If a dedicated boxing fan missed last Saturday’s Lineal Heavyweight Title Contest between defending champ Tyson Fury and unheralded Otto Wallin because he was working overtime to pay for his three boxing streaming subscriptions, and only saw the score cards the next day, he would conclude that Tyson Fury got on his bicycle and did his best Floyd Mayweather impression for 12 rounds much like he’s done in the past.
What happened on September 14, 2019 at the T-Mobile Arena before a raucous crowd in Las Vegas does does not reflect what a simple glance at the scorecards might tell the avid boxing fan who missed the fight. Make no mistake about it, Tyson Fury won 8 rounds of that fight. And a legitimate case can be made that he won as many as 9 or 10. He showed the heart worthy of a champion in any era and the preparation to make adjustments to win the fight. But at what cost?
In the third round, Otto Wallin connected with a perfectly placed southpaw left hook which opened a vicious laceration over the right eye of Fury. Replay confirmed that a punch opened the cut rather than a head butt. A second laceration was opened just above the right eyelid and everyone was seeing shades of Lennox Lewis vs. Vitali Klitschko in 2003.
Visible panic in Fury lead to raw determination to score a KO. The fear from Fury that the Doctor would recommend a stoppage giving a TKO victory and the Lineal Title to Wallin was real. But watching from TV, one must ask… what Doctor?
Watching live from ESPN+, one would have only seen the Doctor make two appearances. Once in the 6th round at the request of referee Tony Weeks, and again in the Fury corner later in the fight. It appeared no real examination was taking place. Fury was never properly tested to see if he had any vision from his right eye. Even though he was winning rounds in the second half of the fight (save for the 12th), the cuts were still taking punishment, getting larger, and bleeding profusely.
By round 8, Tony Weeks looked like he borrowed his shirt from Lou Filippo on the set of Rocky II. But this blood was real, and so was the danger to Fury’s long term health. Weeks seemed to purposefully avoid looking at Fury for the rest of the fight and never again requested a Doctor’s examination. And although Fury’s cutman was magnificent, it’s premature to place him in the pantheon of Stitch Duran, Al Gavin or Joe Souza.
In past title fights with massive cuts, the Doctor and the Referee seemed to be ever present, neutral in who is winning the fight and putting the health of the fighter first. Vitali Klitschko was up 4 rounds to 2 against Lennox Lewis when the fight was stopped and save for the cut, no one would say he was finished in the fight at the time of the stoppage. Yet, Doctor and Referee collaboration led to the stoppage. Vitali went on to have a great career worthy of the hall of fame. The decision was made that the threat of blindness outweighed even probable victory. No one should compare the right hand of Lennox Lewis to the left hand of Otto Wallin. However, the decision was made that one more flush right hand to the left eye of Vitali would have been devastating to his eye sight and future career. The same logic should be applied to Fury-Wallin.
Much will be made in the aftermath about the Champion being given the benefit of the doubt. Fury was clearly winning the fight on the score cards, but the damage he sustained for being allowed to finish the fight was significant beyond words. Pontificators point to plastic surgeons capable of near miracles. Despite this, his eye will never be the same. It will never be able to take the significant impact of the divisions elite punchers.
In potential future fights, can you imagine if Luiz Ortiz lands a southpaw left hook on scar tissue? What about the right hand left hook combination that Deontay Wilder landed on Fury in the 12th round of their fight? Or someone as adept at fighting inside like Andy Ruiz? Think Chavez getting cut against De la Hoya in their first and second fights.
Nothing negative can be said about Fury’s performance. You’re not a boxing fan if you didn’t get goosebumps when he told the Doctor in round six, “I can see, let’s go,” then walked back to the fight to give his best offense of the night. But a TKO loss was the right call. The cut was less damaged in round 5 or 6 and Fury would be given a pass for the loss in a fight he was winning. Fury would’ve bounced back in a rematch and outbox Willin to regain the title. Wilder-Fury would get pushed back a few months with both fighters still in their prime and Fury’s future career (and right eye) would be intact.
Now, one has to wonder. When can Fury spar again, much less fight the biggest puncher in the division? Fury may well return February 22, 2019 for Wilder II. But will he really be ready, or is this a money grab given the millions spent in promotion?