While the whole world, and of course that includes the sports world, is “on pause” due to the deadly pandemic we are all struggling with, the fact remains that the boxing world will, at some point, start turning again. And that means, barring something bizarre and unforeseen, Deontay Wilder will still insist on exercising his legal right to an immediate return match with the man who is now his greatest nemesis, if not his obsession, Mr. Tyson Fury. So here’s the big question: can Wilder come back from his crushing defeat at the gloved fists of “The Gypsy King” and regain the heavyweight throne? Is a different result even possible?
It stands to reason that many, if not most, believe it to be unlikely considering how Fury was so dominant, so masterful, in his second confrontation with the Alabama slugger this past February. Indeed, some are going so far as to say “The Bronze Bomber” will never be the same. But one thing Deontay Wilder hasn’t lost, even in defeat, is his competitive nature. By all reports, he’s bound and determined to get that third fight with Fury as soon as humanly possible. Whether or not he believes his own dubious excuse that his over-the-top ring-walk costume had a negative impact on his performance is irrelevant. The man wants to get back in there and face his arch foil once again. But seriously, can Wilder beat the towering Englishman? Is it, at this point, even a serious proposition?
In my humble opinion, the answer is yes. But, to state the obvious, Wilder will need to up his game in a major way this time around. Why? Because Fury has found a way to consistently avoid that thunderous power of his. Sure, Wilder might land a random shot in a third fight that puts Fury down and out; that’s always a possibility. But at this stage it’s also highly unlikely. Wilder will have to find a new way to get to his man if he wants to pull off the upset; either that or outbox Fury. Or perhaps, find a way to combine a new set of skills with his already established punching power.
In any case, Wilder absolutely must make adjustments before he steps into the ring with Fury the third time. But this isn’t an impossible challenge for a fighter of his experience and past success. For example, people forget how Wilder looked in his first fight with Bermane Stiverne back in 2015. The Wilder of that night was a more precise and skilled professional than he had previously been known to be. Granted, Stiverne was no Tyson Fury. Truth be told, though, I can’t recall a heavyweight who is. But therein lies the problem. How does Deontay neutralize Tyson with his power when the Briton already has, unlike any previous opponent, neutralized that power?
Fury, and he’ll be the first to tell you this, is thoroughly unique. He’s original in a way that few heavyweight boxers have ever been. James J. Corbett introduced footwork and mobility to heavyweight fighting. Jack Dempsey added a faster pace and newfound ferocity. Muhammad Ali unveiled a startling combination of dazzling footwork and lightning speed. And Tyson Fury? “The Gypsy King” combines hulking size and fluidity in a way heretofore unseen. One simply can’t imagine lumbering giants like Primo Canera, Gerry Cooney, or even Wladimir Klitshcko and Lennox Lewis, boxing the way Fury does.
But that said, Wilder was still able to land solid shots on a slippery Fury in their first match. Perhaps more worrying for team Wilder is the question of how does one develop the required boxing skills to keep away from the version of Fury that Wilder encountered in the rematch? A few days before that bout, Fury stated that teaming up with Sugar Hill Steward was one of the best decisions he had made in his entire life. His subsequent performance gave weight to those words. Fury was a new man in the second Wilder fight. He wasn’t as slippery as in the first battle, where Wilder was finally able to catch and nearly finish him. No, this Fury was, for all intents and purposes, a Kronk fighter, looking to rumble.
Strong, powerful, aggressive, ruthless: Fury brought all the Kronk hallmarks into the Wilder rematch. And Deontay didn’t have an answer for that kind of opponent, especially when the adversary was some forty pounds heavier. It was something we had never seen before, something very dominant, and it’s doubtful Fury won’t employ the exact same strategy again. It’s not that Fury is invincible; after all, Wilder almost took his head off in their first fight. It’s that Tyson and his team have established a stunningly effective way to eliminate the threat of Deontay’s dangerous right hand while putting him on the receiving end of Fury’s fists.
One thing is certain: Wilder and his team have to figure out a new way to get to Fury and put some hurt on him or, at the very least, get him out of his comfort zone so Deontay can regain some respect. In order to do that, Wilder will need to find his range and bring his power to bear. Easier said than done. But not impossible. It will necessitate boxing much more effectively off the back foot when he needs to, as well as figuring out how to avoid being smothered by the bigger man. It will also require Wilder finding a way to avoid telegraphing his shots and disguising the big right hand before he pulls the trigger.
But perhaps most importantly, Wilder must make sure his mind is in the right place when he slips in between the ropes to face Fury again. And he’ll need not just greater confidence, but also laser-sharp focus and intense mental discipline; both were missing on February 22nd. It’s imperative that Wilder become as much a chess player as a power puncher for this trilogy fight. But Deontay has demonstrated in the past that he can hone in on the task at hand for twelve rounds; he did it when he first faced Stiverne. Against Fury, he’ll have to be twice as switched on, twice as sharp. It’s a tall order, to be sure, but make no mistake: no one should write off “The Bronze Bomber.” — Sean Crose