If you want to erase the perception of you as a fighter just win your last fight by stoppage. Conversely, if you want your perception as a killer to be diminished, go the distance after compiling a long KO streak. In the NFL there’s a saying among head coaches – it goes something like “we’re not as good as we looked during our best game and we’re not as bad as we looked during our worst game.”
Last month heavyweight contender Dillian Whyte 23-1 (17) fought Lucas Browne 25-1 (22) for something called the WBC Silver heavyweight title. In Whyte’s last bout before facing Browne, he looked pedestrian winning a 12-round unanimous decision over Robert Helenius. As for Browne, he built his career feasting on journeymen and has-beens and had never faced an upper tier contender, let alone beat one.
For five rounds Whyte out-thought and out-fought Browne at every turn. There’s a strong case to be made the fight could’ve been halted early in the sixth round but it wasn’t and Whyte went on to score a brutal knockout with a picture perfect left hook, leaving Browne out cold, face down on the canvas. After destroying Browne, Whyte is no longer best remembered for losing to Anthony Joshua. The loss will never be erased from his record but his career trajectory has been completely reversed.
Since destroying Browne in the manner in which he did, suddenly Whyte is the most dangerous fighter in the division in the eyes of some and is considered a legit threat to both WBA/IBF/WBO champ Anthony Joshua and WBC champ Deontay Wilder. The fact that Joshua has already dominated and stopped Whyte doesn’t matter. And pertaining to Wilder, there are more than a few who believe Whyte would be too risky for Deontay to fight before meeting Joshua, something that wouldn’t have been said in jest the day after Whyte fought Helenius. It’s amazing what a strong deodorant an impressive knockout can be. Maybe it’s me, but I think Wilder would knock Whyte out after looking like an amateur for maybe the first three or four rounds.
Speaking of Wilder, on March 3rd Deontay defended his title against the best opponent he’d ever fought, Luis Ortiz. During the first four rounds Ortiz backed him up, out-boxed and even out-punched Wilder. Late in the fifth round Wilder scored a knockdown after losing three quarters of the round. Ortiz then makes a comeback in the sixth and then has Wilder nearly out and stumbling all over the ring as the seventh round ends. After a delayed start, Wilder stabilizes the fight in the eighth and has a good ninth before dropping a tiring Ortiz twice and finishing him in the 10th.
Since he knocked out Ortiz, Wilder is now seen as a more complete fighter and some even see him as the favorite if he were to meet Joshua next. And that’s mostly due to the fact that Wilder ended the fight with Ortiz in a very convincing manner. The sensational knockout once again is a deodorant to how clumsy, amateurish, and hittable Wilder appeared before scoring the knockout. Forget about how the judges had Wilder ahead by a point going into the last round – the reality is Ortiz beat him up and bettered him in six of the nine completed rounds. Granted, all that matters is who won and Wilder’s power bailed him out again, but the point is that he was bettered by Ortiz and was seconds away from losing which is glossed over and dismissed because of the knockout he scored.
On March 31st Anthony Joshua suffered the opposite fate of Whyte and Wilder. AJ, who had knocked out every one of his previous 20 opponents, was forced to go the distance by Joseph Parker. During the course of the 12 rounds, Joshua was never hurt or shook or even out-fought for a minute. The problem was that in dictating the ring geography of the fight with his jab, which was enough to prevent Parker from trying to assert himself, AJ didn’t beat up or work over Parker. What Joshua did was take what Parker gave him and never really dared to attempt to win the fight in his typical signature fashion.
The fact that Joshua didn’t destroy Parker has altered the way he’s viewed now, at least to some who didn’t feel that way before the fight. The lasting image of Joshua off the Parker fight is one of a fighter who was too risk-averse, yet when Floyd Mayweather conducted his entire career that way it was seen as brilliance. Maybe so, but heavyweights don’t get that break.
Imagine if Whyte had been forced to go the distance with Browne; would he still be seen as a threat to Deontay Wilder?
What if Wilder didn’t lose a minute against Ortiz but was forced to go the distance? Would he be praised for fighting smart and rarely getting hit or would he be excoriated for not getting the knockout?
What if Joshua came back from the brink of defeat versus Parker and knocked him out? What would the conversation be today? Would fans and observers be discussing how Joshua was nearly KO’d?
I don’t know the answer, but what I do know is winning by virtue of an impressive knockout deodorizes all the negative that happened to the winner before he finally won it. On the other hand, if you’re perceived as a knockout artist and are forced to go the distance, some will say that you don’t have it anymore.
Knockouts are great eye candy but cause many to overreact. The morning after Mike Tyson went the distance against James “Quick” Tillis, the consensus was that he would’ve been schooled by Larry Holmes. The morning after he knocked out Michael Spinks, some believed he would’ve done the same to Muhammad Ali.
If Wilder is forced to go the distance in his next fight the way he was by Bermane Stiverne the first time they fought, the thought will be that Joshua will kill him when they meet. And if Joshua scores an impressive KO in his next fight, the conversation in most boxing circles will be – he was always better than Wilder!
Winning by impressive knockout is the perfect deodorant for how a fighter is perceived by others because most see what they want to see!
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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