Monday, April 1, 2024

Opinions and Observations: Wardley-Clarke

It's unusual to see two prospects announce themselves as legit contenders in the same fight. However, Fabio Wardley and Frazer Clarke went to war, and during their fierce battle they exhibited a multitude of skills and winning intangibles, demonstrating that they are now factors in the upper reaches of the heavyweight division. The fight was declared a draw, but that won't be enough to thwart their momentum in the sport: both have the goods. 

Officially, the fight was ruled a split draw, with the judges unable to agree on a winner (one picked Clarke, one picked Wardley, one had it even). To my eyes, the verdict was just. The fight featured massive shifts in momentum and several close rounds; it was tough to split them. Wardley did score a knockdown in the fifth and Clarke had a point deducted for low blows in the seventh (a bit harsh in my opinion), but despite that gap, Clarke won his fair share of rounds with cleaner boxing and some wicked power shots.

Clarke (left) and Wardley going to war
Photo courtesy of Boxxer

And whether they decide to rematch each other or go separate directions, both provided boxing fans with a thrilling night of action and also laid down a marker to the rest of the division: they are going to be tough fighters to beat. Perhaps what was even more impressive was that both showed additional dimensions in the ring from their previous fights, suggesting potential for even further improvement. 

Clarke is already 32. He turned professional late, remaining an amateur through the 2020 Olympics (which were actually held in 2021). In his early professional fights, he had failed to galvanize the boxing public. While always demonstrating a big punch, his performances were often labored, featuring anemic punch volume and a suspect engine. You could often hear whistles in the crowd during the myriad slow moments in his fights, yet that didn't seem to bother him.  

Wardley had no amateur boxing background to speak of. He was kind of a novelty guy when he turned pro, a white-collar boxer who had real power. Although Wardley had pop and athleticism, he had to overcome his lack of boxing fundamentals. He would often swing from his shoes, throw the wrong punches at the wrong time, and had very little idea about responsible defense. His punching power always elicited respect, but many were waiting for him to be found out by better talents. How can a guy who does so many things "wrong" expect to be a legit contender in the sport?  

Yet Clarke and Wardley put to bed many of those blemishes on Sunday. Clarke was dropped in the fifth round and ate tremendous numbers of big shots, yet he was the fresher fighter in the final round, giving it all for a potential knockout. In the concluding moments, he actually had the better engine.

And Wardley, at age 29, demonstrated a number of flourishes that shows he's been a quick study in the gym. His best punch of the fight was a counter right hand over Clarke's jab, not a novice's punch! He also went to Clarke's body with left hooks like a seasoned pro. And when he did get tagged in the fight, he didn't crumble. He tied up or used the ring to buy time. He has learned what a real fighter does under duress. 

The action in the fight was sensational. The tenth was a Round of the Year contender with both fighters hurt during the frame but determined to keep firing. The second, seventh (which was marred by the unnecessary point deduction) and eighth rounds also featured thrilling action. Frazer held his own with jabs, right uppercuts and sneaky right hands around the guard. Wardley did a little of everything: sharp counters, multi-punch combinations, double jabs, and power shots to the body. 

The championship rounds were also a special attribute of the fight. Although Wardley had never been past seven and Clarke had only been ten rounds once in a noncompetitive win, neither had experienced rounds 11 or 12 before, yet they both showed their fighting spirit as the bout drew to a close. Wardley had little left to give in the final rounds, but there he was winging his best arm punches in the 11th round, trying everything he could to find a final blow to end the fight. And even though Clarke seemed happy to remain upright by the end of the 11th, he was the spritely one in the final round, marching forward, trying to land a closing bomb to stop the fight from going to the judges. It was as if he was fighting more than Wardley; he wanted to silence each and every one of his critics about his lack of endurance or desire.

Wardley-Clarke was one of the finest non-title heavyweight fights since 1997's battle between David Tua and Ike Ibeabuchi (and here I mean world title). Neither Tua nor Ibeabuchi won a world title, yet for those who have seen the fight, they speak about it with reverence, even decades later. Wardley-Clarke featured the same spirit. Two big heavyweights throwing bombs, taking them, recovering, refusing to yield, fighting for their careers, and thrilling all who were watching.  

Wardley and Clarke possess the offensive firepower and internal fortitude to challenge top heavyweight contenders. Are they perfect fighters? Of course not. But they carry a big punch, won't shrink from a challenge and have subtle dimensions that make them more difficult to beat than would appear at first glance. They are real fighters. 

Credit to Ben Shalom and the Boxxer team for putting the bout together and credit both fighters for accepting the challenge. They put on an unforgettable night of boxing and there are plenty of titleholders and illustrious names in the sport who couldn't say the same.   

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a contributing writer for Ring Magazine, a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook 

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