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Fury vs. Wilder Echoed Holmes-Shavers; Now the Gypsy King Has an Easier Assignment

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  • Fury vs. Wilder Echoed Holmes-Shavers; Now the Gypsy King Has an Easier Assignment

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    By Bernard Fernandez

    It’s not an exhibition bout per se, but Saturday night’s matchup of lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and Sweden’s Otto Wallin at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, to be streamed via ESPN+, almost certainly should be considered a mortal-lock victory for the “Gypsy King.” Fury, coming off a blowout of Tom Schwarz, is -3,500 according to the most recently posted wagering line, meaning you’d have to put up $3,500 on him to come away with a skimpy $100 profit. Wallin is a +1,300 long shot, both lines indicating that the Scandinavian southpaw absolutely should not be looked upon as a potential second coming of the late Ingemar Johansson. Despite his undeservedly high No. 4 ranking from the WBA, Wallin has about as legitimate a chance of taking down Fury as might Bjorn Ulvaeus, the 74-year-old singer/songwriter for the Swedish pop group ABBA, whose last single to chart in the U.S. was in 1981.

    Instead of his typical boasting, Fury (28-0-1, 20 KOs) is doing his darndest to portray the scheduled 12-rounder, if it lasts that long, as something akin to serious competition. He cites Wallin’s WBA ranking as proof that the Swedish mystery man (20-0, 13 KOs) isn’t merely a steppingstone on the way to a much-anticipated rematch with WBC champion Deontay Wilder, or maybe a go at the winner of the Dec. 7 do-over between WBA/IBF/WBO titlist Andy Ruiz Jr. (33-1, 22 KOs) and former unified champ Anthony Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs). If Fury elects to take an even bolder stab at acting humble, he might mention that, in his American debut on April 20, 2013, at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, he was on the wrong end of a flash knockdown in the second round against former cruiserweight king Steve Cunningham, who at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds and with an 82-inch reach, was giving away 44 pounds, six inches in height and three inches in reach. Fury regrouped from that momentary embarrassment and went on to win on a seventh-round stoppage.

    But, hey, that was then and this is now. Nobody ever knows with absolute certainty what will transpire inside the ropes, but it says here that the biggest, most-compelling heavyweight fight that can be made in the foreseeable future, even bigger and more compelling than Ruiz-Joshua II, is a second pairing of Wilder and Fury, who fought to a controversial, entertaining and ultimately inconclusive split draw on Dec. 1, 2018, at the Staples Center in LA.

    It is what happened in the 12th and final round of that fight that fully legitimized Fury in my mind, maybe even more so than his functional if excitement-deficient points dethronement of the long-reigning Wladimir Klitschko on Nov. 28, 2015 in Dusseldorf, Germany. It is easy for any talented fighter to look good when he is having his way with an outclassed opponent, quite another when that fighter has to pick himself off the deck against a power hitter accustomed to having his hand raised once he puts his man down and seemingly out.

    I would have liked to ask Fury if he answered any questions about himself by not only barely beating the count against Wilder, who to all the world appeared to think he had just registered his 41st exclamation-point victory in 42 bouts, but my request for a one-on-one telephone interview hit a snag while wending its way through channels. Still, like Earnie Shavers, another big bopper from another era with a ridiculous knockout percentage, Wilder can be excused for believing that Fury, who was nailed with a jolting overhand right and follow-up left hook before his shaven skull bounced hard off the canvas, was done for the night. Nor was the “Bronze Bomber” alone in that assumption.

    After Wilder sent an unmoving Fury flopping onto his back as if tranquilized, Showtime blow-by-blow announcer Mauro Ranallo nearly hyperventilated in screaming, “Deontay Wilder has done it!” But referee Jack Reiss had another idea and initiated a count that more than a few others in his position would have dispensed with. He had reached nine when Fury lurched to his feet, prompting analyst Paulie Malignaggi to say, almost in disbelief, “Wow, he got up.”

    Not only was Fury up, but after fending off a cavalry-charge attack by a disbelieving Wilder, he even dipped deep enough inside himself to carry the fight to the WBC champion in the closing moments.

    “At that moment (of the knockdown), did anyone in this arena really think Tyson Fury was going to get up?” veteran analyst Al Bernstein asked, rhetorically.

    “Guys, I thought the fight was over when Deontay Wilder dropped Fury,” Ranallo chipped in.

    Malignaggi then added another astute observation, noting that “maybe hitting the canvas woke (Fury) up.”

    The entire sequence of events reminded me of another fight, the rematch of WBC heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and knockout artist Shavers, on Sept. 28, 1979, at Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace. Holmes was riding his best weapon, a stinging, accurate, state-of-the-art jab, to a big lead on the scorecards when, in the final minute of the seventh round, Shavers – whose nickname, “The Acorn,” had been conferred upon him by Muhammad Ali – delivered a crushing right hand that had primarily contributed to 56 of his 58 inside-the-distance victories up to that point. Holmes went down as so many others had, rolled onto his side and decided, hey, I’ve come this far, why not get up and go a bit more?

    Shavers, as Wilder would nearly 39 years later, had raised his arms in exultation on his way to a neutral corner, so certain was he that he had just become heavyweight champion of the world. But when he turned around, Holmes was upright and prepared to carry on, which he did en route to winning via 11th-round TKO.

    “I always tell Earnie that he hit me too hard,” Holmes would often say later. “If he hadn’t hit me quite so damn hard, he would have knocked me out for sure. That punch actually kind of woke me up when I hit the floor.

    “Man, I still got knots in my head where he hit me. Earnie could punch very hard, incredibly hard. I hear people say, `Aw, man, he couldn’t possibly hit that hard as everybody says. They think that the stories about Earnie’s power are exaggerated. It’s no exaggeration. That power was real.”

    There are means, scientific means, of calibrating a boxer’s punching power. The usual formula is for them to drill a padded bag in which instruments are housed to measure pounds per square inch. But fight fans aren’t particularly geeky, and the word of a respected champion usually means more to them than a computer printout. In 2003 Shavers was listed as the 10th greatest puncher of all time by The Ring, which is understandable considering that Holmes, Muhammad Ali, Ken Norton, Ron Lyle, Tex Cobb and Joe Bugner all tabbed him as the hardest puncher they ever faced. Another list – aren’t all of these things subjective? – had Mike Tyson as the hardest-hitting heavyweight of all time with Shavers No. 6. Holmes fought both but was nearly 40 years of age and hadn’t fought for two years when, with scant time to train, he was stopped in four rounds by Tyson on Jan. 22, 1988.

    “There’s no doubt in my mind who hit the hardest – Earnie Shavers,” the “Easton Assassin” said when contacted for this story. “Mike Tyson hit me when I wasn’t in shape. I was in shape for Earnie Shavers, so when he hit me I was able to get up. Mike Tyson knocked me down and I got up, but I wasn’t in any kind of shape. If you’ve been off for two years and you don’t get a couple of months to get ready for a fight like that, you’re probably going to get knocked out.”

    It would be interesting if there was some way to accurately gauge the power of a Shavers, and the resiliency of an in-his-prime all-time great like Holmes, in relation to the power of Wilder and the recuperative powers of Fury. All any fight fan can do is to marvel at the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object, which is when any boxing match can elevate itself from sporting event to incredibly high drama.

    Here’s hoping that Wilder-Fury does not remain on the back burner much longer. Until it does come to pass, snack on the celery stalk of Fury vs. Wallin until the real entrée is served piping hot.

    Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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  • #2
    Ranallo is much better suited to the WWE. Not an insult, just a fact.