Okay, there’s been a change of plans. No longer are you to say that Wladimir Klitschko is an all-time great. I realize you may have been saying that all the way up until last Saturday afternoon, but Klitschko lost, so now you have to join in mocking him mercilessly for being a hype job who got taken to school by a buffoon. We’re modern boxing fans, after all, and at times like this it’s our obligation to act as shallow and as callous as we possibly can.
Or at least that’s how we should act if our goal is to come across as having zero insight into the sport we supposedly love. If we want to actually step back and look at things objectively, however, then we might arrive at a more truthful, less mean-spirited and, yeah, more intelligent place.
First things first, though – hats off to Tyson Fury. The guy did what many thought simply couldn’t be done: he bested Wladimir Klitschko handily and stripped him of his heavyweight crown. That’s no small feat and, make no mistake about it, the guy worked damn hard to accomplish what he did. I’ve always found it frustrating when people have written Fury off over the years. Indeed, I wasn’t a bit surprised at his win on Saturday, for the guy is simply a far more skilled boxer than he’s been given credit for.
People can roll their eyes all they want – the fact remains Fury fought an extremely intelligent fight against Klitschko. Yeah, it was boring, but the guy found a way to win. That’s something no one else has been able to do in over a decade. Fury’s victory took more than ringwork, however, and that’s what leads us to the heart of the matter.
People may be writing Klitschko off right now, but he’s lined up for a rematch with Fury if he chooses to accept it. What’s more, Klitschko can win that rematch. Believe it. He simply has to be more like an Evander Holyfield and less like the fighter he’s been these past eleven years. Fury exposed big flaws in the man’s game, but when Wladimir actually fought like he should have in the final round, Fury looked a bit overwhelmed.
The mission, if Wlad chooses to accept it, is to keep Fury overwhelmed for the entirety of their next fight. Don’t get me wrong, it will be hard for Klitschko to pull off a victory under even the best of circumstances as, again, Fury has been greatly underestimated. Still, a victory can most certainly be attained. Wlad just has to lose his fear of getting hit. And, more surprisingly perhaps, he has to lose his fear of Fury.
See, it wasn’t the challenger’s considerable skill that beat Klitschko on Saturday as much as it was the fact Fury got inside Klitschko’s head long before the opening bell even rang. Fury is a practiced bully, one of the best in all of professional sports. He studies his victims, then vocally pushes just the right buttons at just the right times for maximum effect. All the while, he remains unpredictable and five moves ahead of his target. That’s just what a bully does, and Fury is a master of the craft. In truth, his words and outside-the-ring antics are actually far more powerful than his punches.
Whether it was dressing as Batman, getting the best of verbal battles, or demanding hands be re-wrapped, Fury owned Klitschko at every step in the lead up to the match. In essence, he took the guy’s lunch money then laughed about it with the kids at the cool table and in the process completely undermined Wlad’s focus and confidence. Perhaps if Wlad had aggressively fought fire with fire, pointing out that Fury is often less than disciplined and has been dropped by a bulked up cruiserweight, the psychological tide may have turned. Fury, after all, would have seen himself as vulnerable and the mental edge might have vanished. But it didn’t happen and now we have a new heavyweight champion.
“I still don’t believe I actually lost,” Klitschko (if it really was him) Tweeted on Monday. “Man, I’m suffering.”
If the now former champion has any hope of regaining his crown, he’s going to have to turn his pain into gain. That means stepping back and readjusting his mindset. After all, he’s not the first guy to get outpsyched and intimidated and he won’t be the last. But in order to win the battle in the ring, Klitschko has to win the battle inside his own mind first. And that’s not always an easy thing.
Perhaps Klitschko can take a page out of Carl Froch’s book. Froch, for those who remember, was being tortured by the fact that George Groves was in his head after their first controversial bout. Froch subsequently got professional help for the matter and – voila – knocked Groves on his ass in the rematch. After all, there’s no shame in seeking help. Indeed, there’s sometimes more shame in not seeking it. — Sean Crose