Tyson Fury kept up his end of the bargain Saturday night in Las Vegas, taking care of business with a unanimous decision victory over Otto Wallin, despite the scare of a bad cut over his right eye early in his fight, to retain boxing's lineal heavyweight championship.
His attention, along with that of the entire boxing world, now turns to Deontay Wilder and the megafight heavily rumored for early 2020.
There's plenty to talk about after a fight that was far closer than most would have thought, from how Fury's team handled the cut and the strategy thereafter, to what it tells us leading into the rematch with Wilder. ESPN's boxing experts run through the biggest and most pressing questions Fury faces after Saturday night's victory over Wallin.
What went wrong with Tyson Fury's game plan?
Rafael: I don't think anything went wrong. Having two cuts ripped open on your eyelid was the issue, not his plan. It happens. But the greats figure out a way to adjust and have trained for a crisis.
The cuts certainly threw Fury off whatever his plan was but as he always says -- he's a warrior, and he was able to fight through it as best as possible. There was so much blood and urgency because of the fact that the fight could have been stopped at any moment that he had to abandon whatever the plan was and just go all out for a knockout. That was the right game plan at that moment.
Kim: Some credit should be given to Wallin, who for the first half of the fight proved to be a very difficult and elusive target for Fury. Fury looked uncharacteristically out of sync and was pressing at first. Maybe Wallin was just a bit better than everyone expected.
But early on, Fury was certainly uncomfortable with the southpaw style of Wallin, and he wasn't necessarily outboxing him. Sometime in the middle of the fight, Fury made the decision that he wasn't going to box and finesse from the outside, and instead step to Wallin and lean on him, while throwing consistent body shots. It was very reminiscent of his outing against Steve Cunningham in 2013, where he was down in the second round and had fits with the speed of the American, who was a natural cruiserweight.
In that fight, Fury decided to use his size advantage and made that fight a phone-booth battle, and he wore down Cunningham in seven rounds. Wallin, who has legitimate heavyweight girth, was much more durable and saw it out to the distance.
Based on his past two fights, can Fury win a rematch against Wilder?
Fury calls out Wilder: 'I want you next, bum!'
Tyson Fury congratulates Otto Wallin on a competitive fight after his victory, then calls out Deontay Wilder for his next match. For more Top Rank Boxing action, sign up for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/.
Rafael: Of course he can. Fury was just a few months into a comeback after 31 months out of the ring (and two low-level tune-up fights) when he easily outboxed Wilder for long stretches of their fight. Since then he has gotten in better shape, had two more training camps and two more fights. He figures to be a lot sharper in the rematch, so there's no reason to think he can't fight better and perhaps avoid the knockdowns he suffered in the first time.
Kim: Many will perhaps overreact and say that based on the tougher-than-expected victory over a game Wallin that Wilder is now the clear favorite in the rematch. But remember this: styles make fights.
Wallin is a southpaw, and Wilder is an orthodox boxer. They couldn't be more opposite in style and temperament inside the ring. You'd have to think that Fury will approach the rematch with Wilder much differently than he did Saturday's fight.
Truth to be told, though, this was not one of Fury's best nights. He got an unexpectedly tough battle from an underdog who didn't go by the script. That being said, the biggest mistake we can make on fight night is to be a prisoner of the moment and forget how Fury and Wilder's first battle last December played out.
Parkinson: Fury showed he is capable of beating Wilder when they fought to a split draw last December, and two wins over limited opposition since tells us nothing new about Fury.
Fury was expected to beat Wallin. His past two fights were purely designed to keep him active and boost his U.S. profile, while he waits for the Wilder rematch (reportedly set for February). The Wallin performance showed us Fury has good physical fitness, is mentally strong, and is ready for Wilder.
Can the lineal champion be sharp and stay away from Wilder's big punches? That is up for debate.
What does beating Wallin actually do for Fury? Is he the best of the big four heavyweights (along with Wilder, Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr.) right now?
Rafael: The fight gave Fury the benefit of another training camp and another fight to sharpen up. And this is also no small matter -- he made about $12.5 million for the fight, which is not insignificant. I still rate Wilder ahead of No. 2 Fury. Wilder didn't have a long layoff like Fury and has overall faced better opposition since Fury's layoff.
Kim: Well, in the big picture, not much, to be honest. But Fury and his trainer, Ben Davison, mentioned at the fighter meeting Thursday afternoon with the ESPN crew that there was an importance in getting into training camps to continue to sharpen their tools in the gym. Beating the likes of Tom Schwarz and now Wallin is something that was expected of Fury (who came into both bouts as the huge favorite), but based on his past inactivity and propensity to blow up in weight, just being in camp is vital for Fury.
As for who's the best of the four heavyweights mentioned above, that remains to be seen. Everyone can have their opinion, and in the upcoming months you will see a couple of important heavyweight fights taking place to finish out the year.
After Joshua and Ruiz have their rematch, and Wilder presumably takes on Luis Ortiz, Wilder and Fury are hopeful to meet in February.
For several rounds Saturday, we were left to wonder if Fury-Wilder II was going to be expunged from the upcoming boxing schedule. Now, who's the best heavyweight in the world? I still say it's Fury, but a more definitive answer can be given after their rematch. Like Larry Merchant says, "There's a reason why you fight the fights."
Parkinson: Beating Wallin keeps Fury at No. 2, but due to the quality and ranking of Wallin does not elevate Fury above the division's No. 1 and WBC titleholder Wilder, in my opinion. Wallin is not even ranked in the top 20 in Europe, so this win does nothing to improve Fury's status.
Fury's draw with Wilder, which many thought he deserved to win, puts him ahead of WBA-IBF-WBO champion Ruiz, who stopped Fury's fellow Briton Joshua in seven rounds in June. I had Joshua as heavyweight king until the upset, and he has now toppled to my No. 4.
Do you think Fury should step aside to allow Wilder to face Ruiz as Wilder suggested?
Rafael: Absolutely not. He has a signed contract for the rematch. That is what the fans want to see and the fight that Fury wants. This is pretty simple and, frankly, idle talk from Wilder in my view.
Kim: No, absolutely not. Last I checked, his concern was his own career and not Wilder's.
When Fury was asked about Wilder's comments about this at the fighter meeting, he was very clear in his answer: "I'm not willing to step aside for anybody, because money's one thing, but we've got something to set straight, y'know. I believe I won the fight, he believes he got a draw -- we're going to set that straight."
Parkinson: Absolutely not. Fury deserves the rematch after dominating Wilder for periods in December. Wilder needs to assert his authority on the division after the draw with Fury before going for the unification fight.
The timeline, if the cut heals properly, allows for a rematch, too. Ruiz will not be ready to fight Wilder in early 2020 if he beats Joshua. A fight against Ruiz or Joshua will happen later in 2020 (if it happens), allowing Wilder to face Fury. Wilder would face criticism for ducking Fury, the only opponent to deny him victory, for another opponent in 2020.
Did Tyson Fury and his team adjust appropriately after the cut?
Rafael: I think they did the best job they could under very difficult circumstances. Every fighter and corner has to prepare for cuts. They're a common part of boxing. But these cuts appeared unusually bad so Fury's cutman, Jorge Capetillo, should be commended for doing yeoman's work between rounds to close the wounds. He might have saved the fight for Fury.
Capetillo was able to close the cuts even though they would eventually open once Wallin, who was targeting the eye, hit him. But some cutmen would not have been able to get them under control at all. As for Fury, he adjusted well. The cuts were very obviously bothering him given how often he dabbed at his eye and because of how much blood was flowing. But the greats find a way to get through it and Fury acted the way a fighter is supposed to.
Kim: Well, that's hard to say, as none of us are doctors and there are certain cuts that are difficult, or even impossible, to stem. This seemed to be one of the latter type, and the stream of blood was consistent throughout the night from the gash on Fury's right eye.
Round after round, you could see the gobs of Vaseline on Fury's eye, but as soon as a punch was landed or Wallin would rub the laces of his glove over the cut, the crimson tide would resume. Boxing is a tough game and cuts are a part of the sport. The corner team did the best it could, and Fury overcame adversity the way you expect from a world-class fighter.
What impact will the cut have on the presumptive Feb. 22 rematch date against Wilder?
Rafael: The Nevada commission will issue Fury a standard medical suspension that probably will be at least two months, perhaps longer. But with the rematch against Wilder five months away, the cuts probably won't have an impact. With that said, it is possible, depending on how many stitches Fury needed and how tender the area is over the next few months.
One thing is for sure -- he should not go into the rematch unless his cuts are 100 percent healed. Not 99 percent, 100 percent. There's no reason why if there is still an issue that one of the biggest fights in boxing can't be backed up another month or two.
Kim: This won't be known until Fury goes through a full examination of the injury. At the very least, he will be put under medical suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for a few months. The cut was significant, no doubt, but five months is a long time to heal.
And we've seen countless other examples where fighters suffer significant cuts, go through medical procedures, recover for a few months and then get back to fighting. Every boxer understands this is an occupational risk.
Does Wallin deserve another big fight after his performance against Fury?
Rafael: One hundred percent yes. He was 20-0 coming into the fight but this one loss made a bigger impact on the boxing world than any of his wins. This loss made his career, so if there's such a thing as winning in a loss, this is it. He was a 30-to-1 underdog and gave the lineal champion the toughest fight of his career.
In many places he might have won because it would have been stopped because of the cuts and all the blood. So Wallin not only competed very well with Fury, who is, at worst, the second-best heavyweight in the world, to deserve another big fight. He absolutely will get one. There are never enough quality heavyweights to go around and he put himself in the picture with a gritty and exciting effort. He is going to make a lot of money going forward because of this loss and he deserves it.
Kim: Just like there are never enough good left-handed arms in baseball, there are never enough good, solid heavyweights in boxing. On Saturday, Wallin showed he is respectable and earned a great deal of credibility in putting up the effort he did. He is now a relevant figure within the division for the foreseeable future, and he showed that not only is he far from hapless, but he's downright competent, with a degree of athleticism and plenty of heart and toughness.
Many observers were expecting a one-sided blowout, like the one they saw in June when Fury handled Schwarz. But Wallin boxed with a certain composure and wasn't overwhelmed by the moment in the least. Though the fight slipped away from him in the second half, he not only survived all 12 rounds, he actually buzzed Fury in the last round.
Based on Saturday's effort, wouldn't you want to see him in there against the likes of Adam Kownacki, Dillian Whyte, Oleksandr Usyk or a Jarrell Miller?
For Wallin, there is winning in losing.
Whom do you think Emanuel Navarrete will fight next?
Rafael: Nothing is set in stone, but he said before the fight he wanted to unify titles. They might prove to be difficult fights to make, but Rey Vargas, who holds one of the 122-pound belts, was ringside and also wants a unification fight.
Navarrete is with Top Rank (with Zanfer as his co-promoter) and Vargas is with Golden Boy, but the companies have been getting along well lately and have made some notable fights recently, so it's possible he could get a fight with Vargas sooner than later as long as neither fighter has delusions about the size of their payday. Navarrete-Vargas seems like most doable of the various unifications and it would be a battle of Navarrete's tremendous power against Vargas' technical boxing skills.
Kim: Navarrete, who made two title defenses in less than a month, is a fighter with great momentum. But he mentioned to the ESPN crew a couple of days ago that his days at 122 were quickly coming to an end. His lanky 5-foot-7 frame isn't going to be able to make the junior featherweight limit much longer. And Navarrete says with that limited time he has remaining in this weight class, he would like to focus on unification bouts.
Danny Roman, who has the WBA and IBF belts, still has to deal with his WBA mandatory bout down the line in Murodjon Akhmadaliev, but WBC belt-holder Vargas was at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday watching Navarrete. This is the bout to make.
Parkinson: It would be great to see Navarrete progress to a unification fight, perhaps against his Mexican rival Rey Vargas or American Danny Roman. Cuban Guillermo Rigondeaux, 38, a former world champion, still stalks the division, but would be a dangerous fight and a surprise choice. Most likely is that Navarrete faces another boxer from the Philippines, as Marlon Tapales is No. 1 and Albert Pagara is No. 3 in the WBO rankings.