Perhaps the only thing as shocking as Tyson Fury’s destruction of heavy hitting Deontay Wilder was how wrong the boxing community was in predicting the outcome of the most anticipated heavyweight title fight in 20 years.
Virtually every former champ who was asked, said it would be Wilder who’d win their February 22 bout. At the time, it seemed to make sense: Wilder’s 41 knockouts in 44 career fights ranks as one of the scariest KO records in ring history.
So Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Manny Pacquiao, Larry Holmes and Evander Holyfield—five of the greatest fighters in the last 40 years—all had good reason to pick Wilder. For their bank accounts’ sake, lets hope they stayed away from the wager windows.
So what happened in the MGM Grand ring? How’d so many knowledgeable fighters (not an oxymoron) get it so wrong?
Fury-Wilder II followed an entirely different script than their December 1, 2018 bout at the Staples Center in LA. In that one, the towering Fury, 6’9” and 260-plus lbs, allowed Wilder to dictate, even while winning rounds and clearly leading the fight on the strength of his jab and ring generalship. The flaw in that strategy, critical against a puncher like Wilder, is that if you’re caught once or twice all that movement, skill and generalship evaporates. Along with your lead. And maybe your senses.
Wilder dropped Fury in the 9th, and again in the 12, to earn a disputed draw, and set the stage for February 22.
In the rematch, which generated the largest live gate (nearly $17 million) in heavyweight history, Fury pressed the action from the start, backing up the 6’7”, 240-lb. KO artist. It was a risky gambit, given Wilder’s devastating right hand. But Fury is nothing if not bold.
But for all of Fury’s bravado and Irish Traveler/Gypsy King goofiness, and his documented issues with substance abuse and weight, the big man’s footwork, head-movement and angles are top-notch. They enabled him to dodge, slip or block nearly all of Wilder’s shots. And before he knew it, Wilder had been tagged enough, and leaned on enough (no small thing), to weary by the third round. He later admitted that he tired after the second, but blamed it on the weight of his Transformer-like walk-in costume. Of course. A cuffing right by Fury to the back of his head floored Wilder in the third, and he never really recovered.
Wilder fought the fourth in survival mode, his vaunted right no longer fearsome. Still, given his record, there was still the thought that his head might clear and his malice return. The fifth ended that thinking.
A Fury left crashed off Wilder’s rib cage midway through the round and Wilder was down again. Though it’s not unheard of, it’s rare to see a heavyweight decked by a body shot. Although he beat the count, and somehow survived the sixth, the fight had left him. Assistant trainer Mark Breland threw in the towel, perhaps the best decision of the night from the Wilder camp.
For his efforts, which certainly saved Wilder from serious harm, Breland has been dismissed from the Wilder team. But thanks to Breland, Wilder was out of the hospital quickly. And he’ll fight again.
Fury now has the strongest claim to a revived heavyweight crown. Yes, this is boxing, so there’s still the foolishness of multiple sanctioning organizations and multiple fighters with claims to the same crown. Nonetheless, two heavyweights now rule the division: Fury and fellow Brit Anthony Joshua.
Joshua’s shutout of flabby Andy Ruiz last year avenged his shocking KO loss to Ruiz. With Fury’s dismissal of Wilder, the stage is set for Fury-Joshua, and don’t you know that our friends across the pond will go absolutely berserk for that one.
Okay, Fury-Joshua may not harken to the days of Ali-Frazier, or even Larry Holmes-Ken Norton. But for a division that seemingly vanished during the reign of the Russian Klitschko brothers and an assortment of tough but forgettable plodders, Fury-Joshua looks like a renaissance.
Will it rival the ’70s, often called the Golden Age of Heavyweights? No. Besides Ali, Frazier, Holmes and Norton, that decade featured George Foreman, Ron Lyle, and the beautifully named Earnie “Acorn” Shavers. (Asked by a writer if he objected to the sobriquet, the bald-headed Shavers replied, “Not everyone calls me Acorn. My banker calls me ‘Mr. Acorn.’”
For entertainment value Fury promises to be a worthy successor. After stopping Wilder he sang “American Pie” from center right, accompanied by a few thousand lubricated Brits. His parents are of a clan known as Irish Travelers, an itinerant population of entertainers and nomads that gained ethnic status from the Irish government in 2017.
So Fury does not lack for personality. He’ll be a huge challenge, literally and figuratively, or Joshua. Fury-Wilder III could happen even sooner, but how big a demand there’ll be for that one is uncertain. Wilder and his promoter may want to rest, recoup and re-think.
For all the strength and skill Fury displayed, he’s still a bit of a wildcard. With an estimated $40 million payday in-hand, his personnel discipline is sure to be tested. Perhaps Wilder can glean tactics from the tape (besides ditching the walk-in get-up) and return with new fire. Maybe the gifted Joshua provides another surprise and upsets Fury.
Anything’s possible, and that alone is great news for heavyweight boxing.