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Tyson Fury Goes on the Offensive For Rematch With Wilder

Bernard Fernandez

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Tyson Fury Goes on the Offensive For Rematch With Wilder

It has been said that a kangaroo is a horse designed by a committee, but nature tends to work best when a horse doesn’t try to be anything but a horse and a kangaroo happily remains a kangaroo. But that doesn’t stop the experimenters among us, always looking to modify what was or is, from fiddling with the status quo in an effort to produce a new and hopefully superior version of something.

When lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs) enters the ring for his rematch with WBC titlist Deontay Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KOs) on Feb. 22 at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, he won’t exactly be a patchwork kangaroo with a few residual equine traits. Nor will he have three trainers, all of whom have had their turn constructing the “Gypsy King” to their preferred specifications, working his corner that night. The last of that trio of chief seconds is recently hired Javan “Sugar” Hill, nephew of the late, great overseer of Detroit’s legendary Kronk Gym, Emanuel Steward. Manny, a 1996 inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame who was 68 when he died in 2012, was like a pass-happy offensive coordinator in football, as are his disciples, all partial to high-scoring contests in which their guy wins by making more splashy big plays (think knockdowns and impressive displays of power-punching) than whomever is working the other sideline and playing D.

There are two ways, and two ways only, to win any athletic contest or boxing match. One is to score more than the other side; the other is to allow the other side to score less than you do. Those objectives might sound the same, but they are fundamentally worlds apart. Rare is the team or fighter equally adept at mastering both strategies and employing them interchangeably.

Hill takes the place of the more defense-oriented Ben Davison, jettisoned after his most recent outing as Fury’s coach du jour, a unanimous but nonetheless worrisome decision over Sweden’s Otto Wallin on Sept. 14, 2019, at the MGM Grand, a bout in which Fury incurred an ugly gash over his right eye that required 47 total stitches to close. It would not have been a travesty of justice had referee Tony Weeks or the ring physician stopped the fight at some point in the later rounds and awarded the underdog Scandinavian southpaw a shocking upset victory.

“I had a good defensive coach in Ben Davison,” Fury, who also will have a new cut man, “Stitch” Duran, noted of the young trainer who took the place of his original trainer and uncle, Peter Fury, who also was determined to be lacking in some way. “We worked a lot on defense every single day for two years. It was defense, defense, defense.

“But I needed an aggressive trainer. I worked with Sugar Hill in the past. I knew he was a good guy. I knew we got on well, which was very important. Communication is key to any relationship. That’s why I brought him in. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Now that he is better acquainted with the attacking Kronk methods passed on by Steward to Hill and some of his other assistants, it is little wonder that the 31-year-old Fury is uncharacteristically predicting a second-round knockout of Wilder, whose modus operandi is always the same: throw right-hand bombs -until one connects and dude laying on the canvas has been counted out. If you want to call the “Bronze Bomber” from Tuscaloosa, Ala., a one-trick pony, that’s all right. He knows who and what he is, and he makes no apologies for unalterably adhering to the singular principle that has made him one of the hardest-hitting heavyweights of all time, and arguably the biggest bopper ever, according to Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum, who promotes Fury. You wouldn’t think Arum would approve of Fury, a clearly more polished boxer, choosing to slug it out with Wilder in the center of the ring, but, as always, there are different paths to victory. The best fight plan indisputably is whichever one works.

“I have confidence in Tyson,” Arum said of his new-look heavyweight headliner. “There are guys who say they’re going to knock out their opponent, but it’s like a baseball player getting up to the plate and trying to hit a home run. Anybody who knows baseball will say that the guy who looks to make contact has a better chance to hit a home run than the guy that’s swinging from his heels.”

A let-’er-fly guy like Wilder, in other words.

“Tyson is a great boxer, but he has the determination to knock out Wilder,” Arum continued. “He’s not going to force it, but the knockout will come. Unlike the first fight, when he got Wilder into trouble – and Wilder was in trouble a couple of times – he’s not going to let him off the hook.”

To Fury’s way of thinking, the huge Briton – when you’re 6-foot-9 and 254½ pounds, as the badly bleeding Gypsy King was for his excursion into the danger zone against Wallin – the only certainty of outcome is when the winner snatches the pencils out of the judges’ hands. In their first clash, on Dec. 1, 2018, in Los Angeles’ Staples Center, Fury was floored twice, a flash knockdown in the ninth round and something far more perilous in the 12th and final round, but he barely beat referee Jack Reiss’ count and somehow managed to stay upright for more than two minutes until the final bell.

The outcome – a split draw – satisfied neither Wilder, who figured two knockdowns should have given him the edge, nor Fury, who seemingly stockpiled most of the non-knockdown rounds as a squirrel might horde acorns for the winter. The tabulations read 115-111 for Wilder on Alejandro Rochin’s scorecard, 114-112 for Fury on Robert Tapper’s, and 113-113 on the one submitted by swing judge Phil Edwards.

“I didn’t get the decision because I didn’t keep working on my boxing,” Fury said. “I believe I can outbox Deontay Wilder very comfortable, but the fact of the matter is I outboxed him very comfortable the last time. But it’s no good me believing it; the judges have to believe it. To guarantee victory, I’ve got to get a knockout. I don’t want another controversial decision.

“Look, I’m not a judge. They see what they see. That’s what they get paid to do. This time my destiny lies in my own two fists.”

But what of the presumed imbalance of power? What if Wilder really does wield the biggest hammer in heavyweight history? Won’t going toe-to-toe with him be like engaging Babe Ruth in home run derby or Michael Jordan in a slam-dunk competition?

“That was one of my easiest fights,” Fury said of his first go at Wilder. “Other than the two knockdowns it was a pretty much one-sided fight. I’ve had fights much harder than that. My toughest opponent was Steve Cunningham, the former cruiserweight champion (who decked Fury in the second round of their April 20, 2013, bout in New York before finally succumbing on a seventh-round stoppage). It was my first step up to anybody with that type of ability. He was slick and hard to hit, awkward but a very good boxer.”

It is Fury’s contention that his various trainers have supplied him with the versatility to enter the lion’s den and emerge relatively unscathed, while Wilder lacks the imagination and ability to go to a Plan B, if indeed he has one.

“I think there’s nothing to worry about,” Fury said of what he expects from Wilder. “He’s got a big right hand and that’s it. He’s a one-dimensional fighter. The one who should be concerned is Deontay Wilder. He had me down twice, but he couldn’t finish me. He landed the two best punches any heavyweight in the world could ever land on somebody else and the Gypsy King rose, like a phoenix, from the ashes.

“I’m match-fit, I’m ready, I’m confident, I’m injury-free. I’m ready for a war, one round or 12. And when I get him hurt, I’ll throw everything but the kitchen sink at him. He won’t know what hit him.”

Maybe. But if another stylistic makeover on short notice doesn’t yield the desired result, Tyson Fury could wind up looking like the horse that tried to be a kangaroo.

Wilder-Fury II can be accessed via ESPN+ and Fox Pay-Per-View. The suggested list price is $79.99.

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The Fight of the Century: A Golden Anniversary Celebration

Arne K. Lang

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In professional boxing, fights can be rank-ordered as generic fights, big fights, bigger fights, mega-fights, and spectacles. The first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier wasn’t merely a spectacle, but the grandest spectacle of them all. This coming Monday, March 8, is the 50th anniversary of that iconic event.

Ali-Frazier I was staged at three-year-old Madison Square Garden, the fourth arena in New York to take that name. It drew a capacity crowd: 20,455 (19,500 paid). An estimated 60 percent of all the tickets sold fell into the hands of scalpers.

The fight was closed-circuited to more than 350 locations in the United States and Canada. At some of the larger venues, it established a new record for gate receipts, and this for an attraction that wasn’t produced in-house. In Los Angeles, 15,333 saw the fight at the Forum and 11,575 at the nearby Sports Arena.

Bill Ballenger, the sports editor of the Charlotte (NC) News, saw the fight at the Charlotte Coliseum. He reported that the audio – Don Dunphy did the blow-by-blow with Burt Lancaster and Archie Moore serving as color commentators – was loud enough to be heard outside the arena and that many folks, either unable or unwilling to purchase a ticket, loitered outside and followed the action in 30 degrees weather.

An estimated three hundred million people saw the fight worldwide. In England, by some estimates, half the population tuned in, watching either at home on BBC1 or at a theater where one could watch the fight unfold on a movie screen. Now keep in mind that in England the fight didn’t commence until 6:40 in the morning on a Tuesday!

Inside Madison Square Garden, the large flock of celebrities included many folks one wouldn’t expect to find at a prizefight. Marcello Mastroianni, Italy’s most famous movie star, made a special trip from Rome. Salvador Dali was there and Barbra Streisand and Ethel Kennedy, widow of Bobby Kennedy, seated next to her escort, crooner Andy Williams. Frank Sinatra was there working as a photographer for Life magazine. Lore has it that Sinatra wangled the assignment after failing to boat one of the coveted ringside seats.

The scene was made brighter by human “peacocks,” the label applied to Harlemites with an outrageous sense of fashion, and the electricity was palpable. When Ali appeared at the back of the arena, making his way from his dressing room to the ring, everyone had goosebumps.

The late, great New York sportswriter Dick Young once wrote that there is no greater drama than in the moments preceding a big heavyweight title fight and that was never more true than on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden.

Ali (31-0, 25 KOs) and Frazier (26-0, 23 KOs) were both undefeated. Both had a claim to the heavyweight title, Ali because the belt had been controversially stripped away from him for his political beliefs. Opinions as to who would win were pretty evenly divided. In Las Vegas, Joe Frazier was the favorite at odds of 6 to 5. Across the pond in England, bookies were quoting odds of 11 to 8 on Ali.

Those that favored Ali were of the opinion that ‘Smokin’ Joe was too one-dimensional. That much was true. Joe was as subtle as a steam locomotive on a downhill grade. He ate Ali’s hardest punches, said Boston Globe reporter Bud Collins, as if they were movie house popcorn and he eventually wore Ali down. There was little doubt as to how the judges would see it after Joe knocked Ali down in the 15th round with a frightful left hook. When Ali arose, it appeared that he had been afflicted with a sudden case of the mumps. The decision was unanimous: 11-4, 9-6, 8-6-1.

This wasn’t the greatest fight of all time, but it was a fight that more than lived up to the hype. And, as several people have noted, the event took on a life of its own without the benefit of modern technology to push it along. The buzz was fueled in a large part by newspapers, the “antiquated” sort of newspapers that a fellow fished from his driveway or purchased at a newsstand on the way to or from work. If twitter and facebook had been around during Muhammad Ali’s prime, Ali would have blown the doors off the internet.

A cultural touchstone is an event that remains sealed in our memory. As we slide into old age, if we are lucky enough to live that long, we may not remember what we had for breakfast in the morning, but some long-ago events are as vivid as if they had happened just yesterday.

Boxing historian Frank Lotierzo has written poignantly about how overjoyed he was when he was surprised with the news that his father would be taking him to the fight. “To this day it remains the biggest thrill of my life!” wrote Lotierzo, who was then in the seventh grade. “And it’s not even close!”

I didn’t see the fight, but I can recall the faces of people that I overheard talking about it, people whose interest in the fight struck me as odd as I knew they had little interest in the world of sports. So, when the fight is replayed in its entirety on Sunday – it airs on ABC at 2 p.m ET and again at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN – I will be watching it for the first time. And it will be bittersweet as I will be reminded that I am in the twilight of my life and my thoughts will inevitably drift to my friends and loved ones that have left this mortal world in the years since that grand night in 1971 when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier locked horns in the Fight of the Century.

I get misty-eyed just thinking about it.

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Yoka TKO 12 Djeko in France: Claressa Pitches a Shutout on Ladies Day in Flint

Arne K. Lang

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Yoka TKO 12 Djeko in France: Claressa Pitches a Shutout on Ladies Day in Flint

March 8 is International Women’s Day which is actually a formal holiday in many parts of the globe. It was somehow fitting that female boxers were on display on the Friday feeding into it, a weekend without a must-see attraction on the men’s side.

Today’s activity began in the French port city of Nantes where 2016 Olympic gold medal winners Tony Yoka and Estelle Mossely, husband and wife, kept their undefeated records intact, both advancing to 10-0, against European opponents. Yoka (10-0, 8 KOs) was matched against Joel “Big Joe” Djeko (17-3-1), a 31-year-old Brussels native of Congolese and Cuban extraction who had fought most of his career as a cruiserweight. Mossely, a lightweight who now goes by Yoka-Mossely, drew Germany’s Verena Kaiser (14-2).

At the Rio Olympiad, Yoka got by Filip Hrgovic in the semis and Joe Joyce in the finals to win the gold, winning both bouts by split decision. Both would be favored over the Frenchman in a rematch fought under professional rules.

Against the six-foot-six Djeko, Yoka controlled the fight with his jab, repeatedly backing his foe against the ropes. Very few of Djeko’s punches got through Yoka’s high guard. Had the fight gone to the scorecards, it would have been a rout for Yoka, but it didn’t quite get there as Djeko turned his back on the proceedings midway through the 12th round after absorbing a sharp jab and it went into the books as a TKO for Yoka. At stake was some kind of European title or a derivation thereof.

Mossely’s fight with Kaiser, slated for 10 two-minute rounds, followed a somewhat similar tack, save that it went the full distance. With only one knockout to her credit at the pro level, Mosseley, typical of female boxers, lacks a knockout punch. But she’s a good technician and had too much class for the German.

Flint

A Covid-19 limited crowd of perhaps 300 was on hand to watch hometown heroine Claressa Shields oppose IBF 154-pound title-holder Marie Eve Dicaire at a 4,400-seat arena in Flint. There were five bouts on the undercard, three of which were women’s bouts.

Claressa

Claressa Shields

Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was seeking to become a four-belt title-holder in a second weight class, having previously turned the trick at 160. Dicaire, a 34-year-old southpaw, brought a 17-0 record but she had never won a fight inside the distance and all of her previous bouts took place in French-speaking Canada.

The self-proclaimed GWOAT, Shields has no peer between 154 and 168 pounds. Heading into this contest, she had hardly lost a round since meeting Hanna Gabriels and tonight was another total whitewash, her fourth overall in 10-round fights.

Claressa Shields, now 11-0 (2) may be too good for her own good. Her fights are so one-sided that they are monotonous. Her TV ratings have actually been falling. Today’s show was a $29.99 pay-per-view on FITE when the established networks refused to meet her purse demands. It will be interesting to see how many tuned in.

In another fight of note, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza, in her first fight as a bantamweight, dominated Toronto’s Shelly Barnett en route to winning a 6-round unanimous decision. There were no knockdowns, but the scorecards (60-54, 60-53 twice) were indicative of Esparza’s dominance.

Esparza, who pushed her record to 9-1 (1), came in ranked #1 by the WBC in the flyweight class. Her lone defeat came at the hands of rugged Seniesa Estrada. Barnett declined to 4-4-3.

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Brandon Adams Bursts Bohachuk’s Bubble in Puerto Rico

Arne K. Lang

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Brandon Adams Bursts Bohachuk’s Bubble in Puerto Rico

Ring City USA, a new promotional entity, debuted on Nov. 19, 2020 with a show staged in the parking lot of Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA. Ring City stayed outdoors for their first offering of 2021, but the company was a long ways from California. Tonight’s card was staged on a roundabout near a municipal gym in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

The headline attraction was an attractive match between junior middleweights Serhii Bohachuk and Brandon Adams. The bout was originally set for Dec. 3, but had to be pushed back when Bohachuk tested positive for the coronavirus.

Bohachuk, a 25-year-old California-based Ukrainian, had stopped all 18 of his previous opponents. He had never gone past six rounds. Brandon Adams, a former world title challenger, represented a step up in class.

Bohachuk was well on his way to winning a unanimous decision when the tide turned dramatically in round eight. Fighting on a slick canvas, Adams suddenly found a new gear, unloading a series of punches climaxed by a thunderous left hook as Bohachuk retreated. The Ukrainian beat the count, but was teetering on unsteady legs and the referee properly called a halt.

Adams was without his regular trainer, 80-year-old Dub Huntley, who remained back in LA as a health precaution. In winning, he elevated his records to 23-3 (15). It was his best performance since defeating Shane Mosley Jr in the finals of Season 5 of the “Contender” series.

In the co-feature, an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rico’s Bryan Chevalier improved to 15-1-1 (12) with a third-round stoppage of Peru’s Carlos Zambrano (26-2). Chevalier scored two knockdowns, the first a sweeping left hook that appeared to land behind Zambrano’s head, and the second a punch to the liver that left Zambrano in severe distress. The referee waived the fight off in mid-count.

The official time was 2:21. Chevalier, a tall featherweight (5’11”) made a very impressive showing; he bears watching. This was Zambrano’s first fight since April of 2017 when he was knocked out in the opening round by Claudio Marrero in a bout for the WBA interim featherweight title.

The TV opener was an entertaining fight between contrasting styles that produced a weird conclusion when Danielito Zorrilla was awarded a technical decision over Ruslan Madiyev. The bout was stopped at the 1:16 mark of round eight after Zorrilla sank to his knees after absorbing a punch to the back of the head. The ringside physician examined him for evidence of a concussion, but ultimately it was Zorrilla’s choice as to whether the bout would continue. He declined and was reportedly taken to a hospital for observation.

Madiyev, a California-based Kazahk, was the aggressor. He fought the fight in Zorilla’s grill, often bullying him against the ropes. In round five, he had a point deducted for hitting behind the head, squandering what was arguably his best round.

The fight went to the scorecards with Zorrilla winning a split decision (77-74, 77-75, 73-76), thereby remaining undefeated: 15-0 (12). Ironically, Madiyev (13-2, 5 KOs), suffered his previous loss in a similar fashion.

Madiyev’s new trainer Joel Diaz reportedly discouraged his charge from taking this fight for fear that he wouldn’t get a fair shake in Puerto Rico. Diaz’s apprehensions were well-founded.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Ring City USA

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