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“Fighting Words” — Tszyu-Fundora: Bad Luck, Good Intentions and Difficult Decisions

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Tim Tszyu’s vision was clouded by bravado before it was obscured by blood. 

When they combined, he could no longer see what was coming: An upset loss that left him without two world titles. A setback that took away, for now, the opportunity for a big fight. And a defeat that could’ve been prevented.

Tszyu couldn’t have had the foresight to know he would suffer a cut that would change the course of his match with Sebastian Fundora this past Saturday night — and change the course of his career, if only for the near future. That would’ve required clairvoyance. 

The hindsight centers around how the people tasked with making difficult decisions on Tszyu’s behalf could have better handled this situation.

Even with hindsight, even after the loss, Tszyu should be commended for choosing to face Fundora on short notice after original opponent Keith Thurman pulled out with an injury less than two weeks before the fight. It’s still the right choice. 

Tszyu had gone through the sacrifices of a training camp and need not have done so in vain. Especially because he wants more — to win more world titles, to win over more fans, to become a bigger star — goals that eluded him when a planned fight with Jermell Charlo, the undisputed junior middleweight champ at the time, was postponed and then canceled. Tszyu came into this fight against Fundora with one world title. With a vacant belt also on the line, the winner would leave with two. Tszyu was headlining his first pay-per-view in the United States, continuing to build his relationship with Premier Boxing Champions and its new broadcast partner, Amazon’s Prime Video. And he helped out by agreeing to face Fundora instead of pulling out.

There was plenty of risk involved. Fundora’s size, at nearly 6-foot-6, is tough for almost any 154-pounder to deal with in general, never mind to handle when they haven’t had much time to prepare for it. Tszyu is billed at 5 feet and 8.5 inches. He’d been preparing for Thurman, who is about an inch taller. Getting in the ring with Fundora didn’t just mean a difference in height, but also a difference in style and strategy. Plenty of fighters over the years had lost to or struggled with late replacements. That didn’t deter Tszyu.

“No risk, no reward,” Tszyu has often said over the years, and he repeated it again in the build-up to this bout.

For the first two rounds, Tszyu’s gamble looked like it was going to pay off.

In the past, Fundora often opted against utilizing his height advantage, something he’d gotten away with until he didn’t, when he ate a perfectly timed counter shot and was knocked out by Brian Mendoza in April 2023. Nearly a year had passed since that loss, Fundora’s first and only. It was clear that he’d put in the work to try to avoid a second. Fundora opened the match working behind his jab from a distance, and taking a step backward out of reach when Tszyu approached. 

Tszyu began to find a home for his right hand, though. The first was a counter timed for that fleeting moment when Fundora was in range. Then Tszyu started parrying Fundora’s jab so that he could get closer to score. Tszyu popped Fundora’s head with consecutive rights with about a minute to go in the first round. Fundora grimaced, recognizing what that could mean for both of them.

Tszyu began to target Fundora’s rangy midsection with crosses in the second round, and used that success to set up right hands that instead veered further upstairs. Fundora continued to pepper with the jab and laced in the occasional southpaw left cross. Yet it was Tszyu who was beginning to land with harder and cleaner right hands. Blood began to pour from Fundora’s nose; afterward, he said it had been broken.

Tszyu had significantly outlanded Fundora in the second round, scoring with 19 of 27 power punches, incredible accuracy, while Fundora was limited to just 4 of 13, according to CompuBox.

It looked like things were only going to get worse for Fundora. But as the two men walked back to their respective corners, Fundora wasn’t the only one gushing crimson.

A large gash above Tszyu’s hairline sent a heavy stream down his face. Replays showed that the injury occurred in the final moment of the second round. Tszyu had dodged a right hook from Fundora, missed with a left hook of his own, and then ducked forward. Against a fighter closer to his own height, Tszyu’s head might have run into his opponent’s head or gloves. Instead, he collided with Fundora’s left elbow. It was wholly unintentional and very, very damaging.

The cut opened immediately — and angrily. It was going to take a lot to tame this beast. If it could even be tamed.

Unfortunately, the work Tszyu’s cutman did in that rest period, less than a minute for a wound that size and severity, wasn’t anywhere near enough. As the third round began, two trickles were already on their way into Tszyu’s left eye.

The referee, Harvey Dock, briefly paused the round before action could resume, bringing Tszyu to the ringside physician for examination.

“We’ll let it go for now,” Dock said.

Tszyu’s corner might not have heard what was said, but their actions — or rather their inaction — show they clearly concurred with the first four words: “We’ll let it go.” They should’ve given more consideration to the final two: “for now.”

Tszyu came out aggressively, aware of his plight. The fight might not last much longer. The bleeding would probably get worse. He sought to land while he could, to prevent the tide from changing, even if he couldn’t dam the river of blood that now flowed freely down his forehead.

“My eyesight was gone,” Tszyu told media members after the fight. “I literally couldn’t see. I was wiping my eyes non-stop. I physically felt alright, [but] you’re fighting with blurry vision. It’s not ideal.”

The claret in Tszyu’s eyes, combined with his desperation given the situation, helped Fundora have more success. 

Tszyu dabbed at his eyes, and the cut, with the same gloves that were supposed to block another torrent. This torrent came from Fundora, who wisely took advantage of the situation. Fundora still threw more jabs (36) than power shots (31) in Round 3, but it was a level of activity from “The Towering Inferno” that hadn’t existed in the previous six minutes. The 13 power punches that Fundora landed in this round were his high point for the evening.

This fight, a unification bout involving the WBC and WBO world titles, was being held in Las Vegas under the unified rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions. Those rules provide guidance for what happens if a fight is called off due to a severe injury caused by an accidental foul. If four rounds haven’t yet been completed, the bout will be ruled a “No decision.” If at least four rounds have been completed — even if the injury occurred during those first four rounds — the fight will go to the judges’ scorecards for a technical decision.

This moment, after the third round, would have been the best time for Tszyu’s team to inform the referee and ringside physician that the cut had dangerously compromised Tszyu’s vision, that the fight needed to end.

Fans likely would’ve understood, given that it was easy for anyone watching to see just how gruesome the cut was and just how bad the bleeding continued to be.

That’s not what Tszyu wanted. It didn’t need to be his choice. His team is there not only to look out for his health, but also his record. It’s possible that Tszyu would’ve protested any such move and even sabotaged it, that he would’ve told officials he was able to see just fine.

“I am who I am. I’m a warrior. This is what I do,” Tszyu said afterward. “A bit of blood ain’t never killed nobody.”

Maybe Tszyu and his team had rose-colored glasses. Maybe they were distracted by the more immediate emergency of the injury and his blood-stained vision. Either way, Tszyu was seeing red.

And he was seeing the fourth round.

Fundora worked behind the jab. That accounted for 53 of the 74 punches he threw in the fourth. He landed 12 jabs and 10 power punches, doing more than enough to win the round.

An official — it might have been Dock, the referee — checked on Tszyu before the fifth.

“You all right? Can’t stop the bleeding?” he asked. “But you’re still alright to fight?”

Tszyu’s corner agreed. There was now no turning back. If the fight was called off due to this injury, it would go to the scorecards.

Perhaps Tszyu’s corner thought it was still too early to make a decision. Tszyu had fought only two rounds with the wound — Round 3 and Round 4. There had only been a few rest periods to work on trying to halt the bleeding. Maybe they thought things would improve, that the bleeding would slow or stop, that Tszyu would adjust and return to the form he’d shown before the accidental elbow.

Things didn’t ever improve enough. Tszyu was losing blood and losing rounds.

When people had asked before the fight whether the previously unbeaten Tim Tszyu’s “O” was gonna go, no one knew they were also talking about his blood type. 

Fundora’s nose also continued to bleed down into and around his mouth, though he seemed to be faring fine. 

This was no longer just a boxing match. This had become a really twisted way of creating a Jackson Pollock painting.

Tszyu still had good moments, and enough of them that he picked up a few more rounds. Yet he was clearly affected by the blood loss, not just visually but physically as well. He was no longer doing enough damage to put Fundora in danger. And the longer the fight went, the deeper a hole he was in. Fundora boxed intelligently and capably. On the night, jabs accounted for 60 percent of Fundora’s output: 437 of his 721 punches. He landed only 93 jabs, but they didn’t need to land to keep Tszyu at bay. And the 101 power punches Fundora landed also left an impression.

Everything had been even on the scorecards after four rounds. From there on out, Fundora was ahead on two of the three judges’ scorecards. Tszyu’s team had no way of knowing what the actual scores were, but they must have been aware that Tszyu was falling behind. Now they couldn’t ask the referee or doctor to stop the fight — Tszyu would lose if the match went to the judges. He had to keep going.

There’s a possibility that Fundora may have adjusted, implemented his game plan, and taken over even if Tszyu had not gotten hurt. We have no way of knowing. There was a lot of fight left after two rounds. Fundora’s height combined with this style can be difficult enough when you have a whole training camp to prepare, and difficult enough when you’re at 100 percent in the ring. 

What’s certain is this, though: Tszyu looked good before the injury and struggled after it.

This was a different scenario than when Mikey Garcia fought featherweight titleholder Orlando Salido in 2013. Garcia was clearly winning after seven rounds against Salido, a good but occasionally filthy fighter who spent much of the eighth leading with his head. Salido’s noggin collided with Garcia’s face with about 20 seconds to go in that round, breaking Garcia’s nose. Garcia reacted immediately, and trainer Robert Garcia (Mikey’s brother) soon took one look at Garcia’s nose between rounds and recognized the implications.

Robert Garcia got the attention of ringside officials. The fight went to the scorecards. Mikey Garcia picked up his first world title.

Mikey Garcia was criticized by some fans afterward. It was a very sudden, anticlimactic ending.

“I didn’t know it was broken but I did feel the difference in breathing,” Mikey Garcia told Doug Fischer of RingTV.com months later. “I felt blood in the back of my nose to my throat and so I knew something wasn’t right. At that moment I thought it was just a little thing, but when I went to the corner, Robert noticed it was broken. He called the referee. Robert said, ‘You saw it was a head butt.’ The referee said, ‘Yes, we’ll get the doctor up.’ He came up and the first doctor said, ‘It’s broken. It’s pretty bad. Let me call the second doctor up.’ The second doctor came up, he said, ‘You know what? It’s broken.’ He told the referee, Benji Esteves, ‘It’s broken, he can’t continue.’”

For Tszyu vs. Fundora, a “no decision” would have been the best possible scenario for both men, even if it might have been unpopular at the moment, an inconclusive conclusion to a main event that people paid for. 

Tszyu would have retained his WBO title, taken some time to heal and perhaps moved forward with an anticipated fight against former unified welterweight titleholder Errol Spence, who was watching from ringside at the T-Mobile Arena. The vacant WBC belt — which Fundora initially would’ve fought Serhii Bohachuk for on the undercard, but instead became up for grabs for Tszyu-Fundora — would have remained vacant. Fundora probably would’ve gotten another shot at it by taking on Bohachuk next.

Instead, Fundora heard his name announced as the winner by split decision, a clear and noncontroversial victory, two scores reading 116-112 and 115-113 in his favor, the third going 116-112 for Tszyu.

Instead, it is Fundora who now owns the WBC and WBO titles. It is Fundora who Spence stood next to in the ring afterward to market a potential future fight. Instead, there is the possibility of a sizable payday for Fundora against one of boxing’s top names in recent years. It is also a great opportunity for Spence to come back from his technical knockout loss to Terence Crawford last year and try to become a unified titleholder in just his first fight in his second weight class.

(On Monday morning, the WBO ordered Fundora to face Crawford. The coming weeks should reveal which fight Fundora will target.)

Tszyu and his team took the loss in stride, and with pride. He had fought through one of the goriest injuries since Badou Jack’s forehead was split wide open against Marcus Browne. Tszyu lost a decision, not a knockout. And he can expect to return — hopefully in an immediate rematch with Fundora — but otherwise he will at least face another notable opponent soon. 

This defeat may have left Tszyu without two world titles, and without the big fight that was anticipated to come next. But that damage, just like the injury, may be short-term. 

His efforts to help this show, and his efforts in the ring, did not go unnoticed — and will not go unappreciated. 

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.

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