The for­mer heavy­weight cham­pion heads to Amer­ica to try to re­claim his crown

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IF ev­ery An­thony Joshua world heavy­weight ti­tle de­fence tends to feel like a royal wed­ding these days, it could be said Deon­tay Wilder’s WBC world heavy­weight ti­tle de­fence against Tyson Fury on Satur­day (De­cem­ber 1) in Los An­ge­les is one of the shot­gun va­ri­ety.

Un­planned, un­con­ven­tional, and un­ruly, Wilder and Fury, the Bon­nie and Clyde of the heavy­weight divi­sion, have got­ten over the pain of be­ing left off the guest list to The Big One and de­cided to go it alone. Do­ing away with the court­ing process, the horse and car­riage, the gospel choir and the cer­e­mony, they have sim­ply cut to the chase and said, “I do.” Screw con­se­quences, they’ll deal with those later.

Ad­mit­tedly, it wasn’t meant to be like this. Wilder, the WBC world heavy­weight cham­pion, was meant to fight Joshua, owner of the WBA, IBF and WBO belts, while Fury, shed­ding weight and rust fol­low­ing his two-and-a-half-year ex­ile, was sup­posed to em­bark on a 12-month tour of Great Bri­tain that would see him beat up a num­ber of hap­less fringe con­tenders happy to be in his pres­ence be­fore emerg­ing next year as the lin­eal cham­pion out to re­gain ti­tles he never lost in the ring.

But then a few things hap­pened, and this plan fell by the way­side. First, Wilder and Joshua al­lowed egos and other peo­ple to scup­per a tan­ta­lis­ing uni­fi­ca­tion fight. Af­ter that, the sanc­tion­ing bod­ies mus­cled in and did what they do best, form­ing a bar­ri­cade of hum­drum manda­tory chal­lengers, which, in turn, cre­ated a back­log and no small amount of con­fu­sion. We were re­signed to miss­ing out.

Around this time, Fury was on the come­back trail, en­gag­ing in what would have been la­belled ex­hi­bi­tion bouts in the days when plumb tele­vi­sion slots were

re­served for mean­ing­ful fights rather than just big names. He toyed with a 39-year-old Al­ba­nian cruis­er­weight called Se­fer Se­feri in June, hav­ing picked him up and granted him a selfie at the weigh-in, and then, in Au­gust, went the full 10 rounds against a big­ger and bet­ter op­po­nent, Francesco Pianeta, in some­thing more like a fight but still some way off be­ing a de­cent one, much less a test.

In truth, so far this year we’ve wit­nessed a Tyson Fury tribute act. He kind of looks the same, and just about moves the same, but is with­out the drive or pur­pose that once made him such an awk­ward and, at times, bril­liant heavy­weight. Es­sen­tially, he has been lip­sync­ing. His gui­tar isn’t plugged in. Even Fury him­self has seemed bored by it all.

That said, this bed­ding-in process has been im­por­tant for the for­mer world heavy­weight cham­pion. As well as al­low­ing him­self to shed ring rust, it has made him rel­e­vant again and, best of all, made him a vi­able op­po­nent for Deon­tay Wilder at a time when the WBC cham­pion, un­able to get things go­ing with Joshua, needed a vi­able op­po­nent.

For Wilder, 40-0 (39), the gam­ble, this back-up plan, makes com­plete sense. Do the fight now and he gets to cap­i­talise on the Fury name but meet him early enough into his come­back to per­haps wind up fight­ing a half-formed ver­sion of the ex-cham­pion on the night it­self. If tim­ing is what this game is all about, the 33-year-old Amer­i­can may well have got his spot on.

Fury, too, is seem­ingly more busi­ness­minded than ever, aware of both his earn­ing po­ten­tial as a one-time cham­pion and Wilder’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity as a cur­rent cham­pion. Like the rest of us, he saw Cuban Luis Or­tiz win rounds against Wilder – a few of them – by do­ing only the ba­sics well in March and will no doubt fancy him­self to do sim­i­lar this Satur­day (only avoid­ing the knock­out Or­tiz ul­ti­mately suf­fered in round 10). It’s a risk, no doubt, es­pe­cially given Fury, 27-0 (19), hasn’t been prop­erly – com­pet­i­tively – hit for three years, but a risk he con­sid­ers worth tak­ing in light of Wilder’s rudi­men­tary – if still de­struc­tive – skillset.

Now, with it just around the cor­ner, you can see how it has ma­te­ri­alised. Yet, when Wilder vs. Fury was ini­tially mooted, it seemed noth­ing more than the work of trou­ble­mak­ers pulling a prank on a school pre­fect. They were stick­ing it to An­thony Joshua, show­ing he wasn’t all that, and ev­ery one of us awaited the punch line.

Frankly, even when the pair went noseto-nose in Belfast in Au­gust, there was


a sur­real el­e­ment to it all (the sub­se­quent de­lay in of­fi­cially an­nounc­ing it only fu­elled the be­lief that legs were be­ing pulled). Fury had, af­ter all, only just re­turned. He surely needed more time – in the ring, liv­ing the life. But then, just as the knives of cyn­ics were sharp­ened, the fight was signed, more noise fol­lowed, and the un­likely mar­riage of Wilder and Fury some­how be­came the heavy­weight story of 2018.

Joshua and the team be­hind the “AJ” brand will pre­tend not to care. They’ll re­mind you it is they, not the oth­ers, who are sell­ing out foot­ball sta­di­ums a cou­ple of times a year and that it is they, not the oth­ers, who hold three of the four world heavy­weight ti­tle belts. They wouldn’t be wrong, ei­ther.

What’s more, Joshua, far from slack­ing off, is beat­ing ev­ery­one put in front of him and do­ing it well. In 2018, for in­stance, he has man­aged to spoil Joseph Parker’s un­de­feated record and nick his WBO ti­tle, as well as stop Alexan­der Povetkin, his WBA manda­tory chal­lenger, in seven rounds. This alone rep­re­sents good form, ir­re­spec­tive of all the tick­ets and pay-per-views sold along the way.

How­ever, some­times it’s not so much about what you’ve done and more about what you haven’t done, and this year, de­spite the cash gen­er­ated, the en­dorse­ment deals, and the chat show ap­pear­ances, Joshua hasn’t fought Deon­tay Wilder, the other un­beaten cham­pion with the one belt he pur­port­edly wants. Re­gard­less of who leads the blame game, this in­abil­ity to do the right thing counts as a loss – of sorts. Not only that, it al­lows oth­ers, those less wor­ried about con­trol and per­fec­tion, the chance to steal a march. Which is pre­cisely what has hap­pened. It’s true, Wilder and Fury may never be as fa­mous as An­thony Joshua, nor match his bank bal­ance. Yet, in join­ing forces, they have de­liv­ered a fight be­tween un­de­feated heavy­weights in their prime and cre­ated the kind of cap­ti­vat­ing ri­valry Joshua, for now, lacks. Whether for one ti­tle or three, this counts for some­thing, and gives them an edge.

That’s not to say Joshua has swerved good fights and ri­vals. Dil­lian Whyte was and still is a ri­val. Their first fight, back in 2015, oc­curred when both were green and meant lit­tle in the grand scheme of things, but a re­match next year will be a dif­fer­ent story. It will be foot­ball sta­dium big and Whyte, at the rate he’s go­ing, might be deemed a very real threat. They will ham it up. They will no doubt pro­duce on the night. Still, though, it’s no Wilder vs Fury. Sim­i­larly, Joshua’s block­buster with Wladimir Kl­itschko in April 2017 was, on pa­per, as in­trigu­ing as any heavy­weight matchup in years. It pit­ted youth against ex­pe­ri­ence, tech­nique against ath­leti­cism and was a won­der­ful ad­ver­tise­ment for the sport; a meet­ing of two con­sum­mate pro­fes­sion­als who ran the whole gamut of hand­shakes and hugs be­fore putting each other on the can­vas and pro­duc­ing a Wem­b­ley Sta­dium epic. In the­ory, you couldn’t have dreamed of a bet­ter spec­ta­cle.

And yet, de­spite its perks, it still lacked the dy­namic at play in Wilder vs. Fury. It lacked the un­blem­ished records and the bite, and it lacked, most of all, the un­de­ni­able thrill of see­ing two larger-than-life char­ac­ters, obliv­i­ous to the pain of de­feat, risk­ing it all in their primes.

Suf­fice to say, Wilder vs Fury will be fas­ci­nat­ing. Messy, per­haps, but fas­ci­nat­ing all the same. The build-up, too, has been good value. Some­times it has veered into post-may­weather vs Mc­gre­gor pantomime ter­ri­tory – hy­per­ac­tive blokes shout­ing and ar­gu­ing but not re­ally sure why – and we know the two will soon be best friends, but, given what’s to come (thank­fully, not May­weather vs Mc­gre­gor), that’s just fine. Let them make noise. Let them have their fun.

Lis­ten hard enough and you’ll find in­sight, too. Wilder’s de­ci­sion to con­stantly men­tion the ab­sence of Peter Fury in Tyson’s cor­ner, for ex­am­ple, is a shrewd one, for it shines a light on the in­ex­pe­ri­ence of 29-year-old Ben Dav­i­son, the new man in Fury’s cor­ner, and also re­minds Fury that his un­cle, the per­son who for so long kept him grounded and fo­cused, is now an arte­fact from hal­cyon days.

That part­ner­ship, now bro­ken, was once tight. Three years and three fights ago, in fact, Fury, hav­ing just de­throned Wladimir Kl­itschko, was burst­ing blis­ters on his feet in a Dus­sel­dorf chang­ing room while im­plor­ing ev­ery­one around him to make a big deal of Peter when he be­lat­edly joined the post­fight cel­e­bra­tion. With­out him, Fury said, it wouldn’t have been pos­si­ble. None of it.

Min­utes later, Peter en­tered and Tyson, his nephew, for­got all about the pain in his feet to stand and ap­plaud and roar his ap­proval. The oth­ers in the chang­ing room fol­lowed suit and it seemed, in that mo­ment, there was no stronger fighter-trainer bond in the sport, nor any boxer as ap­pre­cia­tive of the role a coach had played in his suc­cess as Tyson Fury.

On re­flec­tion, Peter was the nec­es­sary straight man to Tyson’s joker and worked as a price­less lev­eller. More than that, he ful­filled this role from a po­si­tion of se­nior­ity. For­get box­ing, and the role of stu­dent and teacher, he was some­one Tyson had looked up to since he was a young child, back when Peter Fury was Un­cle Peter rather than Coach Peter and when do­ing as he was told wasn’t up for de­bate.

What you see with Fury and Dav­i­son, on

the other hand, is dif­fer­ent. Dav­i­son, though a close friend, and some­one Fury ob­vi­ously re­spects and trusts, isn’t blood-re­lated, nor blessed by years of ex­pe­ri­ence. In­stead, the re­la­tion­ship Fury shares with Dav­i­son is more akin to the re­la­tion­ship he shares with his sib­lings or with a mate. It’s an equal part­ner­ship and Dav­i­son will nat­u­rally see Tyson Fury the fighter, the world cham­pion, the celebrity, the pal, and not, as Peter Fury did, the boy. In the bat­tle for power, whether dur­ing train­ing camp or on fight night, this could prove vi­tal.

Is Wilder vs. Fury a per­fect fight? No. In a per­fect world, we’d be spared the un­easy feel­ing Fury is be­ing rushed into it – don’t for­get Se­fer Se­feri was just six months ago – and he would have beaten a le­git­i­mate con­tender or two as part of his re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gramme. That would have at least given us a bet­ter read­ing of the sit­u­a­tion and re­moved from our minds the sus­pi­cion that Fury, 30, could be tak­ing a punt on this one and hop­ing it all comes to­gether on the night.

But noth­ing’s per­fect in life, let alone in box­ing, and one could ar­gue the beauty of this fight can be found in its im­per­fec­tions. The im­per­fec­tions in Wilder’s style, for ex­am­ple, or the im­per­fec­tions in Fury’s be­hav­iour. It’s what makes them who they are. It’s what makes them anti-es­tab­lish­ment, anti-joshua, and so com­pelling. It’s pre­sum­ably, also, what made this fight eas­ier than oth­ers to bring to a boil.

More­over, the fact this fight is hap­pen­ing now, sup­pos­edly too soon for one of them, and is rough around ev­ery one of its edges, works as a per­fect and timely an­ti­dote to the pro­tracted and overblown mess that was Joshua vs Wilder. Re­fresh­ingly, this one, un­like that one, hap­pened quickly – well, rel­a­tively speak­ing – and did so be­cause Wilder and Fury are im­per­fect an­i­mals who de­cided, in the end, to em­brace their flaws, re­lin­quish some con­trol and sim­ply get a good fight made.


THE HILLS HAVE EYES: Fury and Wilder show no fear

LIS­TEN UP: Wilder’s FRQĆGHQFH LVcon­vinc­ing

THOUGHT­FUL: Fury is fac­ing the chal­lenge of his ca­reer


RI­VALS: But the build-up has been the usual pantomime

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