It seems as though were are on a great streak of "big fights" in boxing, as they keep delivering on the promised action. Except every time one of these fights goes the distance veteran fans of the sport have to throw up their hands and say “well, let’s see if they get it right this time.” On Saturday night, after Tyson Fury gave Deontay Wilder a lesson on the finer points of boxing for 12 rounds, minus 2 knockdowns, the result came out a split decision draw. One judge, Alejandro Rochin, scored Wilder as the winner of seven rounds. Plenty has been written about just how easy it is for a promoter to pressure or woo a judge over before the fight, but whether this result was bought and paid for beforehand we’ll never know, because it is just so easy to hide the responsible officials behind the excuse of an "off night." Yet in the grand theme of boxing we say forget about the decision and let us discuss the action.
Going into this fight there were a number of fighters who had given Wilder trouble. Bermane Stiverne toughed his way to a decision in his first fight with Wilder but he didn’t show an awful lot of anything except toughness. Gerald Washington did surprisingly well despite being a no-name replacement. Washington applied the jab and some rudimentary feints and had Wilder off balance and out of rhythm. Luis Ortiz, a southpaw, moved on Wilder and kept him turning in addition to using a good southpaw jab and threading the left hand down the center when he could. Each of those fighters met the canvas eventually when Wilder’s right hand found the mark, but each gave valuable insights into the flaws in Wilder’s game.
Fury, as expected, moved and jabbed and every moment that he did so, Wilder had no answers. Fury has always moved exceptionally well for a man his size and everything that he does in the ring is practiced down to habit. There is little denying that in the traditional sense, Wilder is a superior athlete, but Wilder began in boxing at the shockingly late age of 20. Fury had been throwing hands for the best part of two decades at that point.
One surprising aspect of the giant vs. giant match up is that it often opens up a lot of avenues that aren’t there for these men when they box shorter opponents. Tyson Fury rarely has a need to get underneath his opponents’ punches, and yet against Wilder he was dipping at the knees or bending at the waist to get underneath Wilder’s wide rights. This is doubly interesting when you think that Fury’s height was expected to make the right hand more difficult to connect—instead of standing tall he generally went under it.
When Gerald Washington fought Wilder, Wilder got into the habit of pulling his head straight back away from Washington’s jabs. Washington wasn’t a great boxer but he began to put a shoulder feint in front of his jab and then catch Wilder once the champion had already leaned away. Fury looked to exploit this from the very beginning, constantly pumping his lead shoulder before stepping in with legitimate jabs. Almost every Fury lead was preceded by a period of feinting in order to make Wilder lean or show his hand.
Fury’s use of the lead hand was varied. Sometimes his jab was stiff, other times his hand was loose in his glove and he was simply backhanding. Often when Wilder threw his overhand right, Fury would stiff arm over Wilder’s right shoulder in what Edwin Haislet termed a "leverage guard." This is something Daniel Cormier has had great success with in the UFC’s heavyweight division, but is a must for a taller boxer because it can often be used to keep a fighter safe off a missed jab—keeping the shoulder and back between the opponent’s right hand and the fighter’s jaw—and slides the taller man straight into the clinch.
Notice how Fury stays down behind his lead shoulder both when leverage guarding over Wilder’s shoulder, or simply palming him in the face.
The fight heated up in the ninth round when a Wilder right hand found Fury and saw him take a knee. Fury soon recovered and got back to work, but in the 12th round Wilder found the connection that he had needed all fight. Straightening up his right hand, Wilder caught Fury mid-duck, and followed with a left hook which snapped the Gypsy King’s head around as he fell. For an instant it seemed as though Fury was done as he lay flat on his back.
Then he opened his eyes, sat up and beat the count. It was not only remarkable on Fury’s part, but also on the part of the referee. Many refs would have immediately waved off the fight and had their hand in Fury’s mouth looking for his gumshield by the time Fury actually got up.
But that was just the beginning of a great round. Fury got up and immediately called Wilder on, cracking him with a counter right hand and a left hook. This is the mark of a truly savvy fighter—there are only a few things to do when you’re hurt and no single one of them is always the right answer. You can tie up, you can try to run, or—if you’re very brave and savvy—you can try to land a good counter and put doubt into the opponent for just long enough to get your senses back.
Fury landed his shots and suddenly Wilder was accepting the tie ups and back to throwing one punch at a time with lengthy intermissions. The windmill—as fans have termed Wilder’s all out flurries when he is chasing the finish—never materialized. The final round ended with Fury, who many will argue had been out cold briefly just minutes before, walking Wilder down.
The result was a little disappointing when you consider the magnitude of Fury’s comeback from drug abuse, mental illness, and enormous weight gain. Especially when you remember that Wilder’s belt would have looked brilliant on an all British title unifier between Fury and Anthony Joshua. Some are looking forward to a Wilder-Fury rematch but Fury himself has said he is unsure as to the contractual situation. A rematch clause was included in the event of either man winning but apparently overlooked the event of a draw. In some ways this is reminiscent of when Don King promoted Eubank vs. Benn II and had both fighters contractually locked in under his management in the event of a win or loss, but ultimately lost out on both because he hadn’t considered a draw. And while we cannot do anything to stop Fury-Wilder going down as yet another story of "good fight but bad judging," a great way to cheer up most boxing fans is to remind them of times Don King didn’t get what he wanted.
Whatever comes next, Tyson Fury has managed to win over those who thought he was an oversized oaf in the right place at the right time when he beat Klitschko. Already the shortest reigning heavyweight world champion of all time, and stripped of his belt without losing it, this latest strange turn in the career of Tyson Fury is just par for the course.