In the most hotly anticipated heavyweight affair since Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson squared off in Memphis 16 years ago, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury meet in the Staples Center in Los Angeles for the same stakes: the lineal heavyweight championship of the world. Despite his thirty month layoff, “The Gypsy King” is still the man who beat the man, having won the lineal heavyweight crown when he dethroned Wladimir Klitschko in 2015’s Upset of the Year. Now, less than six months into phase two of his tumultuous career, “The Gypsy King” attempts to pull off the third biggest heavyweight upset since the turn of the century, after Rahman vs Lewis 1 and his win over “Dr. Steelhammer,” when he takes on the undefeated “Bronze Bomber,” Deontay Wilder, the WBC heavyweight champion who has knocked out every fighter he has faced in the professional prize ring.
While a Fury victory would be truly remarkable when you consider the Brit’s two-and-a-half year plummet into drug abuse, depression, and morbid obesity, “The Gypsy King” is not as much of a long shot as one might imagine. Although many boxing heads initially dismissed Wilder vs Fury as a mismatch, Fury is less than a 2-1 underdog to end Wilder’s ferocious reign as the WBC heavyweight champion, whereas Fury previously overcame 4-1 odds to end Klitschko’s nearly 10-year reign. Might be a case of fool me once, bet on you the next time. Or maybe, just maybe, Fury’s actually got a real chance to pull this off.
Deontay Wilder has faced harsh criticism over the years as a fighter who’s simply not polished enough to call himself an elite level fighter. A champion who sometimes struggles to accurately hit the mitts, Wilder might be the furthest thing from a conventional heavyweight since “The Wild Bull of the Pampas” used his unorthodox tactics to knock Jack Dempsey out of the ring in 1923. So why is it that a fighter who lacks the basic fundamentals can win an Olympic Bronze Medal just two years after he picks up a pair of boxing gloves for the first time? And why is it that the same fighter is now, arguably, the most feared heavyweight in the division?
The simple answer is that traditional boxing standards do not apply to Deontay Wilder. They don’t apply to Tyson Fury either. Plain and simple, Wilder and Fury are two boxers who have gotten where they are today because of how unorthodox they are, and because of their respective wills to win. Before legendary trainer Emanuel Steward passed away in 2012, Steward stated in an interview that both Fury and Wilder were destined to become champions. A more prophetic statement about the state of heavyweight affairs hasn’t been made since the late Cus d’Amato famously predicted that Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson would someday battle for the heavyweight title.
While there have been several disagreements, to say the least, between Fury and Wilder in the pre-fight events, the two champions do share one thing in common: a disdain for WBA/IBF/WBO champion Anthony Joshua. The world has been waiting for a Joshua-Wilder fight for well over a year now, and despite efforts to make it happen, negotiations between Eddie Hearn and Shelly Finkel ultimately fell short. Wilder and Fury agree that Joshua is to blame for not making the Joshua vs Wilder superfight happen and have used this to sell their match as a battle for true heavyweight supremacy. Well, kudos to them because in the days leading up to it, Fury vs Wilder sure feels like a true, old-fashioned, heavyweight championship fight.
Wilder started by employing a stiff left jab, targeting Fury’s head and midsection to rack up points and set up his offense and it appeared that Fury would have to open up his own arsenal if he were to avoid giving up too many early rounds. Fury was the more accurate puncher when he decided to let his hands go, but with the first five rounds so close and contested, you began to wonder what it was the judges preferred: Fury’s superior technique and accuracy, or Wilder’s persistence and activity.
As the fight progressed, “The Gypsy King” began to make Wilder look almost amateurish as he eluded Deontay’s telegraphed overhand right. Wilder’s punches, albeit very dangerous, were being delivered in nearly the exact same manner each and every time, sailing over Fury’s bald and elusive head. However, the danger for Fury was that he would drop his head and line of sight in such a way that he was evading by instinct rather than anticipating which follow-up shots were coming.
In round nine Wilder took advantage of this by modifying his rhythm and catching an out of position Fury with a hard shot to the temple that put the Brit down for the second time in his career. Fury rose but the sight of the “Bronze Bomber” looking as poised and as intimidating as can be in the neutral corner was not comforting in the slightest for the thousands of UK fans in the Staples Center. Yet Fury fought back, and even managed to stymie Wilder’s aggression and turn it against him, having one of his best rounds of the fight in the tenth. Now it was Wilder in retreat and taking enough punches to make one wonder if he could survive.
The pace slowed in round 11 and when the bell rang for the final round it appeared that Wilder needed a knockout to win, but to Fury’s immense credit he did not try to coast in the final frame but instead sought to give the fans a show and stand up to a “Bronze Bomber” who was looking for the finisher. Early in the round Wilder stepped in with the big right hand, the same shot that the Briton had rolled throughout the contest, but this time Deontay aimed it a little lower and it caught Fury flush on the temple. The blow appeared to paralyze the legs of “The Gypsy King” and as he sank towards the canvas Wilder smashed home a vicious left hook that put Fury flat on his back and looking like a man in need of urgent medical attention.
No one could have second-guessed referee Jack Reiss if he had chosen to stop the match then and there but instead he issued a count and then, to everyone’s amazement, Fury opened his eyes and climbed to his feet like a man rising from a deep sleep, even managing to clearly demonstrate to Reiss that he was ready to continue. As if getting up from the knockdown wasn’t already miraculous enough, Fury ludicrously chose to fight back, and somehow managed to stop Wilder in his tracks with a hard right hand. Truly unforgettable stuff. The final bell rang and the bout ended with both warriors displaying mutual respect and admiration.
But in the sport of boxing, you can’t have it all. The fans were treated to an amazing confrontation that exceeded all expectations, but the ringside judges did not rise to the occasion. To the crowd’s dismay the match was declared a split draw, with Fury winning the majority of the rounds on two of the three scorecards but falling short due to the two knockdowns. Judge Alejandro Rochin turned in an absurd scored of 115-111 for Wilder, meaning he had Wilder winning seven rounds. Putting aside the two knockdown stanzas, it’s extremely difficult, to say the least, to find five more rounds to score for Deontay but Rochin managed it by giving Wilder the first four rounds of the match. It is a scorecard to set beside that of Adelaid Byrd’s infamous tally of the first Canelo vs Golovkin match, which was also a dubious draw.
Despite Rochin’s scorecard and the majority of boxing fans believing Fury had done enough to win, it’s hard to call a draw a robbery. I had the fight 114-112 Fury, but given how closely contested the first five rounds were, I couldn’t argue with a draw, and that seemed to largely be the consensus at ringside as well. The upside is now we have every reason to see Fury and Wilder battle again. While this doesn’t exactly help the Wilder vs Joshua promotion, it has drawn light to the fact that Tyson Fury is still one of the best heavyweights in the world and that he deserves equal consideration to the two giants who had dominated the division since he departed.
On the other hand, if Fury emerges victorious in the rematch, we may never see the “Bronze Bomber” and Anthony Joshua square off. For the better part of 2018, I’ve maintained that if Joshua and Wilder don’t get in the ring soon, one or the other may suffer defeat prior to making their heavyweight mega-fight a reality. Well, that was very close to being the case last night.
Wilder’s power is almost enough to make up for his horrid technical shortcomings, but against an elite level fighter power by itself isn’t enough. Consider too that the Alabama native was nearly stopped by Luis Ortiz in March of this year when he walked into a right hook he had no business taking. Deontay Wilder will always be thrilling to watch, but he may not always be the unbeaten knockout machine that would make for a brilliant promotion with fellow unbeaten knockout machine Anthony Joshua, who himself has shown his own technical flaws recently.
And who knows, if Fury continues to stay motivated he just may be able to prove himself superior to both rivals as he is more fluid in his body movement and footwork than Joshua and Wilder will likely ever be. His punching power doesn’t compare to either Joshua or Wilder, but with his size, agility, and heart, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Fury outpoint either man. But will he pursue those matches? Will he maintain the necessary conditioning and health, both mental and physical, or will he see him disappear again as he did after his win over Klitschko? If Fury decides he’s content, no one can blame him for sailing off into the sunset. But a round robin heavyweight tournament involving him, Anthony Joshua, and Deontay Wilder is all we can really think about after last night’s brilliant heavyweight battle. — Alden Chodash