NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: ESPN AND THE TYSON FURY BUSINESS

NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: ESPN AND THE TYSON FURY BUSINESS

Funny how a decent amount of blood and some broadcaster salesmanship turns an okay, but fairly one-sided fight, into a “gem,” right?

In these days of walled-off stars and cock-blocked superfights, good is great, great is an endangered species, and something like Tyson Fury vs. Otto Wallin is what passes for an outstanding pay-worthy main event. 

The twelve-round heavyweight contest Saturday night at T-Mobile Area in Las Vegas, broadcast live to dozens and dozens of fight fans via ESPN’s subscription-only streaming app, was a compelling watch. But it was really only compelling because of the ugly, bloody cut over Fury’s right eye that came in the third round via Wallin haymaker and threatened to generate a doctor stoppage TKO win for the big Swede.

Take out the cut and the panty-wetting histrionics from the ESPN+ announce team—especially those of play-by-play guy Joe Tessitore, who extreme-shilled as if ESPN execs were off camera, holding a lighter to his paycheck when his energy level dipped below that of late infomercial huckster Billy Mays—and the fight was just alright.

The 30-to-1 underdog Wallin didn’t fall at Fury’s feet like a sack of frozen surplus Swedish meatballs, as many expected, and he even managed to win two or three rounds (with official tallies of 116-112, 117-111, and 118-110 in Fury’s favor). But this bout for the Gypsy King’s pretend heavyweight title (or lineal title) was never really close and never in danger of drifting into Ruiz-Joshua upset land, except via cuts stoppage. Wallin accounted well for himself, but only as well as could be expected from the no. 56 heavyweight in the world facing a no. 1, no. 2, or no. 3 heavyweight like Fury.

So, sue me if I didn’t walk away from Saturday’s bout having been hyper-sold into seeing what wasn’t there. 

Yeah, Tyson Fury is an elite-level heavyweight, possibly deserving a no. 1 ranking in the division. He wasn’t particularly sharp against a Wallin who was firing at a full 100% and he had to fight through a bloody mess over his right eye. It was a decent fight for a paper mismatch. It wasn’t fucking Ali-Frazier. 

And while we’re on this perception vs. reality kick, let’s talk about ESPN and how they crossed the line on Saturday from being cheerleaders for their house fighter to actively interfering in a fight to ensure a house fighter victory.

Shortly after that hellacious gash (actually a pair of gashes) was opened over Fury’s eye, ESPN was informed that the commission declared the cut(s) had been caused by a punch and not, as Fury’s corner had assumed, from a clash of heads.

The ESPN broadcast crew then took it upon themselves, almost giddily so, to dispatch interviewer Bernardo Osuna to Fury’s corner in the fifth round, making sure that trainer Ben Davison knew the commission had ruled the cut to have come from a punch and not a head butt. Davison sort of gave a “come again” to Osuna, aware that he had just been given a very helpful piece of information, and then went ahead as normal. 

Essentially, ESPN gave Team Fury a head’s up about how close they were to a TKO loss, not to a technical decision win. The game plan for Fury could’ve been (and quite possibly WAS) altered accordingly. This was the equivalent of handing the official scorecards over to one of the trainers between rounds, letting them know that they’re actually losing a fight they thought they were winning. 

And when ESPN has $100 million invested in Tyson Fury with a big cross-network pay-per-view rematch against Deontay Wilder slated for February, it’s not so farfetched, whether true or not, to think that “The Worldwide Leader” was working to protect their investment by tipping off Davison of the impending doom. 

Am I being too hard on Fury and ESPN over everything that went down on Saturday? I don’t think so. I could’ve gone in harder and fixated on Fury’s cringe-worthy ring entrance, dressed in Mexican attire and accompanied by the classic song “El Rey,” which, in many eyes, was the tone-deaf cultural equivalent of walking to the ring in blackface.

When you push the hype machine so far and shove something or someone so deep down our throats, it’s okay to provide some appropriate pushback. 

Quick (S)hits:

— In what passes for a “big” fight weekend these days, fight fans were treated to nothing but mismatches for their subscription money. Fury-Wallin was fairly compelling for the reasons mentioned above, but that was the highlight of a fairly dismal weekend if competition is what you look for in “premium” boxing content. 

Friday’s Davin Haney-Zaur Abdullaev, on paper, promised to be the most competitive major bout of the weekend, but it turned out to be a four-round blowout with Haney’s hand speed being just way too much for the previously undefeated Russian. With the win, the 20-year-old becomes the interim WBC lightweight champion under full champ Vasiliy Lomachenko (But don’t hold your breath over a Haney-Lomachenko bout anytime soon).

On Saturday, underneath Fury-Wallin, 24-year-old Emanuel Navarrete defended his WBO super bantamweight title against WAY overmatched Juan Miguel Elorde, curb-stomping the Filipino challenger in four one-sided rounds. 

Up against the ESPN+ Fury-Wallin card on competing streaming service DAZN, Jaime Munguia, 22, similarly curb-stomped Ghanaian import Patrick Allotey in four rounds in defense of his WBO 154 lb. title. 

All in all, we got little more than showcases this weekend—and were expected to happily pay for it. If you’re happy with that, fine. But I wish we could go back to getting fewer fights for a little more money with at least some degree of matchmaking quality control in play. I’m tired of showcases, I want FIGHTS.

Got something for Magno? Send it here: paulmagno@theboxingtribune.com

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