Derek Chisora and Kubrat Pulev meet this Saturday in a heavyweight rematch at the O2 Arena in London. Luke G. Williams previews the fight and asks whether it’s time for Del Boy to be saved from his own warrior instincts…
When should a fighter be protected from themselves?
When medical scans or the British Board say so? When they reach a certain age, or have a certain number of professional bouts or rounds under their belt?
Or maybe when it becomes clear that they will – in all honesty – probably never withdraw of their own volition from boxing, such is their addiction to the adrenaline rush engendered by hitting and being hit.
Such uncomfortable but unanswerable questions hang – hauntingly – over this Saturday’s heavyweight showdown between Derek Chisora and Kubrat Pulev, which headlines a middling to poor Matchroom card at the O2 Arena in London.
Now 38, Chisora continues to fight with a determination that takes the breath away, and a recklessness for his own future health and wellbeing that is concerning. The danger signals are all there in his pre-fight rhetoric.
Chisora told the Five Live Boxing Podcast this week:
“I listen to nobody.”
“I’m my own boss, I make my own decisions, I do what I want to do. I do what makes me happy basically. Fighting keeps me happy. I love doing it, win or lose.”
Given all that we have learned – and are still learning about CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) many observers – myself included – view Chisora’s ongoing appearances as a major event headliner against high quality and hard-hitting heavyweights as something of a moral conundrum – a Chisora fight is the sort of contest you want to avert your eyes from for fear of what might unfold now, or what irreversible damage might be proven in the future to have been inflicted on the old warrior’s brain.
Sure, it may not be the ‘done thing’ in a fight preview to write about CTE or refer to the possibility of brain damage, but in the case of Chisora it is a moral imperative to at least raise these issues, for he has had an unusually punishing career.
During an astonishing 44-fight pro journey (comprising 32 wins, 12 losses) the Zimbabwe-born pugilist has never ducked a challenge and has faced a who’s who of the post-millennial heavyweight division, including Tyson Fury (twice), Joseph Parker (twice), Oleksandr Usyk, Dillian Whyte (twice), David Haye, Vitali Klitschko and Robert Helenius, sustaining a bewildering array of punishing blows to his head and body along the way.
It’s a truly astonishing CV, but it’s also worth emphasising that across ten contests with those aforementioned and accomplished seven fighters Chisora has failed to register a single win (although there have been some close calls along the way, with the vast majority of observers feeling he deserved the nod against Helenius while plenty of respected voices also think he edged his first fight with Whyte).
None of this is said to denigrate Chisora’s career or achievements, merely to emphasise the fact that since turning pro in 2007 he has proven to be a fighter whose ceiling is below that of genuine world class.
Del Boy’s best wins are probably his victories against Carlos Takam, David Price, Artur Szpilka and Kevin Johnson. If he was to beat Pulev – a tough and well-schooled Bulgarian whose sole career losses have come in world title contests against Wladimir Klitschko and Anthony Joshua – it would probably stand as the best win of Chisora’s career.
The two men – of course – have met before, the Bulgarian winning a split but deserved points victory in May 2016. On that night in Hamburg, Pulev’s savvy use of the jab and ability to tie Chisora up proved decisive.
At 41, the Bulgarian is the older of the two combatants, but has not accumulated as many miles on his boxing clock as Chisora.
Truth be told, Pulev’s 29-2 career (14 KOs) has often promised more than it has delivered. A good technician with decent dig in both hands and an above average ability to withstand punishment, Pulev – like Chisora – lacks a defining victory against a top-class foe, and on the two occasions he’s stepped up to world championship class – against Wlad and AJ – he was found badly wanting. Nevertheless, Pulev’s amateur pedigree as a world championship bronze medallist and European championship gold medal winner demands respect.
Chisora will most likely lose on Saturday, because that’s what he normally does against leading heavyweights. It will probably be a points loss, and it will most likely be vaguely debatable. It’s also a given that Chisora will give it his all – of course he will, because he’s a warrior through and through, a man who lives to fight under the bright, white lights.
The crowd will embrace him, myriad chants of ‘Oh Derek Chisora’ will echo across the O2 and the man himself will go home smiling, delighted to have once again heard the roar of the crowd and felt the thud of leather on his own face and that of Pulev.
Win or lose, Chisora will inevitably fight on, forever chasing the end of the rainbow, one final payday and one last buzz. Eddie Hearn will continue to promote and enable him, and the fans will continue to love him.
Beyond that, it will be up to fate and neurology.
I hope that one day in the future the boxing community won’t end up being complicit in Chisora succumbing – mentally or physically – to the immense damage he has sustained throughout his career.
But somehow I fear that’s how the story is fated to end.