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Salute your roots

February 28, 2020

Saturday’s World Boxing Council Heavyweight title match was nothing short of spectacular. You expect that to be the case when two guys named Wilder and Fury meet at the most iconic venue in boxing to compete for a title that might as well read “The Biggest and Baddest MF on Earth.”

The fight itself was a spectacle, especially for the bloodthirsty fans who pay to see nothing more than two overgrown men beat each other until they break. But on Saturday, the curtain call arguably stole the show, a testament to the appreciation of articulate expression, even in what most consider a brutal sport. If the ring is the canvas on which boxers paint the picture of rigorous preparation, unshakable courage and a gladiator complex that tells them they’d rather pay the ultimate price before they accept defeat, the ring walk ahead of the fight is a carefully curated, thoughtful and inspirational opening statement addressed to fans, family and, most importantly, their dance partner for the night.

As is traditional in boxing, each fighter chose to pay homage to his roots during this sacred moment. Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder entered the ring as the undefeated heavyweight champion. But the only thing more shocking than the manner of his defeat to come was the $40,000 blacked out, gladiator bodysuit that he walked out in, as red LED lights circled the eyes of his crystalized helmet in true supervillain fashion. It has become a staple for Wilder to one-up himself but, in the realm of practicality, this was probably as far as he could take it. He wanted to do something big, but at the same time, send a humble thank you to the black leaders and real-life superheroes that paved the way for him.

As rapper D Smoke performed his song “Black Habits” live, the faces of Frederick Douglass, Maya Angelou, Nipsey Hussle, Harriet Tubman, Kobe Bryant and a long list of other names appeared on video monitors. Wilder’s message can be summed up by the hook of the Inglewood rapper’s anthem:

Black magic, black excellence / Black habits, this black medicine, everything

Black Chucks, black tux, everything, everything / Black hug, black love, everything

Praise black Jesus, play black Moses / Give ‘em flowers while they still here, black roses, everything

Black tie, black ride, everything, everything / Black pride, black lives, everything

Wilder would go on to lose the fight to Tyson Fury, the self-proclaimed “Gypsy King” and now Heavyweight Champion. With his posse and security detail escorting him down the halls of the MGM Grand, it seemed as though his entrance would be of the milder variety. The 6-foot-9-inch Brit sported a bright red, Dalmatian-trimmed mantle and a crown, perhaps only a step above what you might expect to find on the Burger King. It says something about the state of boxing—the industry maybe more than the sport—that a 6-foot-9, 254-pound man dressing like the BK is not only normal, but subdued. He did, though, take it a step further when he mounted a throne, singing along to Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” as he was carried to the ring. But the story behind “The Gypsy King” and Fury’s personification of it is much deeper than theatrics.

Fury comes from a long line of Irish nomads, many of whom have competed as bare-knuckle boxers. In the travelling world, the best bare-knuckle boxers earn the coveted title of “King of the Gypsies.” The legend goes that Fury has uncles on both sides of the family who held the crown, and his father ultimately used his prize winnings to end the tradition of roaming and settle the family in Manchester. Despite the bigotry and negative connotation attached to the term “gypsy,” Fury decided to adopt the moniker as his own and bring pride to it.

He did so by thrashing Wilder in seven rounds before the towel was thrown. But a rematch clause in the fight contract has already piqued the interest of both parties, not to mention fans. A third edition of Fury v. Wilder is sure to entertain, from ring walk to finish. The question is: can The Gypsy King and the Bronze Bomber top the performance they’ve already put on?


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