By Graham Houston
Promoters Frank Warren and Mick Hennessy are joining forces to present British heavyweight rivals Tyson Fury and Dereck Chisora in separate bouts in London on Saturday (TV coverage on BoxNation in the U.K., PPV in the U.S. and Fight Network in Canada). The plan is that Fury and Chisora will meet in a rematch later this year. If all works out as planned, Fury and Chisora will win to whet the boxing public’s appetite for the return fight.
There is always the risk, though, that something might go wrong.
Back in 1956 promoter Jack Solomons matched British heavyweight champion Don Cockell and ex-champ Jack Gardner in separate bouts prior to a Cockell-Gardner fight in July of that year. The opponents didn’t read the script, though. A Tongan slugger named Kitione Lave, who had settled in Yorkshire, bludgeoned Cockell into defeat in two rounds; Gardner, badly cut over the eye, lost in two rounds to Joe Bygraves, a Jamaican boxer who lived in Birkenhead, across the Mersey from Liverpool. The Cockell-Gardner fight was scrapped and neither man boxed again.
Things worked out wonderfully, though, when promoter Bob Arum presented welterweight champions Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns in a joint main event in June 1981 that was designed to fuel the already considerable interest in a Leonard-Hearns megafight. Leonard stepped up to junior middleweight and won the WBA title by stopping Ugandan Ayub Kalule in the ninth round, while Hearns retained his WBA 147-pound title by destroying a fighter from the Dominican Republic named Pablo Baez in four rounds.
The promoters weren’t taking any chances when matching heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson and No. 1 contender Sonny Liston against overmatched opponents in a closed-circuit double-header from Toronto and Philadelphia in December 1961 as a prelude to the Patterson-Liston bout the following year — Patterson easily disposed of game but limited Tom McNeeley with a multiple-knockdown, four-round KO, while Liston clubbed a smaller, hopelessly outgunned German heavyweight named Albert Westphal in a one-round embarrassment.
On Saturday, Fury is expected to win easily against his opponent Joey Abell, a 32-year-old southpaw from Minnesota who has stopped 28 opponents in 29 wins but has been stopped five times himself, including in three of his last six appearances.
Chisora’s fight with Kevin “Kingpin” Johnson is likely to be much trickier. Johnson is the underdog but he has produced world-class performances, such as knocking out Alex Leapai — Wladimir Klitschko’s next challenger — in Australia a couple of years ago. The problem with Johnson is that he has it in him to be an underachiever — what old-timers would call a lazy fighter.
In his last fight — one that looked eminently winnable — Johnson boxed without a great deal of enthusiasm and allowed himself to be outpointed by Christian Hammer in Germany. We saw the under-motivated Johnson again in the Prizefighter final in 2012 when Tor Hamer outhustled him in another fight that Johnson seemed capable of winning had he made a greater effort. As for his fights with Vitali Klitschko and Tyson Fury, it seemed that all Johnson wanted to do was go 12 rounds without getting hit too much.
This could be a dreary 12 rounds, with Johnson covering up, stalling, spoiling and looking to go the distance while taking the minimum amount of punishment. If Johnson shows up to fight, though, if he uses his jab the way he is capable of using it, and lets his hands go, he has the boxing ability to make life difficult for Chisora. We can’t be sure which version of Johnson will show up.
Chisora, commendably, seems to be preparing for, as they say, the best version of Kevin Johnson. Chisora is on a bit of a roll, with four stoppage wins in a row although he was sluggish at 252 pounds when stopping Hector Avila, the Argentinean veteran, and he looked lax defensively in his last fight when Ondrej Pala hit him all too easily before “Del Boy” discouraged his Czech opponent in the third round. The Chisora who broke down Malik Scott and battered Edmund Gerber is, though, a formidable heavyweight with his tank-like advance and excellent body punching. Indeed, when Chisora is really in form and bearing down on an opponent it is possible to see a bit of the Joe Frazier in him.
There is a chance, I think, that Chisora can look good in this fight, if he can keep on top of Johnson and just keep punching. The concern is that Johnson will go into his shutters-down defence, block punches, tie up Chisora in clinches and make this an unedifying spectacle, in which case Chisora will just have to make the best of a bad job, hit whatever is available and settle for an unsatisfying win on points. If Johnson is in the mood to fight, though, and isn’t in London simply to survive, we will have another scenario altogether — a heavyweight fight that will be, in its way, quite fascinating. The oddsmakers are offering Chisora to win by decision at -175. That looks about right to me, but I’ll be looking for weigh-in footage on Friday to see if anything tips me into going with a different outcome.
While we can’t be sure exactly what we will be getting with the main event, Fury versus Abell looks like being what people in the boxing trade call a fun fight, although it always seems to me that for one of the fighters at least it isn’t going to be particularly enjoyable.
Fury had a frustrating 2013, with the two dates to meet David Haye falling through and the bout falling out completely when Haye announced his retirement. I’m sure it will be a relief to the big fellow when he is in the ring and sees his opponent waiting for him in the opposite corner. Abell can be a bit dangerous, although Kubrat Pulev looked more embarrassed than hurt when Abell’s left hand sent him to the canvas last December. Fury has been known to get wobbled and even dropped, so Abell might come out to have a go at getting an early knockout. Fury, though, looks too big, too talented and too much for this level of opponent.
The oddsmakers have set a line of -700 for Fury to win by KO, TKO or DQ, and it’s difficult to see this any other way. I don’t think that Fury will particularly be looking to make some sort of statement — he just likes to fight, and I think he will come out behind his long left jab and look to bring in the right hands and the left hooks quite early in the proceedings. There could be an anxious moment or two for the Fury camp, but after about three rounds I think that it will just be a matter of time before the British champion overwhelms his opponent, and I can’t see this fight going very much further than the halfway stage.
So, if Fury and Chisora win — especially if they can win in style — the stage will be nicely set for the return fight. Last time Fury won clearly on points but Chisora wasn’t in the best of condition. The rematch has the potential to be something special, but I don’t think the promoters will be breathing easily until business has been satisfactorily taken care of on Saturday night.