Heart Over Head

In the aftermath of the second Wilder vs. Fury fight, the question of whether his cornerman, Mark Breland, a high-level, ex-fighter himself, was errant in throwing in the towel and ending the fight as he felt his man was taking a hiding with no hope of overcoming it was asked.

The majority of the boxing world agree that he was right to throw in the towel. He was taking a ferocious beating and seemed to have little hope of winning a fight in which he had been comprehensively outclassed.

Wilder, for his part, was not best pleased about Breland ending the contest, a frustration he showed in the moment of stoppage during the fight, and has said that, subsequently, he will be relieving Breland of his duties. Wilder’s head trainer, Jay Deas, was prepared to let his man fight on. Deas is not an ex-fighter.

It is a difficult thing for those who have never stepped into a ring to understand. Why would someone who is obviously losing want to carry on fighting? This is not the popular fiction of Captain America standing up to the might of Thanos. We cheer that sort of bravery, Cap is the hero, we know he is going to win. In the ring, there is no such guarantee.

There are, as anyone who is into boxing knows, many incidents of fighters who have seemed on the brink of defeat and turned the fight with one punch. Many older heads will remember the brilliant but unlucky Sheffield pugilist, Herol Graham, outclassing and embarrassing the heavy-handed American, Julian Jackson, for four rounds of a one-sided contest, only to be put to sleep by a haymaker just as he was on the brink of becoming a world champion.

As long as there are fist being thrown, both fighters have a chance. Still, unless one has been in that situation, it is hard to understand what Wilder was thinking and how he could believe he was going to win. I have been in that situation, the situation where the towel comes in after a somewhat one-sided contest and you are frustrated because you felt you could have kept going.

When you fight properly, not sparring or a scuffle but in the ring, you do not feel the punches. That was my experience anyway, that is why you always hear fighters say that they never really felt hurt.

Your adrenaline is so high and you are so focused on what you want to do that the punches just do not register. You feel them but not enough to make you want to stop. The fear is also different. You cannot fear getting hurt because it would be impossible to get into the ring.

You fear losing. You fear not giving a good account of yourself. You fear embarrassing yourself. The fear of pain is the furthest thing from your mind. Fighting, as a sport, deliberately, is lunacy. To put yourself deliberately in harm’s way? There is no other way to look at it. In a fight, until it is proved otherwise, a fighter will always believe he or she can win.

Like the famous Monty Python scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, most fighters have the mentality of the Black Knight. That is why a fighter needs people in his corner. The fact that Breland was the only person in Wilder’s corner prepared to stop the fight say more about Wilder’s lackeys and their characters than it does about Breland.

Breland showed humanity and experience in stopping the fight. It may, ultimately, cost him his job but he will be able to live with himself and his conscience. The rest of his corner needs to take a good hard look at themselves. It seems that they are happy to be riding the gravy train that is living in the orbit of a heavyweight champion.

Wilder is the money. As long as Wilder was champion those around remained in a nice comfortable existence. Now that he has been dethroned it will be interesting to see what his next move will be. Losing his title in the manner in which he did, losing the fight in the manner in which he did, will be difficult for him to take.

It is over twenty years since I lost my fight after the towel was thrown in and I still think about it. No fighter wants to lose like that. In the ring, a fighter can be his own worse enemy and he will always want to go out on his shield.

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