by David P. Greisman
Show a casual fan the video of Deontay Wilder knocking Sergei Liakhovich out in less than two minutes and with one punch, leaving the former heavyweight titleholder on his back and with his arms and legs flailing involuntarily.
Show the casual fan a compilation of Wilder’s pro career as if it were a highlight reel, and then tell him that Wilder has faced 29 opponents and knocked out all 29, that Wilder has ended 17 of those fights within the first round, ended 23 of those fights within two rounds, ended 27 of those fights within three rounds, and ended all 29 of those fights within four.
Do all of this, and the casual fan will ask you how long it will be until Wilder becomes the next Mike Tyson.
Do all of this with a hardcore boxing fan and he will ask you how long it will be until Wilder becomes the next Michael Grant.
We’re approaching three decades since the days when Tyson tore through his opposition — knocking out 25 of his first 27, including 15 of them in the first round, 4 of them in the second, 2 in the third and 1 in the fourth. His next fight made him the youngest-ever heavyweight titleholder; stopping Trevor Berbick within two. Seven fights later, he became the undisputed heavyweight champion, knocking out Michael Spinks barely halfway into the first.
The years since have brought far too many cases of big men hyped as the next big thing, only to be the next big bust. Michael Grant is far from the only one, though his was one of the more infamous instances. He was 31-0 with 22 knockouts, a 6-foot-7 challenger standing in with the 6-foot-5 champion, Lennox Lewis. Though he could see eye-to-eye with Lewis, that was the only way in which Grant was at Lewis’ level. Lewis scored three knockdowns in the opening round and then finished Grant off in the second.
We’ve come to recognize how easy it is to manufacture a record, to guide a career so that there is plenty of talking about the fighter even if there isn’t much in the way of talent within him.
For every Edwin Valero — who scored 18 consecutive first-round knockouts, followed that with a second-round knockout in his 19th pro bout and then captured a world title in his 20th — there is a Tyrone Brunson, whose string of 19 opening-round knockouts was little more than a mirage for a middleweight whose limitations would be exposed once his foes were no longer limited.
This is why we cannot help but question Deontay Wilder, who is seen through a prism of his feats and others’ failings. For now, it does not matter whether Wilder actually has the goods. For now, there will remain the suspicion that he is too good to be true.
Those questions will be answered in time.
Tyson’s 27 fights before his first title shot came within less than 21 months. He was 20 years old when he fought Berbick. Grant’s 31 fights before he fought Lewis came over a span of about five and a half years; he was 27 years old when he fought for the championship.
Wilder will turn 28 this October. And though his pro debut came nearly five years ago, he’s essentially been developing in the paid ranks. He had only been fighting as an amateur for about three years when he joined the American Olympic boxing team in Beijing in 2008. Though raw, he was the sole member of the team to come out with a medal, in his case a bronze in the 201-pound division.
And though he was raw, there was a base that could be built on. Wilder is 6-foot-7, towering over many of his fellow heavyweights just as Lennox Lewis did and like Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko have. Though he’s filled out since the Olympics, he’s never come into the ring heavier than 229 pounds —which is lighter than the incredibly fit Klitschko brothers. For his past four appearances, Wilder has averaged about 224 pounds.
He is not a plodder. He is absolutely a puncher.
“I’m just blessed with tremendous power,” Wilder was quoted as saying in a news release sent out after his win this past Saturday over Liakhovich. “I don't depend on it, but it is there. I think my real secret isn't power. It’s my speed. I think people hear about all my KOs and tend to overlook that.”
Last year, Wladimir Klitschko complimented Wilder after having him in training camp as a sparring partner, calling him a future star.
But boxing is full of tales of fighters who are great in sparring yet fizzle out on fight night. Wilder has been impressive, but it must be noted that he has only barely begun to step up his level of opposition in the ring.
Wilder scored a first-round stoppage of Audley Harrison this past April. Harrison was an Olympic gold medalist in 2000 but has been a perpetual professional disappointment. He had been defeated six times before facing Wilder, including a third-round knockout loss to David Haye in 2010 and a first-round knockout loss to David Price in 2012. He was 41 years old when he fought Wilder.
Liakhovich briefly held a world title after outpointing Lamon Brewster in April 2006, only to lose his belt seven months later to Shannon Briggs. He spent 15 months out of the ring, then returned in February 2008 and lost a decision to Nicolay Valuev. He took another 21 months off, then returned in November 2009 and took out a designated fall guy named Jeremy Bates. Liakhovich’s next bout was six months later, in May 2010, a ninth-round knockout of another lesser opponent. He had a 15-month layoff before his August 2011 fight with Robert Helenius, who stopped Liakhovich in nine. Seven months later, in March 2012, Bryant Jennings stopped Liakhovich as well, also in nine.
This bout against Wilder came after another prolonged stretch of inactivity, this one lasting 16-and-a-half months. He is now 37 years old and had fought just four times in the past five years. Wilder’s entire 28-fight career had taken place in that time.
Wilder did what he was supposed to do. It was another knockout for his highlight reel, a win that has people talking and debating and wondering whether he will be the next Mike Tyson or the next Michael Grant.
“I think all my KOs are helping me get a lot of people’s attention, and I love that,” Wilder said afterward. “I embrace it. I think more people are now starting to feel that maybe I can be the guy who brings the heavyweight title back to America. Honestly, I would love to be that guy.”
We’ve become highly skeptical of every prospect who is hyped, whose undefeated record and knockout power seems like it could be a credit to the matchmaking rather than to the man himself.
We’ve placed a heavy burden of proof upon fighters. The answers to our questions will come only once Wilder is allowed to try to prove himself against the top tier of heavyweights. Wins over them would win us over.
The 10 Count
1. Another member of the United States 2008 Olympic boxing team shared the card with Wilder, also in a phenomenal mismatch.
Gary Russell Jr. — a featherweight with an undefeated record, with 22 wins and 13 knockouts, with fast hands and potentially tremendous talent — fought a guy named Juan Ruiz.
Ruiz had won twice as many as he’d lost, but a look at his record of 23-11 (and 7 knockouts) showed that his best days were clearly in the past. Ruiz had won just one fight in the last seven years, just one win in his past 10 appearances: a victory over a faded and misguidedly come-backing former titleholder named Wayne McCullough. And that was way back in June 2008.
Russell was coming off a hand injury suffered in a March win. But those of us who believe in his talent — or at least want to see Russell back up his words and the spotlight that he has received — want him to stop delaying a significant step up in opposition.
“Less than three months ago, Russell bragged that he would easily defeat Abner Mares, the No. 3 man in the division; it’s audacious to talk about how simple it would be to take out one of the best of the weight class, and the whole sport, then sign to face someone who has only won once since 2007,” wrote Tim Starks on the excellent boxing blog The Queensberry Rules. “It's a little like boasting to a large audience that you can bench press 500 pounds, then expect a paying crowd to be impressed when you dead lift some ‘Happy Birthday!’ balloons.”
At least Russell-Ruiz wasn’t on television.
2. Malik Scott’s protest of his knockout loss to Dereck Chisora a few weeks ago has been rejected — the British Boxing Board of Control refused to review it, according to BoxingScene’s own Terrence Dooley.
Here’s a recap of what I wrote back in July about what happened in that sixth round:
“Chisora backed Scott to the ropes and threw a chopping right hand that Scott tried to dodge. The shot caught him high on his head, though, and Scott went down to the canvas. He seemed clear-headed, and watched as referee Phil Edwards issued a count. Scott rose at the count of nine, but Edwards waved his arms at the same time, ending the bout.
“We’ve complimented fighters for wisely taking their time, regaining their bearings instead of rushing back to their feet. Yes, Scott could’ve risen earlier, perhaps at eight instead of nine. He didn’t have to. And the referee didn’t need to pull the trigger so quickly.”
Here’s what the BBBofC’s general secretary told Dooley:
“Under British Boxing Board of Control Rules (3.32) a boxer is deemed to be ‘down’ by one of four criteria, one of which is ‘when the boxer is in the act of rising.’ Therefore, the point at which the boxer has nothing on the canvas but his feet is not the point at which the boxer is no longer ‘down.’ Most importantly, after a boxer is ‘down,’ boxing can only continue when the boxer ‘is in a position and a condition to defend himself.’ ”
And as for the referee going from 9 immediately to waving his arms as Scott rose, here’s what the general secretary said:
“In the United Kingdom (like many countries) the count of the referee (having picked it up from the timekeeper) is ’7, 8, 9, out.’ Ten is never called by any referee in any contest in this country. … Mr. Scott received a full count after which Mr. Edwards did not feel that he was in a position to continue.”
Yes, it’s the rule — but there’s a difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.
In fact, the rule is similar in America under the unified rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions: “The boxer is to be considered to still be in a downed position when rising from a knockdown.”
Yet those of us who watch boxing know that beating the count means rising from the canvas before the referee reaches 10 — that is, when this rising is done like Scott did against Chisora and not like, say, Zab Judah struggled to do against Kostya Tszyu. That’s the way we’ve long seen this sport unfold. And while Scott was only rising to his feet as the referee counted nine, there was no gap between the referee’s count of nine and what would have been the 10th second. Instead, he began waving his arms nearly immediately.
The BBBofC’s general secretary said Edwards’ decision was “solely based on the safety and well-being of Mr. Scott,” and noted that Edwards was in a better position to assess that than anyone else.
3. I’m not sure how the Austrian Boxing Federation’s rules differ from those of the British Boxing Board of Control’s, by the way, but Edwards was the referee for Kubrat Pulev’s knockout win last year over Alexander Ustinov — a knockout that saw Edwards counting all the way to 10 before waving his arms.
(Hat tip to the aforementioned Mr. Starks for informing me about Pulev-Ustinov.)
Again, this is about the letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law. Boxing should be about beating the count of 10, not beating the count of 9. The British Boxing Board of Control’s rules, as exhibited by Edwards, are completely contrary to the idea of a 10 count.
4. For what it’s worth, fellow British ref Mickey Vann says Edwards erred in the way he ended the Chisora-Scott fight.
“I learned through experience before I was a star graded referee that when a fighter is down, and I am counting, that if I get to the count of nine and he is in the act of rising, I cross my arms over the top of his head. If I’m unable to do this, then I bite my tongue and leave the count at nine, wipe his gloves, have a quick double check, and off we go again,” Vann wrote for Boxing News magazine’s website. “Scott was passed the crossed arms position, he wasn’t dazed, he was alert, and he was ready to go. In these situations a referee must use his experience and judgment.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to cross my arms over Malik’s head, not because I am too small, but because he was almost upright,” Vann wrote later in the article. “I would have stopped short of the 10-count, made the customary checks, gloves, and off we jolly well go with a few more exciting rounds of boxing.”
5. Then again, as Brian Griffith (@bpgriffith) noted on Twitter, perhaps all BBBofC bouts are judged on the 9-point must system…
6. Two years ago, I made fun of a news release touting Hector Camacho Jr. as a “world renowned middleweight boxer” who said he wanted “to focus on making the welterweight limits and [start] going after the champions at that weight class.”
I made fun of that because of this:
- February 2011, Hector Camacho Jr. vs. Juan Astorga. Weight limit: 160. Camacho: 166.
- October 2009, Hector Camacho Jr. vs Yory Boy Campas. Weight limit: 154. Camacho: 159.5
- August 2009, Hector Camacho Jr. vs. Pito Cardona. Weight limit: 154. Camacho, initially, weighs in at 156 before dropping two pounds and actually making weight.
- July 2007, Hector Camacho Jr. vs. Don Juan Futrell. Weight limit: 154. Camacho: 161 (and this came after telling a BoxingScene reporter, “I’m down to 152 for the weigh-in”).
- September 2006, Hector Camacho Jr. vs. George Klinesmith. The fight was initially billed as a junior-middleweight bout. Apparently it became a middleweight fight, as Klinesmith came in at 159.5. As for Camacho? He was 167 pounds. “Both tested positive for marijuana,” fight scribe David Avila later reported.
March 2002, Hector Camacho Jr. vs. Omar Weis. Weight limit: 143. Camacho: 147. He infamously then went to the gym to lose two pounds, but he came back even heavier, tipping the scales at 151 pounds, according to the fight broadcast. Weis beat Camacho anyway.
Even after that news release went out, Camacho never went down to welterweight. In fact, he never even came close.
For example, in July 2012 he came in at 161 pounds for a 154-pound bout with Luis Grajeda, according to Mexican news reports.
7. Why bring all of this back up? Well, here’s what Camacho said after losing to Grajeda:
“I have no excuses. Honestly, this loss was my fault,” he said in a statement that ran on Fightnews.com. “I have disrespected myself as well as the sport of boxing by not being disciplined and true to the sport that I love so much. I have been lazy by not committing like I should, and I tried to rely on my ring generalship to win fights. … I realize that I need to take my career seriously, so it’s time to put childish things aside before I lose what’s important to me: my career. I’m changing my training regimen and my lifestyle. I am now focused and I am putting 110 percent effort into my training.”
Camacho was supposed to be 157 for his fight this past weekend against Lee Murtaugh. He came in at more than 169 pounds.
8. Hector Camacho Jr. wasn’t the only one. Antwone Smith was nearly six pounds overweight for the third time in his past three fights and offered next to no resistance in his two-round stoppage loss to Jermall Charlo this past Saturday.
At least Smith didn’t get seriously hurt. The punches that Charlo dropped Smith with weren’t overly hard shots, but they were enough that they combined with Smith’s poor conditioning to drop him and leave him on unsteady legs.
Smith had won his previous two bouts after coming in heavy. Perhaps this loss will teach him a lesson. He either needs to get serious about being in shape, or he needs to get out of the sport.
9. Under the British Boxing Board of Control’s rules, this week’s edition of The 10 Count must end at 9…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]