• Steve Bunce

Build them up, Tyson - then knock 'em down

Steve Bunce April 23, 2013

Tyson Fury is not the world's greatest boxer. He's not the biggest puncher or the best mover. He's not the most skilled in the ring, and he doesn't possess the deadliest jab. But right now his heart, guts and determination are as good, if not better, than any other heavyweight out there. And he used all of that heart - if not very much of his brain - to beat Steve Cunningham on his American debut at Madison Square Garden (well, the basement to be precise) on Saturday night.

What a night for the guy. During the fight "Tyson Fury" was trending on Twitter, and if you went out onto the streets today and showed a picture of Fury, Amir Khan and Carl Froch to people, they'll now be able to pick out his face. That's what really matters. For Fury it was a great success, because - like all great fights - it was so nearly a disaster, albeit one of Fury's own making.

Fury stopped Cunningham in the seventh round with the knockout he'd promised to deliver. Yet afterwards people seemed to be outrageously critical of the fact that he got dropped in the second round, just the second time in his pro career that he's hit the canvas, and was struggling badly enough in the fifth to pick up a point deduction for holding and using his head.

Let's get one thing straight: he got dropped by a really good fighter! As I said in last week's column, if Steve Cunningham had got the decision he deserved against Tomasz Adamek back in December he would have been waiting to sign a lucrative deal to fight either Wladimir Klitschko or Vitali Klitschko. Instead, he got stitched up and Adamek became the No. 1 contender. How, in that process, has Cunningham become a bum? It makes no sense. Any athlete can have a bad day, but Cunningham didn't have one - he just didn't get the decision. If he had, Tyson Fury wouldn't have been fighting him.

The problem was that in the build-up to the fight, Fury was guilty of putting Cunningham down. Anybody that has read this column or listened to the podcast will know that this was always going to be a hard fight. Getting caught, getting hurt, or even getting stopped was always a possibility - and that's how the fight should have been sold, not as a massacre.

In the build-up Fury went as far as saying: "If I don't knock him out, I'm going to retire". Instantly he'd backed himself into a corner. He did knock Cunnningham out in the end; being three stone heavier and six inches taller, Fury wore Cunningham down over six rounds and then used a fantastic elbow block - last seen in the UFC octagon - and whipped across a right hand to knock his exhausted opponent out.

In boxing there have always been lippy fighters - long before Muhammad Ali was predicting the round that he'd deliver his knockout there was Jack Johnson, who used to prophesise all sorts of doom and gloom for his opponents that came true in the ring. Talking yourself up and delivering is not a problem. But when you're dropped, when you lose a point for holding - and that's the only way you can survive the round - people point to what you said before the fight and ask: why were you struggling against a bum?

I've spoken with many people since the fight, some in boxing and other casual fans, and they're all saying the same thing - "Yeah, but we all know Cunningham was rubbish." How do they know that? Because of what Fury said about him in the build-up to the fight. Now that is rubbish! He was a good fighter, and the contest was sold incorrectly.

Always praise your opponent when you're heading into a hard fight. Someone in Fury's camp should have pulled him to one side six weeks ago and said: "Cunningham can fight a bit, Tyson. Maybe you need to pull back on the fact that he's a bum and you're going to destroy him."

Here's what Fury should have said, as I told his team two weeks ago: "Steve Cunningham should be the No. 1 contender for the world heavyweight title. He's the best fighter I've met, and the best American heavyweight out there." How much better would his win look now? As it is, he tarnished his own victory by touting it as a mismatch.

Fury ought to fight Kubrat Pulev next. Despite the 'fact' that Tyson's got no chin, according to just about everybody, the Sauerlands, who look after the Bulgarian, will drive a hard deal and I would be surprised if we see that fight, but don't rule out a Cunningham rematch here in the UK. Cunningham is desperate for redemption, claiming the end was illegal.

Nathan Cleverly was good value for his unanimous decision win against Robin Krasniqi © AP

Also fighting on Saturday night, and in direct contrast to Fury, you had Nathan Cleverly. The WBO light-heavyweight champion never put a foot wrong against Robin Krasniqi, and while some will say he should have forced it a bit more, I think that winning every round was more important that showing emotion.

Remember, this was a forced mandatory - it wasn't a fight that anybody particularly wanted. But now Nathan gets to fight on the undercard of Bernard Hopkins' bout against Karo Murat in Brooklyn in July, where he could end up fighting Beibut Shumenov of Kazakhstan for the WBA title - that would put two world title fights on the bill, one a unification, and would in theory lead to the two winners meeting in September. Hopefully that's Hopkins and Cleverly.

I've said it before in this column: Hopkins has agreed to fight Cleverly. More than that, Hopkins wants Cleverly. He sees him as a piece of the jigsaw that he needs to stick in his pocket. It's not a fantasy or hype, it's done and dusted.

Hopefully before that, Cleverly can fight Schumenov. However, there's another mandatory defence against Juergen Braehmer that he needs to get out of the way - but hey, bigger obstacles than that have been overcome in boxing.

On Buncey's Boxing Podcast this week, we speak to Virgil Hunter about Amir Khan's return to the ring in Sheffield and grabbed a word with Haroon Khan, who makes his professional debut on his big brother's undercard. We also caught up with Lee Haskins, surely one of the best little men in this country for the past decade, as he fights for the British title in Bristol on Saturday, and Frank Buglioni who, with eight wins, six of them quick, is gaining a reputation as the best individual ticket-seller in the UK.

Until next week - adios.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Steve Bunce Close
Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.