The Liver Punch: Confidence Intervals

Say the word “awkward” out loud. Chances are pretty good that you’ll remember a moment in which you said something that was not well received, or just the entirety of your teenage years in my case. That’s how most of us relate to the word. It’s something embarrassing and inconvenient. It feels off. Awkward also means tricky to deal with or difficult.

Undefeated heavyweight Deontay Wilder is awkward. It’s not just the superhero torso perched on mid coke binge Kate Moss legs. It’s not just the “Eyes Wide Shut” masks he wears to the ring. It’s not even the ridiculous things he bellows before and after fights. It’s everything. Watch him compete in a professional boxing match and you can’t help but be struck by how awkward he is. There is nothing fluid or purposeful about his movement. It shouldn’t work. Even the punches that miss him are because he isn’t where he’s supposed to be, and no one can convince me that he knows at any moment where that is. He’s flailing around. He’s chaos theory made sentient in the form of an 11′ tall, rail thin heavyweight, albeit one who can punch like hell.

Light heavyweight Dmitry Bivol can also punch like hell. But he is not awkward. He does everything with balance, grace, fluidity and forethought. He knows what he’s doing. He shifts his feet subtly to conceal his chin behind his glove, instead of moving the hand to cover the chin. His jab is straight. His hooks follow a flat arc that is started from his toes and fired by rotating his torso from the hips. He counters over the jab at precisely the right moment so that you just quit throwing it, short circuiting 95 percent of his opponent’s offense. He hits you in the spot to which he has moved you, to the point that he doesn’t have to find you. He knows where you’ll be.

Like Wilder, he also won this past weekend by late round knockout in a fight that was supposed to tell us who he really is. Both fighters were facing their first real contender. Both fighters won. How they got there is a completely different. There is more than one way to skin a cat, but this was the difference between chess and a game of chesties with Teddy Atlas.

Pretty much everyone had picked them both to win. There is a crushing sense of inevitability in either man’s case. In Bivol, you know he’s going to break down his opponent and render them inert. By the time it has happened, you’ve known it for so long that it almost seems like an afterthought. In Wilder, you basically just know that something will happen. Either he will get exploded (can’t wait), or he’s going to detonate something ridiculous and that will be that.

Bivol slowly asserted his dominance over time and then didn’t even step up; he just maintained until that exact pressure cracked his opponent. The pace of that punishment was enough to move Sullivan Barrera into a knockout. It was tidy. Barrera tried to win, but he was outgunned. Wilder didn’t do that. He really only had a few moments that were in his favor over the course of ten rounds. Apart from getting dropped in the 5th round, Luis Ortiz was pretty much in control of his fight with Wilder. There were a few hairy moments here and there, but nothing too crazy. The difference was that every moment was fraught. Ortiz’s eyes bugged out with every flail from Wilder. He knew he was in mortal danger just as he was controlling the fight.

Augury is a tricky business. Most of us, whether we know it or not, operate in a realm that has been honed by statistics. The statistics just describe the probability of our world. We are very happy to ignore the math and rely on the calculators nature has gifted us that see confidence intervals everywhere. When there is a 99 percent chance that something will lie in a set of parameters, we can relax. However, there’s always the chance that some variable will get turned up to eleven and set our tidy little algorithm on it’s side. We call those outliers. That’s what Wilder is. He’s some random data point that fucks up our understanding of how things are supposed to go because he’s right in your face. You can’t ignore him as a blip anymore.

But that is the world in which we live. It may be more comforting to believe that there are forces around us moving things in nefarious ways to lead to some outcome, and in small ways there are, but ultimately, it’s a goulash of randomness and we’d all best break out the sriracha and tell grandma that it doesn’t taste like feet.

Christ, it’s irritating.

DTs will be back next week.