By: Sean Crose
It might be something of an overstatement to claim that Marlon Starling was overlooked when he stepped into the ring to face Mark Breland for the WBA welterweight title in 1987, but there’s little doubt who the media attention was on. For Breland was a 1984 Olympic gold medalist. He had been on Miami Vice and in a Pointer Sister’s video. He was, no doubt, a fighter in the spotlight. Starling was seen as a “test” for Breland. It was almost as if everyone had forgotten the fact that the 28 year old Hartford native had given Donald Curry fits, and that he had none other than the great Eddie Futch in his corner.
Still, it was Breland who was the younger man, Breland who was the defending champion, and Breland who had power to burn in his long, lanky frame. Add in the fact that Starling was around four years older and five inches shorter than Breland and it’s completely understandable that fans and analysts would have given the Brooklyn based champion the edge. Those who followed such matters closely, however, might have smelled an upset in the air. For Starling and his team had taken to an intense training regimen. It was clear from reports from camp that the perennial contender known as “Magic Man” was embracing the opportunity to win a world title with the utmost seriousness.
Then there was the matter of skill. Starling, though not flashy like previous welterweight kings Leonard, Hearns and Duran, was an exceedingly strong craftsman in the ring. A classic “Scientific fighter,” Starling employed a high guard and knew exactly when, where and how powerfully to land his shots. He also had a well of deep experience to draw from. For here was a man who gave Curry a run for his money not once, but twice.
The fight with Breland, which took place on August 22nd at the Township Auditorium in Columbia, South Caroline, seemed to be a race against the clock for Starling. He was proving throughout the bout to be the stronger man, evidenced by the fact that he tossed Breland to the mat several times (once earning a point deduction), but Breland’s long jab and power punches were effectively keeping him at bay. Starling was the aggressor, but could he get to his man before the final bell rang? As the fight headed into the championship rounds, it looked like Starling might not.
Yet, in the first minute of the eleventh, Starling landed on Breland hard. Breland reeled back into the ropes as Starling fired away, a devastating left hook sending the champion to the mat. Breland tried gamely to get up…but the referee wisely stopped the fight. Starling, who had been fighting professionally since the late 70s, was finally a champion. It was the beginning of a run atop the division’s elites that would last until he stepped away from the sport in 1990. Breland himself would recoup and go on to further ring glory (he fought Starling a second time months later, in a bout that ended in a draw), but on that one Saturday afternoon, the spotlight belonged to the veteran from Connecticut.
By: Sean Crose
Many people expected Deontay Wilder to win when he stepped into the ring to face arch rival Tyson Fury for the WBC and lineal heavyweight titles this past weekend in Las Vegas. There were those who expected Fury to win, as well, as the first match between the two men had ended in a draw over a year earlier. No one, however, expected Fury to beat up Wilder the way the Englishman did at the MGM Grand on Saturday night. For Wilder looked a mess. What’s more, the hard hitting Alabaman looked like he might be in serious physical trouble as the bout wore on. Wilder was bleeding from the ear, and his face was developing that puffy look that often comes before a true medical crisis.
Perhaps fortunately for Wilder, co-trainer Mark Breland indicated that the fight should be stopped in the seventh round. Veteran referee Kenny Bayless took the cue and ended the affair, saving Wilder further damage. Wilder, true warrior that he is, was upset that he wasn’t able to go down swinging. That’s understandable, as many – if not most – professional fighters would react in just such a way in a similar situation. Unfortunately for Breland, criticism has come from an unlikely corner.
Wilder’s other co-trainer, Jay Deas, surprised many people after Saturday’s bout with the following words: “Mark Breland threw in the towel,” he said. “I didn’t think he should have.” Some are openly wondering why. “Deontay is a go out on his shield kind of guy,” Deas explained. That may well be true, but Breland clearly felt it is sometimes a trainer’s job to save a fighter from himself. In a world where fighters occasionally die from their injuries, Breland decided to err on the side of safety. Deas, however, indicated that he was not informed during the moment of truth.
“Mark said something about throwing the towel in,” Deas claimed, “and I said don’t do that. The fight went a little longer and I saw the towel go in.” It’s worth noting that Breland knows what it’s like to suffer a professional level beating in the ring. After seemingly leading on the cards, Breland was brutally knocked out by the vastly underrated Marlon Starling in the fourteenth round of a grueling 1987 throwdown for Breland’s WBA world welterweight title, which the Olympic Gold medalist held at the time.
With that in mind, it’s also worth noting that Deas himself is quite close to Wilder, going so far as to credit Wilder with changing his life for the better. “This man has been the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” Business Insider quotes Deas as saying of Wilder. As of press time, Deas hadn’t spoken to Breland after the fight, though he indicated that they would talk soon enough. Although a third fight between Wilder and Fury may be contractually in line, it’s too soon to tell where Wilder, or his team, will go from here.
By: Sean Crose
“Going pretty good,” Mark Breland tells me of his fighter, Deontay Wilder’s, preparation for a December showdown with Tyson Fury. “Looking sharp.” Breland, a former Gold Medalist and world welterweight champ, is sometimes uneasy when a fighter looks TOO good in the earlier stages of training camp, for it’s unwise to peak too soon. As it stands, however, the man is satisfied with Wilder’s progression.
Both Breland and Wilder are aware of the fact that Fury presents a unique challenge. Not only is the former heavyweight king after Wilder’s WBC heavyweight belt, he’s also, like Wilder, undefeated and awkward. What’s more, Fury is the rare opponent who is actually taller than Wilder is. For Breland, though, the concern right now is “basically that little awkward stuff he (Fury) does” in the ring.
Photo Credit: Mark Breland Twitter Account
Anyone whose seen Fury fight knows that he likes to play an elusive game by engaging in herky-jerky movements. “He tries to throw you off,” Breland says of the Englishman’s style. “He tries to get a rise out of you.” Breland’s aware of the fact that it’s a strategy that has worked for Fury on a large scale. “He’s not as stupid as people say he is,” Breland states.
It’s common knowledge Fury likes to get inside opponent’s heads before a fight even begins. Breland agrees that one of the reason’s Fury stunned then champ Wladimir Klitschko back in 2015 was Fury’s acute use of mind games before the bout. Men like Fury, Breland argues “want to see what they get out of you.”
Breland, who himself was always a cool customer in the ring, is preparing Wilder as much for Fury’s mind games as he is for the exchange of punches. “He’s going to try everything in the book to frustrate you,” he says of Fury. Breland isn’t impressed with those who run wild in this era of smack talk.
“These guys,” he says, “take it too far.” Breland advises that one should let the adversary do what he wants beforehand. “Just don’t hit him,” he says. “When you hit him, it’s a lawsuit.” So far, Wilder has seemed impervious to Fury’s taunts, which perfectly suits his trainer. Breland, however, is preparing his man for any contingency.
“I honestly think,” he says of Wilder, “if he catches him, he’s going” to knock him out. Yet Breland is ready for Fury to try to up the frustration level when he meets Wilder in the Staples’ Center ring on December 1st. “It can be a long, drawn out fight,” Breland states. Not that he’s worried. “Don’t get discouraged,” he points out. “He’s not doing nothing and you don’t have to do nothing.” In other words, don’t take the bait.
“Just keep tapping him with the jab,” Breland says. “Anything with Fury is mental.”