Deontay Wilder reaches a sad end on unique night that showed boxing’s future

by Admin
The Independent

Deontay Wilder was brutally knocked out by Zhilei Zhang (Getty Images)

It was the end for Deontay Wilder in the middle of the Saudi Arabian night when he stumbled one last time in a boxing ring.

Wilder turned his back, went down heavily and narrowly beat the count before being rescued on his feet but out of his head; it was an awful end to an extraordinary career in round five against Zhilei Zhang.

The heavyweight fight was the last in the first edition of the 5v5 concept and it meant that Frank Warren’s team beat Eddie Hearn’s team 5-0 in fights and 10-0 in points; it had been hard six hours earlier to predict a final result. The format was always going to take a toll on any boxer willing to play a part in it – it worked because both promoters and all 10 boxers were prepared to take risks and accept 50-50 fights; the money available was a factor, but men have refused dangerous fights before when there has been a substantial cash offer available.

The boxers in the 5v5 all knew the risks of defeat and agreed to fight.

Wilder was Saturday night’s biggest victim, a giant of the ring exposed for the last time. That is, trust me, never an easy sight. Wilder was the heavyweight world champion for three years and one month, making 10 defences. His right hand knocked out 42 of the 43 men he beat. Wilder’s numbers will forever be impressive and now, sadly, the timing and reflexes have gone and at 38 it is the end.

Zhang remains in the heavyweight mix, an enigma of a fighter, both vast and agile. He is 41 now, still a towering threat and firmly established as a danger. He might also be a cult figure in boxing with his “big bang” soundbites.

Zhilei Zhang knocked out Deontay Wilder in the fifth round of their fight in Saudi Arabia (PA Archive)

The other heavyweight fight between Filip Hrgovic and Daniel Dubois should have come with a violence and blood warning; it finished in round eight when the ringside doctor inspected Hrgovic’s cut eyebrows and sensibly waved it off. Hrgovic will probably require plastic surgery to fix his face.

Dubois was repeatedly caught, stunned and hurt in the opening three rounds, but he steadily adjusted his feet, timed his punches and fought his way back into the fight. Hrgovic was cut early and then started to lose his way as Dubois simply refused defeat. The stoppage was right, Hrgovic never complained and was probably saved from a knockout loss.

The bonus prize for the winner, in addition to the interim IBF heavyweight belt, is a date in September outdoors at Wembley Stadium against Anthony Joshua; the huge incentive was motivation in a truly attritional brawl. Incidentally, the interim belt will most likely be upgraded to a full belt and that means that Oleksandr Usyk, the undisputed heavyweight champion, will only be defending three belts when he meets Tyson Fury in Riyadh on 21 December. It is amazing the boxing business can deliver a night like 5v5 and then pull a stunt like that all under one canopy.

Daniel Dubois brilliantly beat Filip Hrgovic to potentially set up a fight against Anthony Joshua (Getty Images)

Nick Ball won the WBA featherweight title with a deserved but split decision over Ray Ford. Both men entered the ring unbeaten in a fight that would never have been made if Warren and Hearn had continued to ignore each other. It was a bold risk by the boxers and promoters to deliver the fight. It was exceptional, and the last round was thrilling.

Hamzah Sheeraz and Ammo Williams is another fight that was only possible because of the close working partnership between Hearn and Warren in the last nine months. They were both unbeaten, both young and both world-ranked. The usual spiel is that it would make sense to only make the fight if a world title was on the line; the thinking is simple, why rush an unbeaten talent for peanuts?

The Saudi investment has changed the dynamic, altered the thinking of boxing veterans and the sport wins. It might sound like a cliche, but it is true.

Sheeraz is 25 and was unbeaten in 19, Williams is 28 and was unbeaten in 16. It finished in the 11th and Sheeraz had dominated. It was, trust me, a rare fight to witness.

Craig Richards lost to Willy Hutchinson in a crossroads fight that was smart and gripping. In the end, over the 12 long rounds, Hutchinson’s youth and activity during the last two years was enough to help him take a decision, which was too wide. Richards was a victim of inactivity and the veteran in the fight. Hutchinson, the kid in the mix, had a lot to prove. In the end, it was his activity that helped him win and he was very good. It was a fight that most believed Richards would win and give Hearn an early lead.

The night never followed a single predictable pattern and it is a format that must return.

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