CHANCES are, Billy Joe Saunders decided against interrupting Francesco Pianeta’s Friday night meal because the Italian, like the fight for which he is in Belfast, was totally irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
Resisting the urge to toss handfuls of spaghetti, Saunders aimed higher. He turned up at a Belfast Nando’s, confronted Deontay Wilder, the WBC heavyweight champion who looms larger than Pianeta this weekend, and proceeded to chuck chicken and condiments, all in the name of Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury (even if Saunders didn’t realise), before fleeing the scene.
“It’s all fun, baby,” Wilder, 32, would say the following day, when reunited with Saunders at Windsor Park. “It’s good to promote a fight and I’m happy to be here. This is what it’s all about. It’s all good for the promotion. It’s all good for the fans.”
Pianeta, the forgotten man, was only ever an inconvenience. He knew it, too.
When, for instance, he asked Fury, tonight’s opponent, for a selfie at Friday’s weigh-in, it wasn’t because he keeps a photo album of his many adventures in boxing and required a memento from pro fight 41. It was because he looked up to Fury, felt privileged to be in his company, and wanted to return home with a postcard, a reminder of the time he got beaten up for a purse by a six-foot-nine traveller in Ireland.
Tomorrow, he’ll be gone. Like the friend at the party whose presence was ignored, Pianeta’s exit will be greeted with a sigh of relief, a question – who invited him in the first place? – and the promise of imminent fun. Because now, with comeback fight number two out of the way, Fury and Wilder, set to meet in November or December, can crank their shtick up to eleven without any fear of someone (Pianeta) or something (a defeat, an injury, a cut) derailing what has been an unusually smooth courting period.
Smooth for a number of reasons. Mostly smooth, though, because Wilder and Fury share a goal to leave Anthony Joshua, the current WBA, IBF and WBO world heavyweight champion, high and dry. Pride, ego and stubbornness, typically obstacles when it comes to making a fight, will fall away when there’s a common desire to upset a third party, and this has proven the case with Wilder vs. Fury, a matchup nobody would have dared mention in June, when Fury was playing around with 39-year-old Albanian Sefer Seferi for four rounds.
Well, now, according to Frank Warren (Fury’s promoter), it’s happening.
It’s happening because Wilder didn’t get the Joshua fight, and might not get it for some time, it’s happening because Fury, self-proclaimed fighting man, is eager to make up for lost time (or, more likely, make back all the money he lost out on during a two-and-a-half year absence from the sport), and it’s happening because the pair’s entrepreneurial, troublemaking spirit allows them to ignore the big franchise in the heavyweight division and make cash down one of its back alleys.
Anthony Joshua, the franchise in question, is a well-oiled machine, far and away the most marketable fighter in the division. Yet, for as long as he has only three of the four recognised world titles, and for as long as larger-than-life characters like Fury and Wilder exist, his hold on the division will be tenuous, the interest split.
Wilder hits harder than him, shouts louder than him, and is accessible in ways Joshua isn’t. Fury, meanwhile, defeated Wladimir Klitschko long before it was fashionable to defeat Wladimir Klitschko, and continues to tell anyone who will listen that he’s the lineal heavyweight champion of the world.
This, misguided or otherwise, amounts to leverage and power, and gives Wilder and Fury the conviction to go it alone and not rely on Anthony Joshua to make all their financial dreams come true.
Admittedly, the operation won’t be pretty or slick. Nor will it capture the imagination of the general public the way either of them boxing Joshua would. But what cannot be denied is this: Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury for the WBC world heavyweight title, whether happening too soon or not, means something, fascinates, and is compelling enough to render Joshua’s September 22 fight against Alexander Povetkin, the one with three belts, a mere heavyweight footnote in the second half of 2018.
That’s why we’re impatient for it. It’s why we ignored Francesco Pianeta all week in Belfast, and Billy Joe Saunders left him alone last night. It’s why we prayed for the Italian’s downfall at around nine o’clock this evening. It’s why, ultimately, scores of Belfast fight fans stalked Fury and Wilder wherever they roamed, witnessed them trading verbals in a hotel, and will tonight rock themselves to sleep imagining what happens when the two unbeaten heavyweights share a ring later this year.
Impatience. It’s what brings Wilder and Fury together. It’s also what makes their fight so hard to call.
In keeping with the pre-fight shenanigans, the eventual fight will be dramatic and fascinating, replete with momentum shifts, flailing limbs and awkward movement. This much we know. The winner, however, is tougher to call.
Wilder, the safer bet, is buoyed by the best win of his career – a tenth round stoppage of avoided Cuban Luis Ortiz – and proved all that needed proving in the process of securing it. He lost rounds, he was hurt, he was nearly stopped, and he looked, at times, all out of ideas. But then, in the blink of an eye, he wasn’t losing, he wasn’t hurt, and he wasn’t clueless. Instead, it was Ortiz, cracked just once, who suddenly appeared out of his depth and in need of a way out.
Wilder, we now realise, has an unwavering belief in his punch power that makes him both dangerous and vulnerable. It means he will overcommit at times, get tangled up, look messy, and this will perhaps one day lead to his demise. But if he hits you, style and technique, the manner in which he knocks you out, means very little. It’s the result that counts.
Fury, on the other hand, has always been a fine talent, a man whose movement, composure and all-round skill-set belie the fact he’s six-nine and eighteen stone. Those who share a ring with him talk in glowing terms about his variety, his engine and his jab, and Wladimir Klitschko, the champion Fury dethroned in November 2015, would talk in similar terms if his defeat to Fury hadn’t been so demoralising.
The problem is, by the time he fights Wilder, that breakout performance will have been three years ago. Worse, in that time, he will have boxed only Sefer Seferi (four rounds) and Francesco Pianeta (ten rounds).
To ignore this detail, or presume Fury is somehow immune to inactivity, ring rust or a lack of decent competition, is to overlook the thing that often decides close fights and, moreover, discard the very excuse offered for opponents like Seferi and Pianeta in the first place. Fury, after all, fought those fall guys not because he enjoys easy fights and easy wins, but because he wasn’t yet ready for tough ones. We were told this. It was made clear. “Be patient,” was the line.
So, while Fury, 27-0 (19), might have the size, temperament and talent to beat Wilder, 40-0 (39), maybe even make him look silly and teach him a lesson, it will take a brave person to pick him on the limited post-Klitschko evidence available. We know he was once good enough; we don’t know if he’s still good enough.
Believers will remind you of the ease with which Fury defused Wladimir Klitschko’s power in Dusseldorf, and persuade you he’ll do similar to Wilder, but that’s the kind of skewed logic that never really works in boxing. It’s true, of course, that Fury, 30, shut the Ukrainian down. But it’s true, equally, that Wladimir Klitschko’s refusal to take chances and pull the trigger was as much a deciding factor as Deontay Wilder’s eagerness to do both could be in November or December.
Wanting to be sure, wanting to feel safe, Klitschko waited. He then waited some more. Yet Fury’s size and style introduced anxiety to the mind of a man who had long taken the feeling of being comfortable for granted; who always had his opponent within arm’s reach; who never had to punch up, much less take a risk. Alas, he didn’t let loose.
Deontay Wilder, in stark contrast, doesn’t think like that. Doesn’t do much thinking, full stop. Reckless and unruly, he punches when it’s time to punch (read: when gloves are on his hands), he pulls the trigger, even when the chamber’s empty, and he backs himself to land something, somehow, anywhere, knowing that should this happen, should his fist so much as glance the head of another human being, there’s a very good chance he ends up standing over them.
This approach makes Wilder dangerous. It makes him the favourite to beat Tyson Fury. And it certainly makes him the antithesis to Wladimir Klitschko.
Ask yourself: had Wladimir Klitschko last night been accosted by Billy Joe Saunders in a Belfast Nando’s, and then subjected to a torrent of flying chicken legs and peri-peri sauce bottles, how would the great Ukrainian have reacted?
I’ll tell you how. He’d have used a serviette to wipe himself down, he’d have had Bernd Bonte and anyone else in a red Hugo Boss tracksuit clean up the mess, and he would have generously offered to reimburse every one of the diners whose evening meal had been interrupted.
Billy Joe wouldn’t have even needed to run. He could have walked out of there.