Thursday, June 9, 2022

On Freddie Roach and Wilder-Fury 1

Has it ever taken years for a concept to sink in? It could be a quote, a poem, a piece of advice, or even a comment on your performance review. Maybe you understood something on a basic level and then a while later a light bulb finally flicked on for you, one of those "a-ha" moments where you now have a vastly different perspective. This happened to me recently regarding Freddie Roach's comments after Wilder-Fury 1.

If you remember, Roach was assisting Ben Davison in Fury's corner. After that memorable fight, which had the indelible image of Fury rising from a devastating knockdown in the 12th, only to earn a disputed draw, Roach was asked for his opinion on the match. He mentioned that he had wanted Fury, who had dominated most of the fight from distance, to take it to Wilder on the inside. 

Fury (right) slipping a Wilder punch
Photo courtesy of Esther Lin/Showtime

At the time I dismissed Roach's comment, believing it had come from a trainer stuck in his ways, who only believed in one approach to winning. Roach loves his offensive fighters and particularly ones who go right at their opponents. To me, it seemed ridiculous at the time. Fury easily won eight or nine rounds by expertly boxing Wilder. Why change something that's not broken? 

Of course, for the second Wilder-Fury fight, Fury went right after Wilder on the inside with new trainer SugarHill Steward and won by stoppage. Fury believed that he had specific advantages with his physicality, punch variety and weight that would reduce Wilder's effectiveness. Getting inside would also take away Wilder's lead right from distance, his best punch and perhaps one of the most impressive punches in all of boxing. 

So, it's simple, right? Freddie wanted Fury to go on the inside. Fury went on the inside for the second fight, won convincingly, and that was that. But yet, I don't believe that Freddie meant Fury should go on the inside just for strategic or tactical reasons. What I think Freddie really was talking about was taking Wilder's will to fight away from him. 

The most impressive form of domination is when an opponent submits. He quits. This happened for Roach's most famous pupil, Manny Pacquaio, when Erik Morales in their third match and Oscar de la Hoya refused to fight any more. Pacquaio had so completely dominated those two future Hall of Famers that they waved the white flag, admitting that there was nothing they could do to beat Manny on that night. 

I believe this is what Roach was shooting for in Wilder-Fury 1. Fury had dominated Wilder during the first eight rounds, but yet Wilder didn't lose his will to fight. He was still there, still looking to land his right hand, still believing that he could win. Roach wanted Fury to take the fight out of Wilder. It wasn't enough to beat him dancing around on the outside; he wanted Wilder to know that there was nothing he could do on that given night, that Fury could beat him at any range. 

Now I don't believe that Wilder would have quit. Even after taking a beating in the second fight, Wilder came back valiantly to give Fury an incredible match in their third outing. But I don't read their second fight as Fury taking the fight out of Wilder. I think Wilder believed that he had lost the battle of strategy and tactics and if he had another shot at Fury, he could do a lot better – and in their third match he did. 

But Roach realized that Fury squandered an opportunity in the first Wilder fight. Had Fury roughed up Wilder on the inside, perhaps he never would have hit the canvas twice, and maybe there never would need to have been fights two and three. Maybe the public wouldn't have demanded it. Maybe Wilder wouldn't have had a case to make for it. 

All of this clicked in my mind after watching Shakur Stevenson, Stephen Fulton and Devin Haney in their most recent outings. All three fighters won by impressive margins in their last fights, but Stevenson and Fulton put a hurting on their opponents, while Haney was content to box his way to victory from the outside, even though there were opportunities to cause more damage. 

I believe that Freddie was talking about a vital concept at the top level of boxing. That you have to, whenever possible, take away the will of an opponent. You need to defang him. You need to have him realize that he can't win. That is the ultimate mastery over an opponent. It's more impressive than 120-108 or a one-punch knockout. It's a world-class fighter saying I don't want any more. A top opponent who still thinks he can win remains a dangerous opponent. This is what Freddie was getting after, and I don't know why it took me so long to understand this vital point. Yes, Roach has made outlandish statements over the years, but that doesn't mean he lacks vital insight into sport. For Roach, the best can annihilate. They can bludgeon. They can embarrass an opponent. They can get a world-class fighter to submit. That is the ultimate victory. And that is what he believed Tyson Fury should have done.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
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