WILDER vs FURY
The former heavyweight champion heads to America to try to reclaim his crown
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
‘FURY MIGHT HOPE IT ALL COMES TOGETHER ON THE NIGHT’
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