Tyson Fury is still the lineal heavyweight champion, at least according to some.
Yet, regardless of whether or not he truly still remained boxing's lineal champion at heavyweight, Fury's unbeaten record and the multi-million dollar payday of a rematch against Deontay Wilder nearly went up in flames on September 14 when he nearly was stopped by Swedish boxer Otto Wallin.
No, Fury wasn't exactly hurt or hit hard enough to the point where he was unable to fight back or defend himself. It was a cut above Fury's right eye caused by a clean-as-a-whistle left hook with less than a minute remaining in the third round. After watching replays of the punch immediately after, it became abundantly clear that Wallin's punch caused the cut and not from an accidental headbutt, as it was initially ruled by referee Tony Weeks and later expressed to Fury's corner, manned by trainer Ben Davison.
In boxing, the difference between a cut being caused by a punch versus an accidental headbutt is monumental. If a fight gets stopped due to a fighter being cut, the first thing that is looked at is the way the cut was made. If the cut was made by a punch, then the end result is a TKO loss for the cut fighter, but if it was caused by an accidental headbutt, then the fight gets ruled a no contest.
This played a major role in the bout as Fury's team thought a headbutt caused the cut, giving them a potential out in case things get too sour and still have his unbeaten record intact. As soon as Fury started bleeding from the cut, Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Bob Bennett and Jay Nady, a Nevada referee serving as the replay official, looked at a replay on a ringside monitor after Bennett called the ESPN production truck asking to see one.
After reviewing the replay, which was also seen during the ESPN+ broadcast, Bennett then informed ESPN of his finding and the official ruling. This resulted in ESPN play-by-play commentator Joe Tessitore sending sideline reporter Bernando Osuna to go to Fury's corner and wonder if they were relayed that same info. Osuna interviewed Davison in the middle of the fifth round and when Davison said he was told the cut came from a headbutt. Upon hearing this, Osuna would correct Davison and tell him the commission's ruling, potentially changing the entire dynamic of the fight.
But an even bigger problem was revealed: ESPN, as well-intentioned as they were, meddling in the fight when Osuna gave Davison the correct info.
As much as many want to see sporting events done on an even playing field, the role of the media should never be to not only be directly involved in games or fights, even less to play a role in the outcome or one side's strategy. What makes things appear even worse is ESPN's connection to Fury. The once-unified heavyweight champion of the world signed a lucrative contract to have Top Rank be his American promoter but for his fights to be on ESPN platforms. With ESPN and Top Rank heavily investing in Fury, the plan is for him to face Wilder in what would be a big pay-per-view (big in today's standards) in early 2020 and ESPN figures to be very much involved in the fight. If the situation was reversed -- Wallin getting cut, would ESPN be so concerned to see if Wallin's trainer knew about the commission ruling? We don't know.
That's not to say it was Tessitore's or Osuna's intention to get themselves involved in the fight just to make sure ESPN keeps its prized heavyweight in line for a Wilder rematch. More than anything, they wanted to make sure Fury and Davison knew what was going on and avoid a controversial ending in a completely different manner, which is admirable to a certain extent. But when you're the main broadcaster of the fight and the house fighter stands to have a massive fight and payday in the coming months and this type of situation happens, it does paint ESPN in a very bad light, raising several media ethics questions.
ESPN, in no way, shape or form, should have been the ones to tell Davison of the commission's ruling. Putting themselves in that position puts the network's credibility at risk. Even if what ESPN did didn't give Fury an advantage (more so gives him the same level of information as everyone else that saw the cut), the idea of a broadcaster putting itself in a position to fulfill a role strictly reserved for a referee or athletic commission, can break the audience's perceived idea that the media should be objective and not involve itself in events in this manner.
As mentioned, Osuna probably meant well when he explained to Davison the correct info and in some regards, should be commended for doing what the commission failed to do.
That brings up yet another issue with the fight: the commission. For years, the Nevada State Athletic Commission has been criticized for many things, whether it would be disciplinary actions to fighters breaking the rules being too harsh or too lenient or its continued appointment of Adalaide Byrd, especially in the wake of Byrd's 118-110 score in favor of Canelo Alvarez after his 2017 draw against Gennadiy Golovkin. Their failure of communicating the correct ruling to the proper channels in time is entirely on them.
For what it's worth, Bennett not only recognized the commission's part in this mess and even acknowledge ESPN's role in all of this, saying that the network, nor the media in general, should be the ones fulfilling the job of a commission.
"We dropped the ball by not letting them know it was a punch, and ESPN let them know and I don't have a problem with that because we dropped the ball, and it won't happen again," Bennett said in an interview with ESPN. "No network will be the ones in the corner telling anyone about a ruling in the future. I saw the punch and then the blood, and we confirmed it on the replay twice. I got right on the phone with the production truck, and they did a phenomenal job and then ran it back as soon as I asked to see it again. Jay and I saw it was from a punch. So the round ends and Tony comes over and he says, 'Accidental head-butt.' I said, 'Do you want to look at the replay? It was caused by a punch.' We are allowed under the rules to consult even though the referee is the sole arbiter. But we told him we had visual evidence of it being from a punch and so he changed [the ruling] to a punch. He took our word not because I'm his boss or because of Jay's experience but because we requested the replay and saw clearly it was a punch."
One thing for sure is that instant replay in boxing can be done effectively thanks to how technology has advanced to the point where erroneous calls can be fixed almost instantly. Even in May when a WBO super flyweight title eliminator between Koki Eto and Jeyvier Cintron saw Eto headbutt Cintron and knock him out with the official ruling being a knockout. After replays, the result was changed to a no contest, so the practice of instant replay works. Obviously, communication still needs to catch up to 2019 as a controversy such as this one could have easily been prevented if Bennett had explained to Weeks, Fury Davison of the cut.
"We got the call right, and the instant replay worked well. We didn't have to stop the flow of the fight. But where we didn't complete or fulfill our responsibility was by failing to hold up the card saying it was caused by a punch or for Tony to tell the corners. We were aggressive and wanted to be 100 percent accurate on the replay on behalf of the fighters and then we dropped the ball. I won't sugarcoat it. We hit the ball out of the park using the replay but failed to notify the corners, so it's a good thing ESPN let them know because we dropped the ball. Tony did a great job refereeing a very difficult fight, but unfortunately he didn't let them know once we informed him it was a punch after watching the replays. It was the first time we used replay, but I'm not going to make excuses. We dropped the ball," Bennett said.
Regardless of the result, you cannot talk about this fight and not mention the role ESPN’s broadcast team had in the fight telling Davison the cut came from a legal punch and not a headbutt as he initially thought. The moment Fury got cut, Wallin’s original gameplan went out the window and instead tried to win by doctor stoppage. It almost worked but Fury got back in control of the fight and won the fight by unanimous decision. This shouldn't also overshadow what ended up being a better-than-expected performance from Wallin, whom many thought he no chance of even laying a finger on Fury and now his stock shot up significantly as a result of this fight.
Whether or not ESPN should get credit for righting the wrongs of the NSAC is irrelevant. It's not the media's job to get involved in this manner, even if it is for the right reasons. The commission should take a better look at how communication during fights is conducted, and hopefully this kind of a problem never rises again.
- From The Web