American Fight Fans Can Learn From British Counterparts

By Caryn A. Tate on December 2, 2018
American Fight Fans Can Learn From British Counterparts
They celebrate a boxer’s form, they applaud a brawler’s heart. (Esther Lin/Showtime)

Take it from the British fans, who could teach us Americans a thing or two about what support for a country’s athletes looks like…

We’ve all heard it said, and it’s true:

In the United Kingdom, it’s common for boxing fans to fervently support fighters based out of their home country. It doesn’t matter whether a fighter wins or loses, either—all people seem to ask is that a fighter has heart and does his best. After a loss, typically one can see nothing but support for the fighter who suffered the setback all throughout Britain. If he wins, of course, it’s all love as well and there’s an air of hope around the talk of the victorious fighter.

Add to that the fact that the fans—not just fighters, former fighters, and trainers—seem to appreciate the technique and strategy of the sport of boxing, not just action and knockouts. They celebrate a boxer’s form, they applaud a brawler’s heart, and offer commiserations after a loss.

Even if a foreigner travels to the UK to face a British fighter, typically what one sees is the UK fans booing the foreign boxer before the fight. After the contest, though, if the outsider showed heart—win or lose—the British fans will applaud that fighter as well as their own. By and large, the fight fans in the UK appear to truly love the sport and its practitioners freely.

Contrast that with the United States. Here, the response is much more hit-or-miss. American boxing enthusiasts tend to do a lot of criticizing, not sparing our own country’s fighters one bit. In fact, an argument could be made that American boxers are criticized even more than those who hail from foreign lands.

Criticism, of course, is not inherently bad. Educated critiques that point out flaws or areas for improvement are not only perfectly acceptable, but most practitioners of a craft actually appreciate this type of approach because it can help one learn and improve.

But criticism for criticism’s sake and the kind of lingering negativity one tends to see among American audiences is a bit troubling, particularly when seen directly contrasted with the sort of response UK fans give.

During the Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury fight weekend, the differences between British and American support for their fighters were palpable. Despite the fight taking place in Los Angeles, the British Fury’s fans showed up in full force. It’s hard to estimate how many UK fans traveled all the way to California to support their fighter, but it was enough to make a lot of noise at the weigh-in and inside the stadium on fight night, often drowning out everyone else.

Wilder is not only American, born and raised in Alabama, he won an Olympic bronze medal for his country in 2008. He didn’t start boxing until he was 20 years old, defying the odds to go on and win his way to the Olympics and then to medal. Since turning pro, he’s been a world champion for almost four years. In the ring, he delivers on the one thing the majority of fans say they want: knockouts. And he gets them legitimately, often scoring true KOs by knocking his foes out cold. Before going the distance with Tyson Fury on Saturday, Wilder had knocked out every fighter he’d been in the ring with, having corrected a decision win over Bermane Stiverne in their rematch last year with a vicious first round stoppage victory. On top of all of that, Wilder has been a staunch advocate for strict drug testing, using the premier anti-doping organization, VADA, regularly for years and insisting his opponents get tested by VADA as well. This has resulted in three separate fight cancellations due to his opponents testing positive, something that has proven frustrating for Wilder but is well worth it to avoid facing a dirty fighter.

His critics find fault with his form in the ring, sometimes rightly so. He’s a highly unorthodox fighter, willingly choosing to forego proper fundamentals. Wilder instead chooses to hold onto and enhance his athletic, unorthodox style. When I’ve interviewed Wilder in the past, he has made it clear he’s not embarrassed by his sometimes wild punches (he tends to do this the most when he has his opponent hurt and moves in for the kill). He celebrates it. He feels it gives him an advantage due to his 6’7” frame, particularly taking his surprisingly fast hands into account.

And you know what? He’s right.

Wilder wins. Despite his flaws or unorthodox style. He gets the knockout most of the time regardless of his awkward stance and his often pawing jab. When he’s stepped up his opposition, fighting Luis Ortiz earlier this year and now Fury on Saturday, Wilder struggled at times. But he didn’t cave and he ended up getting a TKO victory over Ortiz and a draw with Fury in a competitive match, against two of the best heavyweights in the world.

Yet the criticisms get louder. Despite his winning ways, some want to create mythical match-ups between Wilder and Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, or any number of heavyweight greats from days past, all so they can say, “Wilder would definitely lose!”

What is it about some modern fight fans who don’t appreciate the fighters they have in front of them?

No one is saying Wilder, Fury, Ortiz, or Anthony Joshua is better than some other heavyweight from the past. What I would encourage is to take each of them, Wilder in this case, on his own merits and in his own era of the sport.

Personally, I tend to focus on what a boxer does in the ring and achieves in their career when evaluating them as a fighter. I don’t get too sidelined by a fighter’s personal life (or what we, as outsiders, think we know about his personal life). Too often I see some folks getting caught up in an athlete’s legal or personal (or personality) problems that hit the tabloids, and it’s just not fair when evaluating that person as a fighter. Honestly it’s not fair when looking at the fighter as a person, either—too often, especially in the modern era of poor journalism, we don’t get the whole story and athletes in particular are frequently vilified by media members looking for shocking headlines to garner reads.

But to play devil’s advocate, let’s look at Wilder (and, below, Fury) outside the ring as well.

Wilder grew up poor and black in the deep south (not historically a good combination), but with a strong family unit as he described to me in April. By all accounts, Deontay is a family man who lives relatively quietly between fights, still in Alabama. He doesn’t seem to crave media attention. He’s even said in interviews that he doesn’t particularly care about being a “star,” that he simply wants to prove he’s the best heavyweight in the world. He hasn’t been arrested or convicted for some thoughtless crime. The most one can say about him is that sometimes his passion and open nature raise some eyebrows when he says something in an interview (as discussed in my in-depth article and interview: that people don’t feel comfortable with.

Where’s the support for that?

Fury, by comparison, is a pure boxer in the ring who utilizes excellent mobility, feinting, and ring IQ to throw his opponents off their game and set traps for them. Compared with Wilder, Fury doesn’t have a ton of knockouts on his résumé: he sports a 70% stoppage ratio, compared with Wilder’s 98%. Because of his style, Fury just isn’t sitting down on his punches as much as a fighter who may be more stationary. When he beat Wladimir Klitschko in 2015, it was by outfoxing the long-reigning champion, making him second guess himself, and taking advantage of that in a brilliantly tactical battle.

And that’s perfectly okay. His fans in the UK love his style, applauding his mastery of the craft and artistry in the ring. If he gets a knockout, great. If not, they’re just as happy.

As a person, Fury has had his ups and downs like all of us. He comes from a background of Travelers, a group who has been persecuted in Britain. After winning the majority of the heavyweight titles from Klitschko, Fury slipped into depression and addiction. He nearly committed suicide and had to find the professional help he needed for mental health issues. He tested positive for a steroid and cocaine on separate occasions, and was later stripped of the belts he’d worked so hard for.

But he battled back, losing nearly 150 pounds and getting back in fighting shape—mentally and physically. Despite leaving the familiar territory of his uncle and former trainer Peter Fury for a new team, Tyson Fury showed on Saturday against Wilder that he’s strong mentally and truly has overcome the demons he’s been plagued by over the past few years.

Fury’s fans adore him for his ability to overcome adversity. They rightly see serious inspiration in what he’s accomplished.

Neither man is more of a “star” than the other in my view. They both should be praised for their performances in the ring as well as what they’ve overcome outside of it.

Yet in Los Angeles, California at Friday’s weigh-in, it was the British fans screaming up a storm for their fighter. Wilder, who should be an American hero due to his Olympic medal at least, was freely booed by Fury’s fans when he came on stage. When he was on the scale, a group of British fans could be heard chanting at him, “Who are you? Who are you?”

The only cheers for the American to be found were a couple of attempts at Wilder’s battle cry “Bomb Zquad!” that never got going.

It was a similar situation at Staples Center on fight night. During the ring walks, the cheers were deafening for Fury; the jeers were just as loud for Wilder. During the fight itself, there were periodic chants of “USA” for Wilder, but it was the first show of loud, vocal support for the American champion throughout the fight weekend.

Wilder (or any boxer in question) doesn’t need to be everyone’s favorite fighter. It’s a personal experience, which fighters fans are drawn to the most. But a show of support from American fight fans for an American athlete, particularly one who’s medaled for the country in the Olympics and has achieved top recognition on the world level, deserves more support from his fellow countrymen.

Take it from the British fans, who could teach us Americans a thing or two about what support for a country’s athletes looks like.

Check out more of Caryn’s work at http://www.CarynATate.com and follow her on Twitter@carynatate

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  1. The Tache 10:13am, 12/03/2018

    I think a lot of the difference in fan support between British fans and Americans is the fact that in the US your most popular sports are ‘home’ sports with no international competitions. British fans of football, rugby or cricket are used to following their team around the world, especially football where there are more matches between domestic teams from different nations than matches involving the national teams. American sport is a far more insular affair.

    The other thing I notice is regardless of what sport or who they are supporting, Americans have one standard chant of USA, USA rather than something supporting the individual athlete. Although I guess that’s different in say, NFL games, where both teams are American.

  2. SpotOn 09:02am, 12/03/2018

    Caryn,
    You always hit it out of the park. American fans are odd particularly when it comes to boxing. The sport is not as mainstream as it once was. American fans go with what’s fashionable.

  3. Kid Blast 07:56am, 12/03/2018

    Agreed. One of Caryn’s very best and she is really doing some great stuff of late.

  4. don from prov 04:41am, 12/03/2018

    A very well written article—I went to the link as well—and you did make me think of Wilder differently.  I am just very impressed by the measured, intelligent voice in this piece.  Yet, I will say of this—“He’s a highly unorthodox fighter, willingly choosing to forego proper fundamentals. Wilder instead chooses to hold onto and enhance his athletic, unorthodox style—” that it is the kind of statement that leads me to want to more in-depth knowledge about a fighter AS a fighter.  First, boxers can be athletic and learn the the fundamentals of boxing—as has been proven in the ring by many a fighter.  it is difficult to see into the mind of a boxer, or anyone, but I don’t know that Wilder “willingly” forgoes proper fundamentals or just doesn’t care to use them.  The full-out media coverage we used to have on boxing when it was a major mainstream sport, sometimes gave fans at least enough information over time to form an opinion on such as Wilder claims, even it it still remained a somewhat subjective opinion.  Anyway, I do not mean to diminish YOUR fine writing—you are one person looking into Wilder: large parts of the sports world do not spend time profiling, critiquing, and following him.  I would say that, IMO, whatever his reasons are for foregoing the basics, he is making a mistake in doing so. I do appreciate the insights you gave me about Wilder as a person, and how you made me think about the ways here in America we react to fighters, as well how you look at who and what a fighter is.  Very good stuff indeed.  Thank you.

  5. Paul 03:46am, 12/03/2018

    I’m British and its true what you say, We will stick by our own through’ thick and thin’.
    It’s the same in our favourite national sport—football or soccer to the Americans, we’ll applaud our teams even if we lose but showing heart. Even players from opposing teams are known to get a standing ovation from both sets of fans if they’ve played remarkably well.

    I even congratulated deontay wilder on twitter for a great fight to watch.

  6. Kid Blast 07:34pm, 12/02/2018

    Really nice job here Caryn. Much thought and work went into it. Thank you for your fine effort and most enjoyable read.

  7. Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers 07:28pm, 12/02/2018

    Hmm, I remember when the British fans were just a tad bit too enthusiastic when Hagler pummeled Alan Minter. Wilder is not popular because boxing is no longer the sport it was back in the day, at least as far as Americans are concerned. Before Lennox Lewis, a successful British heavyweight was about as rare as a winning lottery ticket. So it is a relatively new thing for them to have a “world champion.” Also, poor Wilder has absolutely no charisma whatsoever. Deontay Wilder was born in the 80’s, so he experienced no more racism growing up in Alabama than a White person in that same state. I saw more racism in the 4 years that I lived in NYC,  than I ever saw in a decade spent living in JawJah/Georgia. Race relations are actually better in the Deep South than they are elsewhere IMO.  Lets not forget the Boston riots in the mid ‘70’s. Clearly that MYTH is more Harper Lee fiction than actual truth.

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