Last night’s charity boxing match between professional poker players Brian Rast and Sorel Mizzi started late and ended early, although probably not as early as it should have. There were no fewer than three Periscope streams available – from Rast’s corner, Mizzi’s corner and courtesy of PokerCentral – and possibly others that I’m not aware of. The event was originally slated to start at 6 PM PST / 9 PM EST, but the preliminary charity auction, hosted by Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Laak, ran long and there was some sort of delay in getting Mizzi wrapped and gloved. As a result, the actual fight only got going after 7 PM PST / 10 PM EST. If you missed it, the streams are still available for replay, at the links below.
Although the fight was officially just for charity, it came out in the course of the pre-fight chatting on the PokerCentral stream that Rast and Mizzi did in fact have a private bet going, and possibly for quite a lot of money: The number $200,000 was mentioned at one point, which if true would actually make it a bigger fight than the upcoming bout between JC Alvarado and Olivier Busquet. Side action was also plentiful, and bets were being made both at the event venue and on Twitter right up until the starting bell. Since betting was being done on a personal basis, there was no official line, but I heard odds of between -115 to -150 mentioned, in favor of Mizzi.
Update: The $200k figure may have been in reference to a side-bet by Dan Bilzerian rather than what was bet by the fighters themselves, though it’s unclear. In any case, we’ve heard from multiple sources that Rast and Mizzi had some substantial amount of their own money on the fight as well.
It’s no surprise that Mizzi was considered the favorite, as he was visibly the more muscular of the two, and in fact he probably should have been considered a much larger favorite, as quickly became apparent once they got in the ring. When it comes to professional fighting, looks can be deceiving, as the smaller-looking fighter must logically have some other edge in order to be in contention in the first place. This is not the case in amateur fights, especially between untested fighters, where the stronger competitor might just as easily hold the skill edge as well.
A one-sided fight
If Rast had a plan for overcoming Mizzi’s superior physique, he didn’t execute it very well. Both men came out with loose guards and not much in the way of tactics. Rast did briefly look as if he was trying to establish his jab and keep some distance, at least, while Mizzi was just throwing big looping haymakers, but Rast’s evasive skills weren’t up for the task. Less than a minute into the first round, Mizzi connected with a wild left hook; Rast didn’t even appear to have seen it coming, and was knocked flat on his back.
Although Rast quickly got up again, the fight was effectively over at that point, as Mizzi realized that Rast lacked the power to hurt him, while Rast never recovered his footing enough to execute any kind of game plan. Rast went down a total of three times in the first round and it appeared for a moment that the fight would end in technical knockout. It was clarified, however, that the terms of the fight explicitly excluded such a provision, so the beating continued into a second round, during which Rast suffered another knockdown, plus a standing eight count in the final seconds of the round. Finally, thirty seconds into the third round, after Rast was dropped for a fifth time, the referee stopped the fight, and that was that.
Congratulations @sorelmizzi on the victory! He straight up out-brawled me and I didn't have an answer for it.
— Brian Rast (@tsarrast) December 31, 2015
It’s easier to criticize than to fight
Rast was treated fairly harshly by some viewers commenting on the stream and other members of the poker community on Twitter due to his poor performance, who assume that the lopsided result means that Rast had not put as much effort into training as Mizzi and deserved what he got.
That may or may not be the case, but the truth is that the nature of boxing is that blowouts are common at all levels of the sport. Small differences in skill and strength can rapidly compound themselves, and so even fights are hard to come by. Even in professional boxing, it’s not at all uncommon to see one fighter listed as a 10-, 15- or even 20-1 favorite over his opponent.
Furthermore, a single heavy punch can change the complexion of a fight entirely. I don’t think Rast was ever very likely to win, but he didn’t look too bad until he got caught by that first hook. It’s possible that had he ducked that one, he would have found his rhythm and jabbed his way to a decision win; after all, Mizzi looked about as slow as he was powerful and was already starting to show signs of exhaustion in the second round, despite not having absorbed much punishment.
Once Rast got hit, however, his legs weren’t there anymore, so any hope of winning through speed and precision was gone. He looked exhausted too, it’s true, but that’s inevitable for a fighter who has been knocked down repeatedly; it’s impossible to know what his conditioning would have looked like if he’d managed to make it out of the first round without taking too many punches.
In any case, as Rast himself observed after the fight, boxing is an extremely gruelling sport, more than anyone who hasn’t been in the ring themselves understands. It can’t be said that either of the two displayed particularly impressive skills, but that’s only to be expected for guys having their first real fight… and it’s much easier to be critical of an amateur boxer when one hasn’t attempted a fight oneself.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.