Sun, Dec 02, 2018 - Page 11 News List

Wilder vs Fury’s place in the boxing pantheon

The Guardian

Tyson Fury fans display a banner taunting Deontay Wilder ahead of their weigh-in on Friday in Los Angeles.

Photo: Reuters

It is impossible to imagine the impact Muhammad Ali would have made on all our lives were he born into the current era of heavyweight boxing.

Certainly, he would have put the world title fight in Los Angeles between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury into sharp relief.

The combatants should clear more than US$31.91 million between them, way more than Ali ever earned for a single fight — he famously split US$10 million with George Foreman on his best payday for the Rumble In The Jungle in 1974 — but his worth could never properly be measured in cash.

As Tiger Woods once was to golf, Ali was to boxing and beyond. We all had shares in the most famous individual in the world.

In nearly any other period of the sport’s often chaotic history, yesterday’s fight would have been frontline news every day for a month, from Argentina to Zanzibar.

It has not been quite that — although interest was ramped up with another predictable set-to at the final news conference — which describes the transformation of boxing from global phenomenon to hardcore, but still lucrative sideshow.

Any heavyweight fight generates excitement because of the possibility of painful carnage, which is what most fans pay to see.

However, for some time and with increasing regularity, they have done so through pay-per-view, a ticking revenue generator that has spread ineluctably across a range of traditional and modern gadgets.

If we owned Ali, the TV companies and their offshoots now own us.

BT Sport, Showtime and their YouTube and Facebook outlets have this one covered, which is fine for fans who have some cash to spare or live within driving distance of the Staples Center, which houses 21,000, but was 4,000 short of that maximum at the start of the week.

The arena, home to the city’s two basketball franchises, was to be full on the night and it could be a great fight, although Fury was to do his best to bore Wilder to the point of exasperation over 12 rounds.

Wilder knocking out his 40th opponent was the more likely outcome, probably in the middle to late rounds.

Showtime president of programming Stephen Espinoza inadvertently gave the game away about the state of the business when he said at the final news conference: “Heavyweight boxing is indeed back. Showtime has done 14 heavyweight world titles in the last four years. This will be our third this year.”

What he did not say was that, 40 years and more ago, those occasions would have been fewer and more special.

If we take John L. Sullivan’s seven-year reign from 1885 as the starting point of universally recognized world champions, the heavyweight division had only one ruler at a time until the past quarter of the last century.

Before television, the world stopped to find out who won between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney — and more than 225,000 fans paid at the gate for their two fights in 1926 and 1927.

It will surprise not even a mildly curious student of the game to learn that the toweringly anonymous Manuel Charr counts himself as a successor to those great champions.

It is beyond parody that one world can have more than one claimant to a title pretending to be the only one that matters.

In our lifetimes, Ali was the single most persuasive reason to regard boxing as the biggest show in sports entertainment. He had some splendid company in Foreman, Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Ken Norton, the Spinks brothers and a supporting cast of several handy contenders.

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