Reading another Pound for Pound list the other day, I was stunned to note Tyson Fury had broken into the top 5! Do these muppet compilers realize what pound for pound actually means? It assumes everybody can either be enlarged or shrunk in a special machine so that they are of equal weight. What I am about to say is going to upset some of you.
Boxing is essentially 60% skill and only 40% an athletic discipline. The 10,000-hour rule strongly applies. The rise of fads like boxercise has led to a plethora of celebrity women all over the land claiming boxing training is the hardest thing there is. Their version of ‘boxing’ consists mainly of shadow boxing and groundwork and has nothing to do with getting punched in the chops! The notion this is the hardest training of all sports is complete nonsense, and if you disagree, you need to go and shave your muff with haste!
Yes, boxing is brutally tough, but it’s not the domain of the ‘tough man.’ What makes it so tough is the getting hit, and the finest practitioners of the art don’t get hit much. This skill is what stands them apart from athletes in other sports. True, the athleticism of someone like Superman Jones meant he was virtually untouchable in his youth and, in my view, the finest example of p4p pugilism I have ever seen. Yet, when his reflexes dulled, his skill was insufficient to avoid the shots. Jones is a rare example of a boxer where athleticism exceeded his skill (at an elite level).
However, as a whole, the talent pool in boxing is shallow, nepotism is rife, and professionalism is in shorter supply than it should be. Go and watch the Christy Martin documentary or read Dave Matthews’ ‘Looking for a fight’ if you think otherwise. Off the top of my head, I can think of Floyd Mayweather, Roy Jones, Joe Calzaghe, and Tyson Fury, who were trained by their fathers or family members. In some cases, the reason cited was that they couldn’t find a good enough coach. I can give numerous personal examples to support this from yesteryear.
I don’t know the figure of how many professional boxers there are operating worldwide, in, for example, the heavyweight division, but the figure probably runs into the 1000s, similar to tennis players, an elitist sport. If we compare that to, say, a 100m sprinter, he has 7 billion competitors. Everybody has tried to run fast at some point, and there are virtually no barriers to entry. By definition, therefore, to become an elite sprinter requires not just talent but an insane level of dedication and professionalism as the talent pool is almost bottomless.
Heavyweight boxing, in particular, cannot boast such a claim. Boxers in the lighter divisions are typically too small to be powerful, fast, or strong enough to make it in a plethora of other sports. Boxing levels out the playing field with weight divisions, but, In the heavyweight division, we typically find far too many poor athletic specimens. Hence, athletes such as Joshua and Wilder can excel way beyond their boxing capabilities.
If anyone has ever watched old episodes of ‘superstars,’ you’ll see that boxers, on the whole, perform poorly against the other athletes. This even occurs on middle distance running despite claiming that they still adhere to the outmoded practice of ‘roadwork.’ Boxing training is dull, repetitive, a skill honed over many years. Jedi Masters of the art such as Bernard Hopkins were able to keep practicing at an elite level way past his 207th birthday. Through tiny little movements (skill) practiced in the mirror thousands and thousands of times, he was able to make his opponent do the work while conserving his energy for his 208th birthday party! Sure, he lived the life, but once he turned 200, even he started to age! Interestingly when Calzaghe posed him a conditioning challenge, he wilted somewhat (but was still robbed in my view – his skill way in advance of the Welsh whirlwind).
However, if we take elite athletes from other disciplines and try to make them a boxer for the day, we find that they are stiff, uncoordinated and crucially hold their breath when under attack. As a result, their conditioning for their other sport has very little crossover into the boxing domain. Boxing is super-specialized. If it were about strength, Hafthor Bjornsson would be fighting for the world title instead of having potential freak shows with Eddie Hall and arm wrestler Devon Larratt. For once, Tyson Fury would seem small if he was in the opposite corner. However, Bjornsson has no boxing skills. Even Wilder could teach him things, meaning he lasts no time at all against even an average pro.
Yet, therein lies the heavyweight dilemma. The history of the division is littered with fat, out-of-condition big men who have made their wallets almost as fat as their stomach by getting to a regional or national level with limited, bordering on zero boxing ability. Joshua was talking of fighting Adam Kownacki (sigh) not long ago before he got found out by Helenius (twice). He looks like a fat bouncer and fights in the same style. If we could put him into the magic re-sizer and shrink him down to 135lbs, I think Loma and co would be resting easy. He simply couldn’t use his big daddy frame to roll over (literally) slimmer opponents anymore.
Fury’s victory over Wilder for the third time surely allows him to claim the title of the world’s number 1 heavyweight, but how great an achievement was that? How conditioned is the Gypsy King? He certainly doesn’t have the look of a gym queen, but he is highly effective with a mighty boxing IQ (despite the saddlebags). One could literally see the cogs whirring in his head as he was working out how to counter the new and improved Wilder in that first round. His boxing skill is immense, no doubt honed from years and years of practice, but those love handles don’t look like they belong on an elite athlete. When you watch him training on general conditioning, it is hard not to be underwhelmed. He runs slow, looks like he is doing everything at a canter but rarely in the ring has he seemed troubled by the pace of a fight. How can this be?
At 6ft 9 and 270lbs+, Fury uses every bit of his height, reach and weight to sap his opponents and limit how much punishment he takes. However, what if we put him in the magic resizer and reduced him to 6ft 2 and a podgy 225lbs. Suddenly, everything would change. I’d wager his lack of conditioning would show in a variety of ways that we currently never see. Instead of doing the leaning on, suddenly, he’d be the one getting his strength sapped. He’d have to take way more risks to get inside and would get tagged more often. His ability to absorb shots continually would diminish. Suddenly, those lack of tough conditioning sessions would begin to show.
In beating Wilder, he has essentially beaten a Bridgerweight, not a heavyweight (albeit a bulked up one last time out). Mr. Collins may have made the point that Wilder looked gassed with the extra bulk, but you would too with a 277lb Fury doing his boxing IQ magic on you, pushing you around, and roughing you up! In fact, I think Wilder pursued the right strategy, but with a caveat. After getting run over in fight 2, any sane, rational strategist would go away, work on their weaknesses and formulate a new game plan. Wilder, however, concluded his water was spiked by his own trainer, another of his own trainer’s allowed Fury to place iron in his gloves, and then fatally, he realized when it was too late that his attire was too heavy to wear to the ring (go naked next time ? – steady Bruce). Given all that, it was clearly wishful thinking to surmise that a Teddy Atlas-like figure could teach the old dog new tricks. In order to do a Dennis Andries, the old dog has to want to learn new tricks. Wilder clearly knows everything there is to know already, so what is the point?
Given that, why not bulk up and minimize Fury’s ability to drive over him like an 18 wheeler? It almost worked in round 4. Wilder’s best chance was his get out of jail card. He came out in round 1 with a plan to jab hard to the body and keep Fury at bay. They had clearly worked on that their entire camp. It’s a shame he forgot about the plan after the first round and reverted to type. We saw he’d been benching with increased weight; it’s a shame he hadn’t had some Holyfield style, near-death conditioning sessions.
Thus, like that other body beautiful weightlifter, Anthony Joshua, he did indeed gas out early (from holding on too tightly to Fury’s love handles in the clinches). I’ve said it for ages; I think Wilder would be the best of the lot if only he had some skill. He is a good athlete traveling the planet, impersonating a boxer with his hillbilly attitude. He has no intention to actually learn to box as he knows best. He’s got a lot of heart, too, as we now know, shame the ears don’t work in the same way.
How great is Fury? While I don’t think he has anywhere near the ability of Fat Loma (Usyk), but he does have an extra 60lbs and 7 inches on him, and he’ll apply his skill to use it. Joshua is like Wilder, but with ears, so he can take instruction at least. However, it’s hard to see a vastly different outcome coming down the track due to his choice to keep making the same mistakes. Dillian Whyte falls into the category of another big man with limited skill who has used his bulk to outperform smaller opponents, but Fury won’t be smaller. All in all, Fury’s immediate potential future opponents are either far less skilled (and not as big) or superior in skill but half the size. In essence, I think he gets away with cutting a few corners by virtue of his size.
The undisputed title should be his for the taking because his size affords him liberties. If he were 6 ft 2 and 225lbs, he wouldn’t have beat Wilder; he would not be able to solve the conundrum that is Usyk, and larger, less-skilled men would pose considerable problems. He would struggle to be a top 5 heavyweight, although he would compete nicely at Bridgerweight. To put him in the top 5 p4p is ridiculous! If we shrunk him down to 147lbs and 5ft 5, do you seriously think he could beat Spence? If you do, punch yourself in the face repeatedly until the drugs have worn off.
Is boxing truly a competitive sport anymore? I can think of very few truly competitive, meritocratic sports (easy entry with equality of opportunity) where the elite level performers are trained by their fathers or family. Perhaps boxers can get away with this because it is so niche, so cliquey and because it’s a SKILL that needs to be honed with practice, not a condition that needs to be refined by continual exposure to ever-increasing gradual loads. Yet, one could say that is exactly what happens by continually stepping up the standard of opposition. Why is it then that boxers simply aren’t fighting each other anymore?
I have been a massive fan since I saw the Marvelous one dismantle Alan Minter when I was six years old. It was an era when the best fought the best, but now the sport I loved has become sick through infection. Mayweather-Pacquaio was years overdue; Crawford can’t promote his own fights (and apparently doesn’t care). Canelo has to ensure the judges are bought and the opponent isn’t too competitive over a PED lunch before signing on the dotted line. In the most marketable heavyweight division, a unification fight looks a million miles off because there is always a rematch clause that takes eons to play out. Where is the ‘sport’? The sports entertainment bit still exists in boxing, but the sports competition bit is in short supply. It doesn’t help that finding a good coach is so difficult, but in essence, we seem to have a declining ‘sport’ that pays an ever-smaller number of elite protagonists huge sums but leaves genuine competition out in the cold.
This is not the sport I signed up for. From a conditioning perspective, it means that amateurism can be tolerated and got away with. If the leading practitioners of current heavyweight boxing were of equivalent ability in track sprinting, they could not get away with cutting corners in the way they do. The competition is way more vast and diligent, and they would be obliterated. I love the sport, but it’s not what it was. Don’t get me started on the boxing joke that is PEDs.