Born to be Wilder
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - December 4, 2018 - 12:00am

LOS ANGELES – The Staples Center was packed to the rafters to signal the return of the heavyweights to center stage of world boxing and the legends came out to celebrate the renaissance.  Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis, Michael Spinks, Evander Holyfield, Gerry Cooney, Earnie Shavers and James (Buster) Douglas attended the blockbuster card that featured WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder staking his crown against former IBF/IBO/WBA/WBO unified titlist Tyson Fury in the main event last Saturday night.

There was a WWE touch to the extravaganza as Wilder walked in wearing a mask and a shimmering crown that looked like it was made of some kind of papier mache. When Fury was knocked down flat on his back in the 12th round, he got up like The Undertaker and beat the 10-count. And after the split draw was announced, Fury got on the microphone and called WBA/IBF/IBO heavyweight ruler Anthony Joshua “chicken” and even cackled to drive home the point. All those antics had to come out of some chapter in the WWE history books.

Whatever inroads MMA has gained in drawing away fans from world boxing in recent years, Wilder and Fury evened the score in one crazy night of fisticuffs. Surely, nobody could question the high entertainment value of the Showtime pay-per-view event. Shaquille O’Neal was in the audience and so was another former NBA star Kenyon Martin. Near the end of the fight, they were up on their feet with thousands of other cheering spectators as the protagonists battled to a fiery finish.

Reigning WBA bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire Jr., who watched the fight live, said he couldn’t complain about the decision even as he thought Wilder had the edge in the end, mainly because of the two knockdowns on Fury in the ninth and 12th. Fans were split on whom they thought deserved to win. 

Fury displayed incredible boxing skills for a 6-9 giant with an 85-inch wingspan. He scaled 256 1/2 pounds at the weigh-in the day before and according to Freddie Roach who was in his corner, that was down from 378. No wonder there was still a lot of flab around his middle. It’s difficult to flatten out after losing over 120 pounds in only eight months. Wilder’s physique was more impressive, showing a lot less body fat. Wilder checked in at 212 1/2 pounds that suited his 6-7 frame and 83-inch reach.

Fury ended a 2 1/2 year layoff to fight twice within a period of two months before facing Wilder. He outpointed Wladimir Klitschko in November 2015 to collect his four belts then the fame and fortune drove him to a life of alcohol and drugs. For a while, it didn’t seem like Fury would ever recover from the slide down to hell. But he did. Fury showed up for the weigh-in and the fight wearing a giant rosary around his neck and when the bout was over, he wouldn’t stop praising God for his remarkable Lazarus act.

Without the two trips to the canvas, Fury would’ve won the fight by a mile. He made Wilder miss badly and landed sharp 1-2 combinations to the head, using his incredible length to maximum advantage.  But whenever Wilder came close, Fury got into trouble. That happened when Fury went down twice but surprisingly, he survived each fall. 

Fury clowned around from start to finish, sometimes putting both hands behind his back as if to goad Wilder into attacking an open target. He stuck out his tongue at Wilder who did the same. It seemed like Fury got into Wilder’s head and threw off his rhythm. Some day, those antics will backfire on Fury. For the moment, Wilder and Fury remain undefeated so a rematch will be another box office sensation.

Wilder, known as the Bronze Bomber, is the first American heavyweight champion in nine years, ending the reign of the Klitschkos of Ukraine and other titlists from Russia, Uzbekistan, Nigeria, the UK and Canada. The previous American champion was Shannon Briggs who reigned as WBO titleholder in 2006.

The fight wasn’t just in the mold of the classic battles involving Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey and Rocky Marciano. It also had a little of the Muhammad Ali drama, especially during the Louisville Lip era, with the way Wilder pranced around and Fury called out Joshua. This wasn’t only sports, it was also entertainment and that’s how fans want it. MMA is for the hard-core fight fans who relish the fierceness of raw combat while the type of boxing that was displayed last Saturday was for sports fans of every persuasion. Now that heavyweight boxing is back in the limelight, expect a fresh surge of interest in the fight game and that can only mean more windows of opportunity for Filipinos in the sport.

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