Almost three years to the day since he defeated Wladimir Klitschko for the WBA, WBO, IBF and lineal heavyweight titles, Tyson Fury steps through the ropes tonight to face Deontay Wilder for the WBC portion of the heavyweight championship. Unsurprisingly, given Fury’s well-documented battle with depression and drugs and ballooning up almost 400 pounds during his long layoff, he goes into this weekend’s fight as the betting underdog. Although, considering the dearth of elite competition Fury has faced since returning to the ring in June, plus the fact he is facing the most explosive heavyweight in the world, the odds are actually not as wide as one might expect. Can Tyson pull off the upset? Here’s five reasons why it just might be possible…
Following his aforementioned problems with body weight, substance abuse and mental health, Fury appears, mentally, to be in an excellent place at the moment. The Englishman has never really been one to mince his words, but in the buildup he’s exuded positivity and confidence, clearly irking Wilder during their press tour and getting the better of the pre-fight mind games. Doing the rounds on a variety of podcasts and radio shows, Fury’s willingness to talk openly about his personal problems has endeared him to his American hosts, as he displays a healthy balance between relaxed confidence and focus on the task at hand.
“The thing is, I was bred to do this, and Deontay Wilder wasn’t,” says the self-assured Fury. And there is some truth to this. Fighting is a way of life for many in the travelling community he originates from, and this is apparent in Fury’s take-on-all-comers character outside of the ring, and his comfort in the heat of battle inside of it. See, for example, the Klitschko fight, where Fury not only outboxed the long-reigning champ but also – outrageously – stood in the centre of the ring with his hands down and chin out, daring the man with one of the hardest right hands in heavyweight history to hit him. That kind of confidence is not built in a single training camp; it is ingrained in your psyche.
2. Timing Is Everything
This is true as much inside of the ropes as it is outside of them. In taking this match after just two uninspiring comeback wins, it seemed Fury was depriving himself of some needed ring work. But perhaps, counter-intuitively, this could turn out to be a stroke of genius on Fury’s part. For one thing, it confirms his cast-iron self-belief and willingness to get straight back to the top, but it’s also a sign that Fury knows he needs a big challenge to inspire him and raise his game. As we saw when he faced Klitschko, he thrives best when the danger is the most real. In this sense, he might have done a sensible thing in ordering his promoter, Frank Warren, to make the fight immediately, rather than going through the motions in a couple more tune-ups.
For such a huge man, Fury’s punching power is fairly ordinary, but his footwork, movement and ability to judge distance are exceptional. Once again, the inactivity could be detrimental to this facet of his game, but where Fury makes up for his lack of competitive action is in his frequent sparring sessions. And if reports are to be believed, he’s looked very sharp and handled some excellent prospects with relative ease. It’s also worth remembering that while Fury has been inactive, so has Wilder. In fact, although Fury has only clocked up 14 rounds since his comeback began in June, that’s actually 14 more than Wilder has under his belt over the same span of time, and more than the WBC champ has completed in his last three fights combined, going back to February 2017.
3. Ben Davison, The Wild Card
It seems all the rage these days to label a young, upcoming trainer lacking big-fight experience as nothing more than a “pad man.” But while it was understandable that a few eyebrows were raised when Fury revealed he was replacing his uncle Peter with little-known Ben Davison, in fact the pairing seems to have done Fury a world of good. Davison has proved himself an articulate and knowledgeable coach, capable of managing Tyson’s physical and psychological transformation brilliantly.
That is not to disrespect Peter Fury’s input, of course – he’s an exceptional trainer who would be sorely missed in any corner. But judging by Tyson’s own comments, he needed a breath of fresh air in the gym and he gels incredibly well with Davison. Clearly, he looks like a much fitter, happier fighter under Davison’s guidance. Notably, upon moving their training camp from Big Bear to the Wild Card gym in LA, the two of them also made a shrewd decision to bring Freddie Roach on board as an assistant coach. The move not only indicates an admirable absence of ego and willingness to learn on Davison’s part, but it also brings some valuable big-fight experience and perspective to the corner, both during camp and on fight night.
4. Wilder’s Power May Be (Slightly) Exaggerated
“All it takes is one shot from Wilder.” Or so the conventional wisdom goes. There’s no question that the American hits very hard, of course, particularly with his right hand, a punch that has left several opponents out cold and twitching on the canvas. That being said, it does seem that people are getting a tiny bit carried away with the idea that all Wilder has to do is land one shot, and the fight is over.
First of all, let’s remember that Wilder did not switch Luis Ortiz’s lights out with a single right hand. In fact, Ortiz rose from a fifth-round knockdown and fought back to within a whisker of stopping Wilder in the seventh. The champion showed immense heart to come through and win, but it took ten rounds and a further two knockdowns to take out a thirty-nine-year-old fighter who had basically emptied his tank.
Also, Bermane Stiverne absorbed several, full-blooded whacks from Wilder in their first fight, yet still took him the full championship distance. And it must be pointed out how many of Wilder’s stoppage wins came against sub-par opposition: if you take away Ortiz and Stiverne from Wilder’s record, the remaining names leave a lot to be desired.
It’s true that Fury has been floored himself by lesser punchers, though each time he got up to win and he has never looked seriously hurt, despite taking a few meaty shots from Klitschko in their fight. In short, yes, Wilder really can bang, but he has to do a lot more than just show up and land a single right hand to win the fight.
5. Styles Make Fights
Admittedly, this old truism could work in either man’s favour, as each has the potential to present the other with stylistic nightmares. There are a few things though, I think, that could work to Fury’s advantage. For such a big man, Tyson has excellent punch variety, boxes effectively on the inside, attacks the body well, and gets through with some sneaky punches.
His footwork is also very nimble for a man of his stature; he has the ability to fight comfortably out of both stances; and he can create angles to take the sting out of incoming shots and to counter when Wilder least expects it. Of course, Wilder also utilizes unorthodox angles and could hit the jackpot with one of his leaping attacks; but if he’s not careful, he could find himself on the end of a swift counter as Fury steps aside and clips him with a short hook, much the same as Ortiz did.
Fury’s extra weight could also be a factor here, and if he is able to tie Wilder up over the first half of the fight, the grappling and wrestling that results could sap some of Deontay’s energy and power going into the later rounds. Alos, despite lacking real “one hitter quitter” power, Fury makes up for it by mixing in fast, point-scoring combinations, which could make a difference in a 12-round fight, along with his superior jab. For Wilder, his lead left seems to be more of a pawing distraction to make way for his booming right, rather than a weapon in its own right, while Fury can frustrate with his faster lead hand, doubling it up and mixing in feints to keep Wilder guessing.
All things considered then, certainly a reasonable case can be made that “The Furious One” has the tools, and maybe the right timing, to re-establish himself as “The Man” in the heavyweight division tonight. Deontay Wilder enters the ring, as he should, the betting favourite, but it would be foolish to write off Tyson Fury completely. Which is precisely what makes this such an intriguing match-up. No matter how you look at it, “The Gypsy King,” who, it should be remembered, is undefeated, has a chance. Let’s see if his high-stakes gamble to take on “The Bronze Bomber” at this juncture pays off.
— Matt O’Brien