One thing I have a low level of patience for is when boxing fans refer to fighters as “bums.” Don’t get me wrong, there are fighters who do probably deserve the slur. Last April on the Lucas Matthysse-Ruslan Provodnikov undercard, I saw a soft-looking palooka with an 0-9 record fight. Dan Rafael told me he had seen the kid out at the bar drinking with his buddies at two a.m., early morning of the fight. Once the bout began, he showed little in the way of formal training. Of coure, when you are being overwhelmed by a physically superior opponent, technique often goes out the window once the flight-or-fight hormones kick into high gear.
So sure, that guy maybe deserves to be called a bum. He wants to have the swagger of calling himself a professional boxer, but he’s not willing to do everything he can to turn in an honest effort for the paying public. The fact that he’s basically a pencil-in “W” that won’t put up a bit of a fight probably gets him more work and higher paydays than many honest fighters putting everything on the line.
A losing record doesn’t make a fighter a bum, though. I once watched a 3-8 lightweight putting everything he had into a competitive, back-and-forth four rounder with a 3-0 prospect. I had him taking the undefeated kid’s zero, and one of the three judges agreed with me. The fighter with the losing record had obvious skill and was very well conditioned. At another card, about a year later, I saw the same fighter pull out a win to improve to 4-9. The guy sobbed when his hand was raised. That was a fighter who was committed to the lifestyle of a professional boxer. Anybody who refers to a guy like him as a bum is a jackass.
What you can call a guy like that is a “trial horse.” A trial horse fighter is a guy who a talented prospect should beat, but it won’t be a walk. To borrow from Apollo’s trainer in the first Rocky movie, a trial horse is a guy who “thinks it’s a dam fight.” He’s coming to win, regardless of what his record is. If he’s lost five or six fights in a row, that just makes him that much more determined to finally put himself back in the win column. These guys aren’t earning big money but they are earning every cent they get and they make it worthwhile for serious fans to show up early enough to watch the prelims.
Johann Duhaupas, who was stopped in Round 11 by WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder in Alabama on Saturday night, is not a bum, although you may very well have seen big mouths on social media posting comments referring to him as such. But he’s been a professional prizefighter for over a decade. His only losses, aside from the one he received from Wilder, came against world-title challenger Francisco Pianetta back in 2007 and against undefeated Erkan Teper this past March. Teper is one of the more interesting heavyweights on the European continent. Duhaupas followed that loss to Teper by defeating former world title challenger Manuel Charr, via majority decision.
Duhaupas is a “fringe contender.” At the championship-level of prize fighting, a “fringe contender” is very much analagous to a “trial horse.” A true, world-title talent should beat a “fringe contender” everytime, but he’s probably going to need to be well prepared to execute his game plan, because that fringe contender is an experienced professional with some skills and ability and he knows that an upset can be a career-changing event for him.
Against Wilder, Duhaupas showed a game heart and kept coming against the undefeated champion, round after round. Wilder took some of the worst punishment of his career, ending up with one eye badly swollen, while still managing to turn in a one-sided performance and giving Duhaupas his first KO loss.
But at this point, Wilder has spent years knocking out over-matched fringe contenders. Since winning his title from Bermane Stiverne last January, he’s also knocked out another fringe contender in Eric Molina. Molina, like Duhaupas, turned in a gritty performance while still never really threatening Wilder, and ultimately providing the champion an opportunity to record yet another highlight reel KO.
It’s a dynamic act, but at this point, boxing fans have seen it again and again. Stiverne remains the only top-10 talent Wilder has faced. His team developed him slowly and cautiously on his way to the title. Since he captured the belt, they’ve reverted to that same prudent strategy.
But the fact is, Wilder is overdue for a fight with a true, top-tier fighter. His next defense has to be against a top-5 opponent, or his belt will lose a lot of credibility. After 35 wins and 34 knockouts, it’s time to leave the trial horses behind and compete exlusively with the other thoroughbreads in the big-stakes Derbies.