Addition by Subtraction: Late Replacement Sebastian Fundora Shocks Tim Tszyu

What could be said with some confidence Saturday morning, and perhaps no less confidently today, is that super welterweight Tim Tszyu has arrived. We know this not because Tszyu was to participate in a fight of genuine intrigue, one of the few such bouts boxing seems willing to proffer this year—but because he was to headline quite the opposite. Here is one of boxing’s peculiarities: when you have achieved a certain currency within the sport, your matchmaking occasionally gets softer; what you are gifted, for having supposedly proven yourself beyond any need for caution is charity, a showcase or two, the sort of foregone conclusion intended not to determine your class but to preserve it.

How else to explain Tszyu’s original opponent, Keith Thurman? Thurman, that aspiring retiree, that career welterweight who has not won a meaningful fight since . . . since . . . has not had a noteworthy one since 2019, when Manny Pacquiao—brought in to lose—played him like a flute and sent him toddling once more into quasi-retirement. That Tszyu–Thurman was the headliner of the PBC’s first broadcast on Amazon Prime, a pay-per-view no less, does not make the match-up puzzling—quite the contrary. If you must ask (rhetorically, of course) Who the fuck wanted to see Fight X? the answer is likely “the brain trust of one of the fighters.” In the case of Tsyzu–Thurman, it was “their brain trust, playing favorites.” Yet a fight that was an utter embarrassment when announced will thankfully be forgotten for its replacement.

Little more than a week before the fight, Thurman suffered a biceps injury, a not unlikely outcome for an aging, inactive fighter. In his place, a torre infernal: Sebastian Fundora, who is not only nine years younger than Thurman but eight inches taller, a super welterweight, and a southpaw.

Tszyu adjusted accordingly, bringing in sparring partners to approximate as best as possible boxing’s Dhalsim, likely revising his strategy to address the idiosyncrasies of this new challenge.

That hurried preparation served Tszyu well early. Tsyzu used his lead hand to pin Fundora’s right close to his body. Unable to extend his southpaw jab, Fundora seemed unwilling to apply the punches that are his preferred defense. And with his lead hand so close to Fundora’s head, Tszyu knew he was in range to score with his uncannily timed crosses. Fundora is a volume fighter, willing to concede his height and reach to work inside, layering his punches with his head on a lofty perch protected by a thicket of limbs. However, he needs to come forward for that strategy to work; by obstructing Fundora’s jab, Tszyu robbed the challenger of his entry weapon. A series of right hands hurt Fundora in the second, and the ease with which Tszyu landed portended a short night. But then a Fundora’s elbow butterflied Tszyu’s scalp, introducing the kind of gory variable that only the likes of Israel Vasquez and their bleeding brethren might prepare for.

Tszyu fought the third round like he was behind on the cards, trying to secure an outcome more satisfying than one a ringside physician—with his considerations of a future beyond the next round—might. Fundora, both nostrils gushing blood, was there to meet him. As the blood flowed into Tszyu’s eye like a river freed by spring’s thaw, there were Fundora’s uppercuts, with their longitudinal arch and surprising effect, that twice found Tszyu’s sturdy chin; the jabs that for two rounds did little but assist Tszyu’s malicious calculations, now served their own evil, setting up the left hands Fundora landed behind them. Prudence dictated Tszyu’s corner intervene (perhaps wisdom too), that with the no-contest in play, they make a subtle but compelling case for it. But with the end of the fourth round, that opportunity was gone.

And with it went victory. Fundora needn’t throw the jab hard, only hold it in Tszyu’s face and stick it, double and triple that six-inch punch, only throw his cross down and to the left, into the space where Tszyu hoped to avoid it, to soak Tszyu again. Even these seemingly harmless punches, the sort of punches Tszyu would typically ignore should he fail to avoid them, forced him to wipe his eyes, move out of range, and reset his feet. In those increasingly frequent moments, Fundora carried the action.

It would be wrong to attribute to Fundora’s elbow what the rest of him accomplished. He took on a streaking fighter rounding into frightening form, fought through a nose so abused it trickled at the post-fight press conference, and absorbed enough hard punches from a stern puncher to confirm the sturdiness of a chin cracked only a year ago. In doing so, Fundora didn’t just come back—he moved forward. The scores, 116-112 for Tszyu, 116-112, and 115-113, for Fundora, were just: reflecting both Fundora’s determination and Tsyzu’s refusal to let a cut that may have taken him out of the fight take the fight out of him.

A rematch is the obvious next step, despite Terence Crawford’s desire to enforce his position as the mandatory challenger for one of Fundora’s belts. And yet it appears Errol Spence (like Fundora, coming off a knockout loss), may get the first shot at the new champion. Spence was in attendance at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas; focus quickly shifted his way, proof enough of promises made, proof too that the wrong welterweight won last July (and he will be punished for his crimes).

Perhaps the wrong fighter won Saturday, too (many a fan many time zones away might understandably feel so), such was the ease with which Tszyu took control before the cut. But if the super welterweight division is now up for grabs, such wrong outcomes won’t hold for too long.

 

About Jimmy Tobin 106 Articles
Jimmy Tobin is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in The Cruelest Sport, 15 Rounds, Undisputed Champion Network, Esquina Boxeo, El Malpensante, The Queensbury Rules, and The Fight Network. Jimmy is the author of Killed in Brazil? The Mysterious Death of Arturo “Thunder” Gatti, published by Hamilcar Publications. Connect with Jimmy on Twitter.