“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” it was once proclaimed in a holy book. Outside of Christianity, boxing’s pagan god’s can be relied upon to do something similar, without remorse or benevolence. As a citizen of America’s Bible belt, perhaps this lesson in boxing theology is not lost on Deontay Wilder.
Little more than a week ago the Alabaman, was WBC heavyweight champion of the world: a wrecker of men, who’s right-hand was considered by many able judges to constitute the most terrifying single-shot weapon to ever lock and load in a prize ring.
And then Tyson Fury dropped him twice, Mark Breland waved a blood-stained white towel in surrender, and the boxing world turned. Wilder has now unwantedly found himself recast as everyone’s favourite joke on social media. The post-fight excuses sticking like barnacles to his dreadnought turned tugboat of a reputation. The laughter tinged with occasional pity that has subsequently come his way must be a hard and bitter pill to swallow.
After seven years as a pro and unbeaten in 16 fights, Jack Massey recently got his own taste of what the boxing gods, or at least their emissaries on earth, had to offer. They tantalised him with a shot at the British cruiserweight title, let him strive admirably for 12 rounds, allowing him to think he had won, and then finally mocking his efforts by swiftly taking it all away. The fact that it was just a little over a week before Christmas only adds to the depressing nature of a tale that feels like ‘Its a Wonderful Life’ in reverse.
It was his opponent, Londoner Richard Riakporhe, who ultimately saw his arm lifted at the end of proceedings. However, the overriding opinion was that Massey had done enough to win in what was a frustratingly stop-start affair, but the ringside judges determined otherwise. Two of them had it close (115-113 to Riakporhe), but the third saw a gaping chasm (117-111 also to Riakporhe), where the watching public identified only a fag-paper, at best, between the on-the-night merits of the two combatants.
In truth, the overall decision wasn’t the worst of an awful year of shabby verdicts in the UK ring – something that shows no sign of abating following Mohamed Mimoune’s unexpected reverse to Tyrone McKenna in last month’s MTK Golden Contract semi-final. But this was no Billy Graham vs Kid Gavilan outrage either. That fabled old 1951 alleged stitch-up where a police cordon was forced to surround the Madison Square Garden ring to keep at bay an abusive mob of disgruntled fans and fleeced high-rollers.
It is unlikely if any of the three men keeping score at York Hall will ever feel satisfactorily compelled to make a death bed confession in the manner of Graham Vs Gavilin judge, Artie Schwartz, either. “I had to do it,” Schwartz submitted, in reference to his lopsided card in favour of Gavilan. “The boys ordered me to do it. I couldn’t help myself, and it’s bothered me ever since.” –the innocent-sounding “boys” being gangster Frankie Carbo and his dead-eyed crew of killers. When Boxing’s shadowy “Mr. Grey” spoke, only the foolish declined to listen.
For Massey, the damage had already been done within the ropes in only slightly more conventional ways. In the second half of the fight as Riakporhe tired he desperately held and clung on to his opponent, with the referee, Phil Edwards, giving him warning after final warning, like an impotent, elbow-patched supply teacher faced with a class of unruly adolescents. Yet the punishment of a point deduction never transpired.
Had a knockdown not also been incorrectly registered against Massey in the 10th round, then perhaps the judge’s work would have been made easier as well. Yet, so many bad beats did Massey face on his big night, that if he were a poker player he’d probably be asking for a new deck.
Massey, in a break from a two-week stint sparring with Mairis Briedis ahead of his super-fight with Yuniel Dorticos in an unseasonably warm Riga, provides his frank commentary on the fight.
“I definitely think I won. I think the reaction from the other corner showed it as well. It was a close fight, a very close fight. But I think without the referee warning and warning him [Riakporhe] for holding in the last six rounds –and that judge! – We should’ve come out of it with a win. It just all feels a bit biased in my eyes.
“We appealed to the Boxing Board about it; the judging and refereeing and that but nothing came of it. It’s just one of those things I suppose – It’ll work out for the best.
“But the holding was horrible, it wasn’t nice. I was trying all sorts to get him off and get away from him. It’s really not the fight you or anyone else wants. But to be honest, the knockdown is the thing that pissed me off the most. Never in my life have I ever been knocked down from a headshot. Not in sparring or anywhere, and I’ve been boxing from the age of 11. I don’t know how it happened. I think he sort of lent on me or barged into me and my legs somehow went down.
“When the ref gave that as a knockdown I thought: ‘you bastard!”
A relatively scrappy contest was punctuated by glimpses of individual one-punch power from Riakporhe, that on occasion –the disputed knockdown excepted- had Massey in some obvious difficulty. But at the same time demonstrated the 26-year old’s resilience and desire to come-forward and battle his way out of trouble.
“When he hit me I was a bit dazed,” recalls, Massey. “But I recovered quickly and I was back in the fight. He [Riakporhe] hit me with some good shots. Everything he had. But for me, it [getting hit] doesn’t do any harm. It spurs me on even more and I grit my teeth: I’m like fucking come on then. Some people might try and run around the ring a bit, but I like to get stuck straight back in. My mentality is: if you want to fight, then let’s go! I think he quickly worked out he was in for a long night, and I think that showed in the later rounds.”
The close nature of the fight and the manner of Massey’s defeat has ensured that his stock has risen exponentially in the weeks since, regardless of the recorded outcome. Having suffered the disappointment of an earlier British title matchup with Lawrence Okolie being pulled at the last minute, due to a torn bicep, Massey had just a single six-round tune-up in the 12 months prior to his British title challenge. He was also completely untested over anything longer than eight rounds.
“It was great to get my first 12 rounder under my belt,” said Massey.
“You can spar 12 rounds, but obviously a fight is different and you don’t necessarily know how to gauge the rounds and stuff. But you know I came on stronger in the later rounds. I know we have got it in the tank and I picked up massively in the later rounds. So next time I know I can start a bit stronger.
“After that fight, we got a lot of positive feedback, both from people coming up to me after and listening to the commentary. It was the second most trending thing on Twitter after. Getting all that feedback off friends, people I don’t know and famous boxers, saying ‘I should have won it.’ – It was nice to hear.
“It’s not like we’ve come off the back of a bad loss. It just is what it is. Let’s crack on and move on.”
Modern boxing maintains an unhealthy obsession with unblemished records. To such an extent that it is hard to imagine someone like the Welsh -Cinderella Man- Steve Robinson being allowed anywhere near a world title fight these days with a cobbled-together 13-9-1 record. Even a single defeat can seemingly be enough to crash the stock of the most blue-chip of prospects.
But pleasingly this jaundiced modern narrative has recently been upended by Massey’s fellow cruiserweight contender –Chris Billam-Smith- who followed up on his own defeat to Riakporhe, by claiming the commonwealth title in five rounds against Craig Glover, last November.
Massey is sanguine about dropping the “0”: “Everyone wants to be a Mayweather”, he laughs. “But it doesn’t concern me at all. It means absolutely nothing. If anything it takes the pressure off and I am still on the same path as before the Riakporhe fight. It doesn’t change anything.”
A positive mindset that is reinforced by Massey recently signing a new contract with Frank Warren’s Queensbury Promotions. The plan is for him to get back out for a tune-up over eight or ten rounds and follow this up with a title fight later in the year.
The man from the picturesque Chapel-en-le-Frith in the Peak District isn’t fussy about which title it is and goes as far as saying he “will take anything.” Perhaps this is a sign of his desperate desire to kick on with a career that has moved relatively slowly since turning pro in 2013 and has yielded just a WBC Youth Silver cruiserweight title thus far. Massey’s ultimate goal would be a rematch with Riakporhe, but he admits that “it is not looking likely now.”
With the likes of Deion Jumah, Tommy McCarthy, and Chris Billam-Smith, being considered in and around the same level as Massey on the domestic scene, he is keen to confirm that these are the type of matchups that he is looking for:
“There are so many good fights out there to be made. I am spoilt for choice, but I don’t want any grudge matches or anything like that. I’m not really into all that stuff. But there are plenty of good fights to be made. We haven’t had any offers yet though! But we’ll see what happens when we try to get that title fight.
“We’ll get up those rankings, don’t you worry.”
Interview by Garry White
Follow Garry on Twitter: @LWOSGarryWhite