ANTHONY FOWLER V SCOTT FITZGERALD: FIGHT OF THE YEAR

Updated: Feb 26, 2020


The Fight of the Year is a subjective award based upon arbitrary criteria. Some hum in appreciation of cerebral displays of high-level, well-matched stylistic proficiencies, where the dance between two elite fighters transcends the primitive world of violence and attains to the lofty realm of art. Others appreciate the repudiation of any pre-agreed tactics or superfluous technical filigree, instead preferring contests fought on heart, toughness and desire alone; ‘barnstormers’, ‘slugfests’, ‘wars’. Yet my particular choice for the 2019 Fight of the Year errs towards each of these categories without readily belonging to either.


Instead, it is a contest which when viewed metaphorically can be seen as a microcosmic representation of the interplay between one of the oldest behavioural dualities known within man, that of arrogance vs humility. It is a fight which has roots in biblical verse, specifically the Book of Proverbs – King James Version, section 16:18 – which cautions that ‘Pride cometh before a fall’. It was a match-up hosted in Liverpool’s Echo Arena between two British super middleweight prospects and show live on Sky Sports. It was and is, of course, March’s 10-round contest between Scott Fitzgerald and Anthony Fowler.

A pair of decorated amateurs, they both won gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games within minutes of each other – Fitzgerald in the welterweight category and Fowler as a middleweight. They confessed to enjoying each other’s company, to sharing celebratory drinks in toast of mutual successes and to deliberately seeking each other’s company, socialising together on jointly arranged evenings out. Fowler had even conceded that they were friends. All that seemed a long time ago, however, in the acrimonious build-up to this fight.


Disrespect and antipathy which began on Twitter, spilled into interviews and characterised the pre-fight promotion. It manifested in threats of personal violence, in demeaning and exaggerated descriptions of amateur, Team GB sparring sessions; in snide slights at each other’s personality traits and integrity, in Fitzgerald’s verbal jibe allusively referencing Fowler’s partner and in Fowler continually mocking and questioning Fitzgerald’s apparent inability to continue to make the 154-pound super welterweight limit (resulting in an amusing video riposte from Fitzgerald where he ripped his shirt off to show a conditioned torso, whilst continually referencing and mocking ‘Toe-knee’). In fact, it became so omniscient, incessant and engaging that Sky even filmed an impromptu The Gloves Are Off within Liverpool’s Cunard building on the day of the weigh in, just to capitalise on this organic and unpremeditated marketable hype and humour.

True to Fowler’s retrospectively prescient prediction, Fitzgerald did struggle to make the agreed weight, initially weighing in at 154 pounds and 6 ounces. Subjected to a further verbal barrage from Fowler during the face off, he was then given an additional hour to cut the surplus 6 ounces, before returning, stripping entirely and reweighing in at exactly 154 pounds. Thus, after months of rancour and hype, in which Fowler had promised a classy beatdown which would end in somewhere around round five, a summation the majority of bookies and Sky pundits agreed with (Fowler came into the fight a 1/7 favourite; Fitzgerald as the 4/1 outsider) we now finally had a sanctioned fight.


Fight


‘The Mad Man’ walked to the ring first, white hood up, bouncing and swaggering, his countenance a paradoxical combination of expressionless focus. By contrast, Fowler, as home fighter, walked second. Hood down and smiling, he waved to the crowd and fist-bumped the idolatrous, who eagerly craned themselves into the entranceway for a chance to touch or encourage their favourite. To look at Fowler was to see a fighter exhibiting confidence and bravado. There was a detection of understandable nervousness, but this manifested as the positive, energising kind, rather than the destructive overwhelm which acute anxiety can wreak.


As they were both introduced, the clear contrast in demeanour continued. Fitzgerald, backed by his father and head trainer, Dave, bounced on the balls of his feet, beat his chest defiantly and raised his right hand to the sky, all whilst sporting the wide-eyed glare of the steely determined. Fowler, flanked by Coldwell and backed by distinguished cutman, Kerry Hayes, beat his gloves against his own head and torso, smirked and threw sideways glances at the crowd. Finally, following final instructions from referee, Steve Gray, the obligatory touching of the gloves, the final hugs, kisses and importunes from the cornermen and the dinging of the bell, we, and they, were off.


The first three rounds followed a similar pattern. Fowler found his rhythm immediately and began landing his jab with unmissable regularity. Fitzgerald’s footwork and movement, whilst more pneumatic and vigorous than Fowler’s, struggled to work him into range and his irregular incursions were often falling impotent and short. He settled somewhat in round two, but Fowler’s jab still appeared magnetized to the Fitzgerald face, and he began to now work the body, a tactic he also employed in round three. Coming out for round four, Fitzgerald was a clear three rounds down in a fight which was only scheduled to go a maximum of ten.

In the fourth, he finally began finding his range; his balletic footwork still pendulously moving him in and out with hypnotic rhythm. His jabs were now landing and his sharp counter and lead right hands caught both Fowler’s as well as the eyes of those spectating. This pattern endured for rounds five and six. Fowler had visibly slowed and his growing fatigue appeared measurable against the barometer which was the declining speed of his now laboured jab. Once expeditious and accurate, it was now easily slippable an thrown more in habit than with considered, baleful intent.


Seven and eight were both close rounds, rounds which Sky Sport’s Andy Clarke gave to Fitzgerald but which could easily have been scored either way. Fitzgerald seemed to take the majority of round seven off, catching Fowler with a solid overhand right, but spending much of it swallowing the Liverpud