Every generation of heavyweights has its own Derek Chisora, the fighter who challenges all of the top names, beats the crop just beneath them, comes shot of winning a world title, but is thrilling to watch all along.
The turn of the century had “Sailor” Tom Sharkey, the 40s and early 50s had Lee Savold, the 60s and 70s had Jerry Quarry and George Chuvalo, the 80s and 90s had Bert Cooper, and so on. All of them are remembered fondly, and even though they came up short in their pursuit of the heavyweight crown, theirs are the fights that are revisited more frequently than their objectively more accomplished contemporaries.
This is likely the space that Chisora will occupy in the hearts of fans when they look back upon the current, and even the previous era of heavyweight action. “Del Boy” has maintained relevance at the upper reaches of the sport’s heaviest weight class for over a decade, and after a victory over Kubrat Pulev this past Saturday, will have the option to continue that streak if he so chooses.
It was a classic late career Chisora brawl. A little sloppy, a little slower than in years past, but with all of the drama and sudden changes in aggression that make Chisora’s fights unique. The 2022 version of Chisora isn’t the steady, plodding crab defense swarmer of yesteryear. Somewhere along the way, Chisora made the decision that he either couldn’t, or shouldn’t, maintain that approach full-time anymore. In spots, he will return to his old form, and in that particular rhythm, he gave Pulev plenty of issues in the middle rounds.
Age has taken away Chisora’s ability to cruise on that gear, and often his feet will lag behind his body as he slings hooks towards his opponent’s body. These days, he’s more comfortable with the more chaotic approach of sitting along the ropes and unleashing outbursts of overhand rights and leaping left hooks. It’s an approach that resembles that filmmakers often think boxing looks like. A weathered fighter on the brink of collapse suddenly rejuvenated and scoring miraculous fight-changing shots.
There is something especially cinematic about Chisora’s fights beyond just his Balboa-esque game plan. No fighter in boxing wears exhaustion or discomfort on his face in the corner quite like Chisora. Having a “poker face” has long been lauded as a necessity for fighters, but Chisora has got by just fine without one. When he’s tired, you know it. He slumps in the corner, his eyes droop, he huffs and puffs and looks like he’s ready to hit the Five Guys with his opponent early before charging out of his corner moments later.
Chisora gave us many more of those moments against Pulev, times when he looked hurt along the ropes before stunning his opponent literally and figuratively with a monstrous right hand, moments when he looked winded before coming out and winning the next round. He had enough of them to score a split decision win, one which is among the best wins of his career on paper.
Chisora’s fights have been consistently enthralling, but they have also been factors in determining who would or would not remain notable in the title picture. A win over Chisora elevated Tyson Fury onto the world stage in 2011. A loss to Chisora sent Kevin Johnson into permanent gatekeeper status in 2014. Similarly, coming up short against Chisora indicated that names like Carlos Takam and David Price would never reach the heights they set out to attain. More recently, defeating Chisora was proof that Oleksandr Usyk could handle the physicality of a true heavyweight. Chisora is a central character in nearly every chapter of this edition of heavyweight boxing.
He has been boxing’s most exciting litmus test, one whose popularity truly hasn’t been tethered to wins and losses, the way some suggest it ought to be in the sport overall. In fact, Chisora’s popularity has gone up in recent years when his losses have become more frequent and in succession. In this case, using its popularity’s literal definition, as in, the number of people who have positive feelings about him. Of course, there’s another factor at play other than just a growing appreciation and perhaps nostalgia for Chisora for long and meritorious service. There’s the obvious fact that Chisora has gone from leaning into boorish stunts and a rugged heel persona to portraying the role of the kindly old warrior who’s fighting in service of the sport and its fans.
“The fans, I do it for them. The whole 'WAR,' the fight, everything, it's all for them,” Chisora said on Saturday.
During Chisora’s early days on the world stage, his antics prompted more than one writer to call for his banishment from the sport either for periods of time or permanently. He spat in the face of the Klitschkos, he threw tables, he bit opponents and even kissed them. His long, meandering ring walks to Hotel California while tucked behind a union jack bandana were once a prompt for boos, but are now joyful singalongs. Instead of kissing his opponents without their consent, how he kisses his family seated ringside before the opening bell.
The most impressive thing about Chisora’s career is likely what’s also most enjoyable to him. It’s that he’s stuck around long enough at a high enough level that fans have been able to contextualize, re-frame and ultimately appreciate his career in a different way while he’s still an active competitor.
But that outpouring of appreciation can no doubt be incredibly intoxicating for a person who already clearly loves the sport dearly. Chisora has reached the point in his career (and perhaps has been there for a little while) when it is fair for people to question both the utility and safety of him continuing. At the time in his career when he is most beloved, his physical powers are at their lowest. To Chisora’s credit, he has not called for a title shot, though no doubt he wouldn’t turn one down. Rather, he’s tacitly implied that his role at this point is that of a legacy act, a fighter looking for the most entertaining and profitable options remaining.
The fight that fits the bill in both categories, the one he’s mainly calling for, also happens to be the most dangerous, a clash with Deontay Wilder.
“I don’t want any easy fights,” Chisora said at the post-fight press conference, while taking a big gulp of coconut water. “Depends how many zeroes are on the check. It’s about money. Everyone that works for me and trains me, they want to get paid. There’s no sense in fighting if you’re not getting paid.”
Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman