Fury vs Wilder: Repeat Or Revenge?

Believe it or not, it was almost six years ago that Tyson Fury journeyed to the Barclays Center in New York and then clambered into the ring after Deontay Wilder scored a most emphatic and violent knockout of Artur Szpilka to set in motion the Fury vs Wilder drama, a drama which may see its culmination tomorrow night in Las Vegas. Fresh off his shocking title win over Wladimir Klitschko, a fired-up Fury grabbed the microphone to call out his rival belt holder, “The Bronze Bomber.”

“Anytime, anyplace, anywhere!” yelled Fury, as Showtime’s Jim Gray struggled to control the situation. “I don’t play this,” replied Wilder. “I promise you: when you step in this ring, I will baptize you!”

Fury challenges Wilder in January of 2016.

And with that, a rivalry was born. The wheels move slowly in 21st century boxing and so it took almost another three years before we saw these two sharing a ring again, but in December of 2018 they finally clashed. On the line was Wilder’s official title belt, while Fury, following an extended absence from the ring, proclaimed himself the lineal and “real” heavyweight king. “The Gypsy King” boxed superbly that night before being caught flush in a dramatic final round, barely scraping himself off the canvas to survive and earn a draw. The inevitable rematch came fifteen months later, with Fury putting on a master-class in bullying the bully, stopping Wilder in seven one-sided rounds.

Wilder vs Fury
Hype for Chapter One.

It’s taken another twenty months, a protracted legal tussle, a cancelled superfight between Fury and Anthony Joshua, and a coronavirus infection postponing the original date, but it’s finally here: Fury vs Wilder, “The Gypsy King” vs “The Bronze Bomber,” Chapter III. But after such a humbling and comprehensive defeat in the rematch, can Deontay Wilder actually do anything to stop the Tyson Fury express in its tracks? As we get set to watch this most intriguing battle, which might very well close the book on the rivalry that was sparked by that post-fight interview at the Barclays Center, here’s a closer look at three crucial factors which may determine the outcome, plus my pick for who will win Fury vs Wilder III.

The Mental Edge:
While boxing fans should be cautious before playing armchair psychoanalysts, you don’t need to be Sigmund Freud to see the struggle Wilder is going through here. Fury’s peculiar mix of quirky confidence and incessant trash talk clearly got under the power puncher’s skin before both previous fights. From almost instigating a brawl when asking for a body spar at a London press conference, to his relentless “big dosser” gibes, Fury has always been one step ahead in the verbal sparring.

Method to his madness: Fury trash talks Wilder.

To compound matters, it seems clear that Wilder has never come to terms with his one-sided defeat to Fury. The litany of excuses spouted in the aftermath have included everything from his ring-walk costume being too heavy, to Fury’s gloves being doctored, to accusing his own coach, former champion Mark Breland, of colluding against him. If true, some of these accusations would not just be against the rules of boxing, they would be serious criminal offences demanding official investigations.

Of course, Wilder showed no interest in the authorities probing these allegations, or in even attempting to publicly justify them, because they are nonsense, yet he must hold on to the idea that he was defeated by foul means in February of 2020. To admit otherwise would be to admit he was beaten by the better man, to sacrifice his own self-image as the “king of the jungle,” as he called himself before the rematch. So, while the conspiracy theories are absurd taken at face value, they actually make sense as a kind of mental defense mechanism, providing his ego with the protection it needs to retain some of his old fire and self-belief.

Fury dominated the rematch: has Wilder recovered mentally?

For Fury, all of this is just a clear sign of mental weakness. But let’s not forget that, despite his excuses outside the ropes, between them Wilder has shown tremendous heart. Taking a huge shellacking from Fury, he refused to quit and was furious at being rescued. Out on his feet against Luis Ortiz, he fought back from the brink to win by stoppage. That kind of mettle in the heat of battle is a great asset that cannot be taught or acquired.

As for Fury, is there a risk he could underestimate Wilder, after his dominance last time? It seems unlikely. He openly admits that Wilder is “the most dangerous heavyweight on the planet,” a healthy level of respect that stands in stark contrast to Wilder’s own state of denial. At the final presser, Fury poked and prodded at the excuses in an effort to get a rise out of Wilder; the American tried to play it cool and not engage, but eventually the mask slipped and he was drawn into a heated back-and-forth. When the war of words died down, once again it looked as though the pre-fight mind games had gone firmly in Fury’s favour.

Fury vs Wilder
Did Fury win the war of words?

The Weight and Size Factor: 
“I was too strong for him, Dad. I was forty pound heavier than him.” That was Tyson’s frank assessment immediately after the rematch, speaking on the phone to his father, John Fury. And his camp has made no secret of the fact they plan to utilize again Fury’s huge size advantage, even suggesting he may come in at a career heaviest weight. Which leads to the obvious question: What can Wilder do to counter Fury’s size, and what poundage will he aim to come in at?

Fury Wilder
Drawing by Damien Burton

In the first fight Wilder was his lightest since his pro debut at 212.5 pounds, compared to Fury’s 256.5. That’s a massive 45 pound advantage for the Briton, and while for the rematch Wilder bulked up significantly, scaling 231, it was for naught as Tyson did the same, weighing in at 273. The disparity remained huge and the strength advantage for Fury was palpable. This time, going by Wilder’s social media posts, he’s been working more in the weight room and adding more strength to his game. And while it’s a boxing truism that physiques do not win fights, it’s clear Wilder has whipped himself into very impressive physical condition. In his own words: “This time around I can pack a little bit of muscle on top of the power … we got dynamites all day long.”

Wilder drops Fury
No one can discount the power of “The Bronze Bomber.”

The thing is, we already know Wilder has dynamite power. But if your opponent can manhandle you about the ring and dictate where and how the fight is fought, punching power becomes almost a non-factor. In that regard, the extra strength training may help prevent Wilder from being physically bullied the way he was in the rematch, especially given that such an aggressive approach from Fury should not be a surprise this time.

Alexander Usyk’s recent win over Anthony Joshua may also be instructive here, as he showed that smaller heavyweights can compete with the modern behemoths. In fact, after bulking up from below 200 pounds, by the end of the fight Usyk was the one pushing the bigger man back and landing the harder shots. Wilder does not have the footwork or technique that Usyk has, of course, but if he can combine his natural punching power with some added muscle mass and a more effective game plan, he could make it a much more competitive fight. Which brings us to…

The Strategy Question:
Prior to the rematch, Fury declared he was going for a “Kronk-style knockout.” It sounded like gamesmanship, but he was true to his word. “I gave my game plan away the first time because he wasn’t good enough to do anything about it, and I’ll do the same thing this time because he’s not good enough to do anything about it… I’m going to run him over as if I’m an 18-wheeler…” says Fury. Will he repeat the trick, or is he bluffing? It’s impossible to know, since he certainly has the tools and the ring IQ to do things differently. But then, why try to fix something that already worked so well?

The onus is really on Wilder to make some significant adjustments. To that end, hiring former opponent Malik Scott as his new trainer with their apparent focus on punching technique during mitt work sessions has drawn praise. At 35-years-old though, and without a single interim fight working with his new trainer, is difficult to imagine that Wilder can eradicate his well-documented technical flaws. More realistically, the focus will be on refining the strategy to better use what he already has in his arsenal. And here, the signs are positive: “We’re gonna be targeting the body, targeting the arms, targeting the neck, targeting the head,” says Wilder. “There’s no body part that’s not gonna be hit.”

Wilder vs Fury
Drawing by Damien Burton.

Given his tendency to head-hunt with his powerful right, these are encouraging words. Instead of relying on the home run punch, Deontay will need to vary his offense, use his left hand much more effectively, target Fury’s huge body, but also be more defensively aware. If all that happens, then, ironically, when he’s not looking for it, the home run punch may actually find its target. Still, Fury took some clean whacks in the first couple of rounds last time, and barely flinched. The bottom line is, Wilder needs to be more proactive. He cannot be too patient, or he may cede the momentum and never get it back. On the other hand, while he obviously needs to use his best weapon, he cannot depend on just the big shot and expect to win.

Fury vs Wilder
Will Fury once again humble his biggest rival?

Who Will Win? 
The ridiculous conspiracy theories notwithstanding, Wilder has to be given credit for insisting on this immediate rematch, and for pushing himself to be better in training. However, Fury appears to have a clear mental edge, is significantly bigger and stronger, has a much more versatile skill set, and already served up a serious beat-down in their previous meeting. As such, Fury has to be viewed as the more likely victor, probably by mid-to-late rounds stoppage. That said, we can expect a determined and improved Wilder to put up a serious dogfight, and the threat of his right hand will make for a fascinating and tense heavyweight title fight, for however long it lasts. Can’t wait.          

— Matthew O’Brien