain that mystery away until he got the rematch with Stiverne two years later and ended up folding him in half in the first round like a lawn chair. But neither of Wilder’s hands were broken against Fury. Worse for the 34-year-old American is that Fury outboxed him for the majority of the fight. I like Fury to win the rematch by decision. Wilder will overcommit on his punches, and Fury will box his ears off for the clear victory.

MATT McGRAIN — Predicting a Tyson Fury fight is rather like predicting the weather. Even with all the pertinent information on hand it’s impossible to know exactly what will occur. Fury has been running less but reportedly sparring more; he has spoken openly of targeting 270lbs for the weigh-in; he has a new trainer who may or may not be motivating him; he has looked consistently bored and disinterested at more recent pressers; he has spoken openly of the crushing depression that envelopes him every Sunday. So, we might get an overweight, disinterested, under-motivated Fury on Saturday night. And he still might win. Put me down for Fury on points, but the right answer is, ‘nobody knows’.

SEAN NAM — Tyson Fury’s body may be as taut as its ever been, but his mind is in free-floating mode these days. Between hinting at an early retirement and opening up about certain sexual proclivities, Fury seems to have one foot perpetually out of the ring. In fact, ever since he linked up with Top Rank, it has been one big, gaudy publicity tour after another for the Manchester man. A stint with the WWE, the publication of his autobiography (as though his legacy in the ring had already been set in stone), and repeated desires to fight in an MMA crossover bout give the impression that Fury may not be as dialed-in for the most important fight of his life. Not to mention, Fury inexplicably canned his former trainer, Ben Davison. Meanwhile, Deontay Wilder, he of the thunderous right-hand fame, has been quiet as a church mouse. Wilder TKO9.

TED SARES –  An in-shape Fury schools Wilder in the early to mid rounds with focus and discipline, but then Wilder’s right connects and a stunned Fury backs off. Wilder then presses the action and KOs the giant in the next round – maybe the 9th or 10th – with a windmill shot (left or right) or a paralyzing straight ala Breazeale. We know Fury can go down. We know he can get up. But so also do Wilder and Mark Breland.

PHIL WOOLEVER – Wilder’s KO percentage gives him the coin-flip edge (Fury better remember what happened to Stiverne) but I have no clear idea what might happen where I see another draw just as likely as a decision either way. What intrigues me most are the over/under bet propositions listed around the 11th (take the under) and the possibility of this rematch joining a list of outrageous circumstances like the long count, ear bite or paraglider.

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Wilder vs. Fury: What History Tells Us About the Boxer and the Puncher

Matt McGrain

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Wilder vs. Fury: What History Tells Us About the Boxer and the Puncher

Jack Dempsey was “so badly out-boxed and out-classed” according to pre-eminent newspaper man Damon Runyon “he seemed more of a third-rater than one of the greatest champions that ever lived.”

“Gene Tunney is the best man I ever fought,” said Dempsey himself. “But if we ever meet again, I’ll beat him. There’s no maybe about that, either. He’s a grand man and a great fighter, but I know I can stop him.”

“Time after time,” wrote ringside reporter David Avila of the first Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury fight, “Wilder’s windmill rights hit air.” But here the Dempsey-Tunney comparisons end. Wilder did find Fury, dropping him “hard and seemingly for good” in the twelfth, Fury undertook his miracle recovery and the unsatisfactory draw was rendered.

What about this Saturday’s rematch? And what about the Tunney-Dempsey rematch? And what about other heavyweight rematches where the puncher and the boxer met for a second time, and what do they tell us about the upcoming meeting between the best and second-best heavyweight on the planet?

The first months of boxer Gene Tunney’s heavyweight championship reign were troubled. He incurred the wrath of New York’s press and public who preferred their champions humble and brutal. Tunney was neither and was actually booed in Madison Square Garden when presented to the crowd two weeks after his triumph. Dempsey was subjected to a two-minute standing ovation that same night, a new experience for him.

Dempsey, the puncher, wrestled with uncertainty about his fistic future before matching the mercurial Jack Sharkey, who was immediately installed as an 8-5 favorite. Here parallels begin to emerge between Dempsey and Wilder who both elected to meet serious opposition behind their nightmare encounter with pure boxers, although Wilder certainly wasn’t an underdog for his November 2019 encounter with Luis Ortiz. Ortiz, like Sharkey, was technically superb and more skilled than his respective punching opponent. Just as Ortiz was able to outbox Wilder throughout their contest, Sharkey set all kinds of problems for Dempsey who struggled to impose himself despite Sharkey’s determination to fight him in the pocket.

And like Ortiz, Sharkey fell victim to a brutal knockout though Dempsey’s victory was awash with controversy and the accusation of a finishing low blow that even modern analysis of fight footage cannot settle. Each man was rescued by his power in a significant fight staged before their respective rematches. But how did Dempsey fare with Tunney second time around?

What was both different and exciting about the second fight was Tunney’s overwhelming confidence in meeting Dempsey’s fire with fire. He didn’t seek a brawl, but he did seek to smother Dempsey’s work on the inside while sharing space with him. Tunney had experienced Dempsey and found him wanting; he dominated their first fight so completely that he feels, now, that he can take certain liberties with his man.

Fury talks like this may be his own thinking. He feels, and is right in my view, that his dominance in the first fight was legitimate, for all that he found himself on the ground looking up. He now talks openly about knocking Wilder out. There is a certain kind of consistency in his thinking; he ruled before and so can rule more directly now. He’s also hyping a fight though, and we all know how that works.

Fury should note that Tunney went straight back to the box-and-move strategy that brought him success in the first fight; he should also note that Tunney was able to hurt Dempsey by bringing him on to accurate punches he himself was sitting down on, especially in the fourth. Finally, it’s worth noting that after ten hot rounds it was Dempsey, not Tunney, who was struggling to reach the final bell despite the latter’s trip to the canvas in the seventh. Just like Fury, Tunney climbed from the canvas and by the end of the round was out-boxing the puncher.

In summary, Tunney became a little over-confident, much to the disgust of his cornerman Jimmy Bronson who repeatedly warned him that he was becoming neglectful of the Dempsey left. For Dempsey, there appears to be no secured advantage from having previously boxed ten rounds with Tunney. He drew a comparable blank to his first effort, despite the knockdown.

Billy Conn was unable to recreate Gene Tunney’s success against the even more fearsome Joe Louis in the 1946 rematch of their legendary 1941 encounter. In that first fight, Conn, contrary to the popular retelling, hadn’t so much hit and run as stayed in the champion’s wheelhouse and tried to stay on him, a declared strategy but one Conn surprised everyone by following through on. In the second fight, Conn froze: “this is going to be the worst fight ever” he told his father-in-law minutes before the ringwalk. Here the balance of power shifted in favor of the puncher mainly due to the ravages of time and the excessive toll they take on the boxer’s legs as opposed to the puncher’s power; Conn substituted his fighting retreat of five years before with a straight-up retreat and was dusted off in eight.

Louis excelled in rematches. Lee Ramage made it to the eighth in their first contest but seemed near death such was the destruction of the knockout he suffered in just two rounds of their rematch.  Max Schmeling, famously, out-boxed and out-thought the great Brown Bomber in their first fight in 1936 but was summarily executed in a single round of their rematch. Bob Pastor made Louis “look silly” according to some, and even managed to win a couple of rounds of their 1937 contest; Louis became the first man to stop him in their 1939 rematch. Godoy, Simon, Buddy Baer, all suffered terribly in rematches for one reason: Louis had learned how they moved.

This is the real disaster for any box mover and although he excelled in rematches against all styles, Louis is the ultimate example of this. He may have struggled to find his man on occasion, but once he did, he had found him forever.

Most famously of all, this fate befell Joe Walcott, who extended Louis the full fifteen in the first fight but was brutally dispatched in the rematch. Walcott was a master boxer, a man so smooth he seemed to have been poured rather than born, but he was as susceptible to the heatseeking puncher as the next man. He bedeviled Rocky Marciano in 1952, seemed ahead of him at every turn until, finally, caught by the Rock in the thirteenth he was undone. In the second fight, the puncher found the boxer in just a single round, Walcott decoded by Marciano just as he had been by Louis.

What about Wilder?  Does he have that kind of fighting IQ?  Can he unravel a boxer of Tyson Fury’s quality having put a serious glove on him twice in the first fight?

It’s a confused picture, but there is data: Wilder has boxed two interesting rematches.  The first was against Bermane Stiverne in 2017, having previously handily out-boxed him in 2015. As a promotional prospect it hardly set the grass alight, but in fairness, Stiverne had remained ranked and fought in one of Wilder’s more reasonable title defenses. The fight itself was butchery, and if it were to be analyzed as a part of a pattern it wall fall firmly onto the Louis side of the equation: Wilder learned about Stiverne in the first fight and crushed him in the second fight.

Wilder’s more recent rematch with Ortiz contradicts that notion. It ended, once again, in a savage knockout for Wilder, and that, once again, hints at his having unlocked his man, but in fact Ortiz was once more completely out-boxing Wilder at the time of the stoppage. Wilder, I thought, was even beginning to become a little uncertain.

By the time of the second Stiverne fight Stiverne was on the slide having last won a meaningful fight nearly four years previously, and but one more fight and loss from retirement. Wilder had also improved, and some of his gliding offense belied his reputation at times. The combination is what makes Wilder’s destruction of Stiverne look so Louis-like, I think.

In the second fight with Ortiz, we saw a truer Wilder. Tyson Fury has named him “a seven-year-old with an AK-47.”  This sounds a little like Furybabble, but it’s actually rather succinct. Wilder is indeed over-armed relative to his technique and he throws punches that are wildly under-schooled. But that is a part of what makes him so dangerous.

Re-watching him in the second Ortiz fight I was struck by the notion of a wind-up toy rather than a child, a persistent and vitally dangerous one. Wilder didn’t so much decode his opposition as deploy himself with consistent venom and opportunism. It’s a fundamental and sinister combination that clearly makes him difficult to face but I don’t think he’s learning in the way Louis or Marciano learned. I think he’s “just” improving, and a heinous puncher.

What that means for the Wilder-Fury rematch is that the specific nature of the contest will be decided by Fury. It will be he who decides whether to try to out-box the puncher while moving as we saw in Dempsey-Tunney, smother and out-fight the puncher as we saw in Louis-Conn I, or even duel the puncher, something like what we saw Archie Moore try with Marciano. Fury decides. Wilder will just be Wilder.

It all comes down then to Fury’s choice and to each man’s relative preparedness for it. Has Wilder guessed right?  And has Fury? A poor selection on strategy would be disastrous.

Lastly, have I got this wrong?  If Wilder decoded Stiverne for the devastating second knockout, if he decoded Ortiz thereby stopping him sooner, if he’s channeling Joe Louis in seeing more the second time around, I think there is only one possible winner, whatever version of Tyson Fury shows.

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