By Corey Erdman
On Saturday night in Las Vegas, Tyson Fury dominated Tom Schwarz the way a 30-1 favorite would be expected to. Based on rough calculations, a 30-1 favorite is assumed to have a 96.1% chance of winning the contest. Inside the ring, Fury behaved like someone overwhelmingly better than his opponent, taunting, boxing with his hands at his side and then violently finishing Schwarz the very moment he felt like it.
Before the bell rang, odds on Schwarz had dipped down to 12-2, illustrating the boxing landscape that has been at least temporarily altered by Andy Ruiz and his massive upset over Anthony Joshua a few weeks ago.
Ruiz’s victory made every single fight on the boxing calendar a matter of debate, no matter how lopsided they may appear at first blush, and as a result, has given every writer, commentator, and most importantly—promoter and network, hand in hand—the ammo to write, talk about and sell them.
If not for Ruiz’s upset, there would have been little reason to believe Tom Schwarz, the little known German who had never fought 12 rounds, and once used absurd theatrics to gain a disqualification win over Senad Gashi, would have any hope of beating one of the most physically blessed specimens to ever enter the sport of boxing. Sure, Fury had been dropped by smaller men like Nevin Pajkic, and Steve Cunningham, and famously the destructive puncher Deontay Wilder, but he always got up and closed the show.
Leading up to the fight, the shadow of Ruiz loomed over this bout from every direction. Pre-fight articles speculated whether Schwarz could do to Fury what Ruiz had done to Joshua, and begged the question of how Fury and Deontay Wilder would have performed against Ruiz themselves. In the broadcast build-up, Ruiz’s upset was the asterisk next to the lack of highlight footage or anecdotal background about Schwarz available to even the broadcasters —“but we saw what could happen just a few weeks ago!”
“We always prepare professionally, no matter who we’re boxing or where we’re boxing. Because we know those things [as in the Joshua fight] can happen,” Fury’s trainer told The Telegraph’s Gareth Davies prior to the bout.
Ruiz has perhaps balanced the scales in terms of fight prognostication once again. The reality is that most fights are neither as evenly matched as promoters and networks would have you believe, nor as lopsided as the most jaded of observers would suggest either. A statistical formula based on odds can’t actually predict a fighter’s percentage chance of winning in the way it might be able to in other sports. Boxing simultaneously has too many variables for it to be evaluated that way, and too few. Outside of CompuBox’s calculations, there is no meta data or deep database of trends and tendencies to study for two fighters in the way one might be able to compare baseball or basketball teams.
But that kind of blind, barbershop chair analysis is what boxing has thrived upon since Tyson Fury’s ancestors were battling bare-fisted in “saloons, rooftops and quarries,” as ESPN commentator Mark Kriegel described.
Promoters—in particular Fury’s, who has been promoting since the mid-1960s—know exactly how to stoke that flame. It’s not a coincidence that boxing and professional wrestling were closely linked from a promotional and coverage standpoint right up until roughly the 1970s. Even Jess McMahon, sire of the biggest wrestling dynasty in the world, had a hand in promoting both wrestling and boxing simultaneously. Although one is the real thing and the other is a theatrical approximation of a fight, the ways in which stars are created and big fights are sold are effectively the same in both disciplines.
In wrestling, performers’ ascents are aided by bouts against “enhancement talent,” matches in which the star dominates with the full scope of his offensive arsenal and receives no resistance whatsoever. These matches are not totally sold as competitive affairs, but the commentators on the broadcast will often throw in a caveat about how “(insert wrestler) needs to get past his opponent tonight before he can think about a title shot,” as if it’s not already a foregone conclusion (in storyline or otherwise). Boxing benefits from the same types of matchups and the fruits they create, albeit without the absolute certainty that the outcome will be what the promoter and network intend. Fury’s throttling of Schwarz is a perfect example of this. “The Gypsy King,” faced with an overmatched foe, used WWE-style theatrics during his ring walk, showboated relentlessly, before parlaying his defensive and offensive skills into a thudding finish. The closing 40 seconds of the fight, with Fury dodging punches on the ropes with his hands at his side, like Muhammad Ali in an exhibition bout, before scoring a knockout, created the perfect length clip to be broadcast on sports highlight shows, and shared across social media on all of the biggest sports meme aggregate accounts.
All in all, the night couldn’t have gone better for Fury. He was able to ride the wave of artificial uncertainty about an upset thanks to Ruiz heading into the bout, lending it more credence than perhaps it deserved (Fury, to his credit, didn’t himself try to sugar coat it, and predicted he would “smash the bum in one round”), and then deliver a performance that showed the absolute ceiling of his abilities in the ring, the way one can only display them when there is no imminent danger.
The fawning over Fury’s skills and personality in the days following the fight shows that as much as the boxing public might hate them, tune-up fights do serve a purpose for the promoters who put them on. Of course, the most hardened of fans’ opinions on Fury won’t have changed based on that bout, but the casual fans who watch the highlight reel finish and the subsequent karaoke performances might be newly enamored with the affable giant.
Boxing is ultimately at its most exciting when things don’t go as planned, but even the most predictable of results can produce some cheap fun as well.