Former two-division champion and current ESPN expert boxing analyst Andre Ward has for years utilized ‘Stay in your lane’ as his go-to catchphrase for just about any boxing-related topic.
It’s a shame his colleague, Joe Tessitore didn’t take that very advice in his most recent call.
The longtime ESPN lead announcer has come under fire—though not nearly enough as it relates to media scrutiny—for his ringside actions during Saturday’s ESPN+ event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Unbeaten top-rated heavyweight Tyson Fury (29-0-1, 20KOs)—who earlier this year signed a lucrative nine-figure deal to fight on ESPN platforms—overcame a hellacious cut over his right eye to outpoint previously undefeated Swedish southpaw Otto Wallin in the main event of the Sept. 14 telecast.
A clean left hand by Wallin (20-1, 13KOs) caught Fury over his eye in round three, immediately opening up a cut and putting Fury’s corner to work every round thereafter. Veteran cutman Jorge Capetillo has since received well-deserved accolades for his work in minimizing the damage and keeping Fury in the fight.
For at least two rounds, however, it seemed that the entire corner was unaware of just how dangerously close Fury was to suffering an injury stoppage loss.
“Look at that left hand that landed flush from Otto Wallin. Now we have to find out from Bernardo Osuna (ESPN commentator who worked as network ringside reporter that evening) how the commission saw that,” Tesstiore noted to home viewers upon watching a replay prior to the start of round four. "It's clear as day from that replay that it was a clean left hand that Wallin landed to open up that cut. What does it mean. What's the difference between a clash and caused by a punch.
“Because if it was (deemed that it was) caused by a punch and (Fury) can't continue, we have a new heavyweight champion.”
It was confirmed on air by Osuna later in the round that the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) watched the same replay at ringside (instant replay review is now permitted in Nevada) and deemed that aforementioned left hand to have caused the damage.
“Bob Bennett is looking at the replay and determined that it was caused by a left punch,” Osuna alerted the ringside broadcast team. “The same replay we looked at it was the same they were looking at.”
Bennett did not respond to an inquiry by BoxingScene.com seeking comment as this goes to publish.
Fury survived the round but with the cut worsening as he returned to his corner. A commission inspector was present in the corner while ESPN cameras stayed with the Fury team to pick up the conversation. Head trainer Ben Davison—a much needed calming presence in Fury’s career—did his best to keep his charge focused.
“Just stay calm,” Davison told Fury. “No panic, no stress.”
“The cut was accidental,” Fury asked, though without any noted confirmation. “It was a headbutt, yeah?”
The tone in the corner seemed to suggest that referee Tony Weeks informed Fury and his team that the injury was caused by an accidental foul. As the bout had just moved past four rounds by this point in the telecast, the distinction was crucial. Had the fight been stopped at that or any point thereafter and was deemed as the result of an accidental foul, it would have been declared a technical decision and go to the scorecards.
With the ESPN team already revealing the commission’s ruling that it was caused by a punch, a stoppage at any point would have meant that Wallin would have been declared the winner by technical knockout.
For reasons that he should be forced to publicly explain, Tessitore took it upon himself to have the matter immediately rectified.
“Our ace reporter Bernardo Osuna... Bernardo, I want to bring you in on the conversation here,” Tessitore stated at the start of round five. “During that exchange with Ben Davison, the trainer, and Tyson Fury—the lineal champ—I heard Tyson Fury say that it was from a clash of heads.
“Does he realize that it was caused by a punch, and that he can lose by TKO if it worsens? Is he assuming it was a clash or does he know it was from a punch?”
As he was directly asked a question, Osuna did his due diligence in offering a response.
“I think he assumes it was from a clash,” claimed the bilingual broadcaster, who is often used as a lead announcer in Tessitore’s absence. “Earlier on in that round, he was yelling at Otto Wallin ‘cut it out, cut it out’ whenever he came in close. He seems to believe if it was stopped that it would mean it would go to the scorecards and that is not the case.”
What followed next, should have never been permitted—not by the network’s in-truck producers, or by the present ringside officials.
“Do me a favor, I want you to get with Ben Davison,” Tessitore demanded. “You find out what that corner knows and what it doesn't know, and you let us know.”
This is the moment where Tessitore should have stayed in his lane. Whatever criticism he receives for being a “homer” announcer in showing bias towards the perceived house fighter, can just as easily be argued that he’s simply calling it as he sees it regardless of whether the average viewer agrees with his viewpoint.
Where he took a severely wrong turn, however, was in playing a role in significantly changing the course of the fight. If any interview was to have taken place at that point, it should have been between Osuna and Bob Bennett, executive director of the NSAC. A fair question to ask would have been to clarify whether or not the referee was informed upon further commission review of the cause of the cut.
That conversation didn’t even need to take place on-air. Raising the point to the commission would in turn open dialogue between Bennett and Weeks to make sure the two were on the same page. From there, Weeks could perform his due diligence in making both corners aware of the official ruling.
Instead, home viewers were given perhaps the most intrusive of mid-fight corner interviews, an already intrusive practice that shouldn’t exist.
“It's been deemed as a headbutt, that's what the referee told me.” Davison told Osuna when asked about his awareness of the commission viewpoint. “We did make the referee aware of (the headbutts) before."
"Actually, it's been deemed a punch by the Nevada State Athletic Commission,” Osuna went out of his way to clarify. “They saw the replay and saw that it was from a clean punch. What's your reaction?"
“What's that, I'm sorry,” asked a clearly distracted Davison, whose attention was rightly placed on the action developing in the ring.
“It's a punch,” Osuna repeated. “It was a clean punch from the replay. How does that change the way you look at the situation?”
"Well, obviously Tyson's got to deal with it,” Davison replied, his voice beginning to pitch as action intensified late in the round. “As long as the referee understands and keeps him in the fight…but as long as Tyson is boxing him and can see, I don't see how it should be a problem.”
Pushing past the questionable ethics of the ESPN broadcast team, it’s not unfair to suggest that, ultimately, Wallin allowed a golden opportunity to slip away. His strong first-half performance—which included a veteran, if not illegal, gym move of rubbing Fury’s cut with the inside of his glove at the end of round six—was lost in a second half that was clearly dominated by Fury. The dramatic swing was emphasized by head trainer and former two-division titlist Joey Gamache expressing concern to Wallin after the 11th round that he was taking too much punishment.
The speech worked, as Wallin briefly stunned Fury in the 12th and final round, interestingly the only round he swept on the final scorecards, which had Fury winning by tallies of 118-110, 117-111 and 116-112.
A fair question is, how much of Davison’s corner advice proved effective in Fury picking up the pace as to avoid an injury stoppage.
The game plan prior to the end of round five—and prior to the on-air interaction with Osuna—was to continue boxing as to avoid any inside exchanges that could potentially worsen the cut. That advice clearly suggested that the plan was always to fight as long as permitted, as there was never any hope of building up enough of a lead to have the fight stopped and go to the scorecards.
“I also had to make a decision of the right time to close the gap and work on the inside,” Davison said in a video posted on the IMO Sports TV YouTube channel. “If the cut worsened too soon, the ref and the doctor might think about how long’s left in that decision. I feel like we made the right decision.”
However, Davison’s own post-fight comments revealed just how pivotal was that very on-air exchange.
“The ref came over and said it was from accidental butt,” Davison confirmed. “So I’m saying, ‘Tyson, keep boxing, stick as you are. Then the ESPN guy came over and asked if we were aware it was from a punch.”
After rehashing the entire conversation, came the confirmation that it was time to speed up their previously discussed strategy of the right time to take the fight to Wallin.
“So that was when I knew we needed to take the initiative, we needed to change things up. Like I said, I feel like we made the right decision because if we had started the inside stuff too soon, the cut could have potentially worsened and worsened and worsened by the time the doctor had a lookie at that. When he did, things could’ve been different,
“It was all about timing and I feel like we made the right decision.”
There’s no question that Davison and the corner made the right decision. The question remains, why the ESPN team felt it necessary to directly provide him with that information in the first place.
To their credit, the handlers for Wallin declined comment to BoxingScene.com on the subject, in part due to not yet having the capacity to fully review the matter (they were in the arena and therefore not in a position to know the sequence as it developed). They could just as easily file an official protest, as the outcome of the fight was clearly influenced by the actions of the broadcast crew. What took place was the equivalent of leaking the running official scores to a corner during any course of a fight.
Instead, the stance has been to soak in the newfound glory for their charge, whose stock soared in defeat.
“Otto fought a great fight and showed that he is elite and one of the best in the world,” Dmitriy Salita, Wallin’s promoter (who also promotes two-division world champion Claressa Shields, among many others) told BoxingScene.com, politely declining to discuss the matter any further.
Similarly, Fury and his team would have been in prime position to have protested a stoppage had the action come to that, given the clearly conflicting instructions between Weeks and the commission’s ringside findings.
There are those who will assume the stance that the measures taken by ESPN helped clear up a potential disaster on what was deemed a major fight night.
Cynics have already claimed that the actions taken were to protect the network investment, with Fury due a lucrative rematch with unbeaten heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder. The bout remains on tap for some time in 2020, although the severity of the cut and the timing of Wilder’s next fight—a yet-to-be-announced Nov. 23 rematch with Luis Ortiz—could ultimately push back those plans.
No matter your take, what’s abundantly clear was that an ethical line was crossed, one that could have been avoided had Tessitore stayed in his line and stuck to his assigned role, one which doesn’t include commissioner in its job description.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox