By Alan Hubbard
As many in boxing are aware I have had my run-ins with the old Tyson Fury but I have to say that now there is no one I currently admire more in boxing than the new one. The way he has turned around his life mentally and physically, in and out of the ring, is one of the most remarkable and praiseworthy sports stories of our time.
I say this despite the criticism, from some quarters, of his performance in Las Vegas last weekend. For me it was the second time this year that he has proved himself a true warrior of the ring.
First last December he superhumanly prised himself off the canvas in the last round against Deontay Wilder to earn far more than a credible draw with the WBC champion and now he has battled through one of the most horrendous eye wounds most of us have ever seen to come out a winner against Otto Wallin.
Okay, it was not the emphatic no-nonsense way he was expected to vanquish the unknown but unbeaten Swede, but to do so with his right eyebrow and eyelid virtually sliced to ribbons and his vision impaired for some nine rounds required not only tremendous courage but a large degree of skill. Plus considerable assistance from his superb Mexican cuts man Jorge Capetillo and the tolerance of top US referee Tony Weekes and the ringside doctor as well as his chief trainer Ben Davison. A combination of pluck and luck. That’s what makes champions.
All of which has led to considerable controversy. Should he have been allowed to continue with an injury reminiscent of those which used to be frequently sustained by Carmen Basilio in the Sugar Ray Robinson era. But the fact is he was and he came out with the vital W, keeping alive his pending return with Wilder in the New Year.
“Seconds Out” is probably the most familiar phrase in boxing but there are those in the dark old trade and think it should be “Seconds In” and that young Davison should have called a halt. But neither the referee nor Davison intervened and it could be argued that their reluctance at least saved Fury from defeat, as the original injury was caused by a legitimate punch.
By coincidence there is now similar criticism levelled at Anthony Joshua’s chief trainer Rob McCracken, who is also Great Britain Olympic head coach, for allowing the hitherto unbeaten AJ to continue for several more rounds against Andy Ruiz jnr last June after it was revealed in an interview, that he believed the boxer was concussed.
Joshua was floored twice in round three and twice in round seven against Ruize who captured the IBF, WBO and WBA world heavyweight titles at Madison Square Garden. During the fight, Joshua asked McCracken what round was next, and before the seventh, said: “Why am I feeling like this?” It was reported later that Joshua had suffered concussion. In both cases multi-million dollar world title rematches were at stake.
McCracken, 51, has said “concussion” was not the term he meant to use.
“I am not a doctor and it may be that concussed is not the right term to have used. The health of all the boxers I work with is of paramount importance to me and I have always used my judgement and experience to do what is right for them.”
Earlier, Davison had defended McCracken’s decision to allow Joshua to carry on. He said: “I don’t think the people who have criticised Rob have any knowledge or experience of boxing. When a fighter goes down, I would imagine that has some form of concussive effect every time.”
Davison himself had to field difficult questions after the Fury fight about his own non-intervention and also comments made by the fighter’s father, ex-heavyweight boxer Gypsy John Fury, who said his son looked “weak as a kitten” at 18st 1lb.”He had nothing after round two,” he told BT Sport.
The only thing I agree with him is that at 18st.1lb Fury was too light.
I wonder if part of the reason why the cuts happened is that he came in at his lightest ever, 18st 1lb, nine pounds lighter than against Tom Schwarz three months earlier.
Doctors will tell you that when you lose weight rapidly the skin tightens around the bones making areas like eyebrows more vulnerable to cuts from slicing punches like the left hook thrown by Wallin. The eyelid wound was clearly from a head butt.
As it is, the injuries required 47 stitches and plastic surgery but his promoter Frank Warren is hopeful that with modern micro-stitching inside the wound mean his return with WBC champion Wilder will go ahead on schedule in February.
Criticism of Fury seems harsh given the nature of cuts that clearly forced him to change his style and seek a quick knockout, which never happened. Davison, who has worked with him since late 2017, said: “If he was as weak as a kitten, he wouldn’t have been able to do 12 rounds like that. It was his engine, experience, strength and size that was the difference. I am happy. The performance could have been cleaner and smarter but it was a solid performance nonetheless.”
I agree. In no way should this diminish his chances against Wilder, especially if he comes in just under a stone heavier – and does not get cut again.
These days there does seem to be reluctance among modern cornermen to halt a contest. Rarely do you see the white towel fluttering over the ropes.
Maybe there are occasions when some should take a leaf out of the boxing manual of the late, great Eddie Futch, up there with Angelo Dundee as the best in the business.
Futch mentored Joe Frazier. In the fabulous “Thrilla in Manila” back in 1975. He pulled Smokin’ Joe out of the fight with Muhammad Ali at the end of the 14th round with Frazier’s eye a bloody mess, just like Fury’s, but even more grotesquely swollen. He simply couldn’t see.
Frazier desperately wanted to continue, but Futch told him: “Sit down son, it’s all over. But no one will ever forget what you did here tonight.”
It was one of the great acts of compassion in boxing. So, too, was that by Dundee himself some five years later with Ali a broken shadow of his old self, being pummelled and humiliated by Larry Holmes and the referee refusing to intervene.
“I am the chief second and I stop the fight,” he yelled at the end of the 10th.
Sometimes compassion can be the better part of valour.