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Fury vs Wilder: The story of the rivalry

Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder
Elliot Worsell explains how and why we’re getting a third Fury vs Wilder fight when the second one was so conclusive

A FEW months ago, we had every reason to believe the story of Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder would be a two-part series with a potential third installment not impossible but fanciful at best. Their first fight was a minor heavyweight classic, their second was a major mismatch, and any trilogy fight seemed not only pointless and cruel but just one more pesky obstacle preventing the fight the world really wanted to see next: Fury vs Joshua.

Yet, having been here before, we should have known better. We should have known better than to think the path to Fury vs Joshua would be a smooth one and we should have known better than to assume Wilder, a man whose pride was severely dented following his loss to Fury last February, would have been content to just sit back and watch his archrivals go on to make obscene amounts of money from a fight held somewhere in the Middle East.

Alas, like a spurned lover with no hope of reconciliation, Wilder did all he could to complicate the union of his former partner and their new suitor. His team won an arbitration hearing, which stated the American had a right to a third fight with Fury, and he then duly turned down every reported step-aside offer, a testament to both his confidence and his stubbornness. Now what we have in place of Fury vs Joshua is Fury vs Wilder – again. This time it takes place on October 9 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and this time it isn’t half as anticipated or as appealing as the last time (February 22, 2020).

Money, Wilder claimed, was never the driving force behind his interruption. Instead, the “Bronze Bomber’s” motivation is apparently old-fashioned revenge. It is old-fashioned revenge paired with the need to prevent himself all of a sudden becoming the forgotten man of the heavyweight division.

By activating the Fury rematch clause, Wilder, 35, keeps himself very much in the game. If victorious, he also keeps his name in the frame for either a fourth – yes, fourth – fight with Fury, depending of course on the manner of victory, a fight against Dillian Whyte, or a future money-spinner against Anthony Joshua, recently taught a lesson by Oleksandr Usyk in London.

A Joshua-Wilder fight should have happened already, of course, and one can’t help suspect Wilder’s reaction to losing against Fury has as much to do with seeing that opportunity fall by the wayside as it does with losing the way he did to Fury. It was Wilder, lest we forget, who was seen as Joshua’s foremost rival for so long – with the various heavyweight titles split between them – and it was that fight, Joshua vs Wilder, which was supposed to happen before the two big-name Brits finally sorted out their domestic business at a British football stadium. But, again, for whatever reason Joshua and Wilder opted to stall. They waited, they misfired, and now, sadly, of the three only Fury and Wilder have ever shared a ring.
Still, we get what we are given if not what we deserve and what we are getting this weekend, whether we like it or not, is Fury vs Wilder III, a fight that on one hand makes a lot of sense and on the other hand makes absolutely no sense.

It makes sense, primarily, for the simple reason that both Fury and Wilder stand to make a fortune from it. That, in a sport in which careers are short, lives are at risk, and business rules competition, is reason enough to do any fight.

However, what likely confuses people where this fight is concerned is the lack of need or demand for it, given what happened the previous time these two heavyweights met. It seemed, after all, a case of job done when Fury forced Wilder’s corner, namely Mark Breland who was subsequently sacked for his compassionate act, to throw in the towel last February. Not only was the ending he produced conclusive, but the fight itself – all the ‘action’ leading to the finish – was one-sided almost to the point of dullness.

No fault of Fury’s, he couldn’t, in truth, have done much more. He couldn’t have done much more to highlight the gulf between them on the night and he couldn’t have done much more to ensure he would never again see Deontay Wilder in a boxing ring, either. He was uncharacteristically assertive, owning the middle of the ring from the first bell, and his confidence never appeared to waver despite the ever-present threat in front of him. He removed the uncertainty of the pair’s first fight inside just seven rounds and left not a single person interested in seeing the two of them ever exchange punches again.

Be that as it may, on Saturday they will anyway. What’s more, the demand for this third match, non-existent a few months ago, (and not exactly high when the third bout was initially scheduled for July 2020) will naturally increase the closer we get to its first bell. That’s just the way it goes in heavyweight boxing and the expected shift in mood also says a lot about the danger Wilder possesses, particularly in his right hand, and the unpredictability Fury, 33, displays whenever he fights. Together, they make quite the pairing, Fury and Wilder, and always will. A study in contrast, both in terms of their fighting styles and personalities, there is forever a sense something dramatic will happen when they share the same space, be it ring, stage, or room. (Even a summer press conference staredown, which both were for some reason allowed to stretch out for almost six minutes, remained oddly captivating.)

There is a strong argument to be made, too, that Wilder, although obviously driven by money, wouldn’t be foolish enough to pursue a third fight with Fury if he didn’t believe he could do better than he did last time around. That must surely be the case, regardless of whether it rings true or not, and such belief often has a way of making deluded fighters dangerous, and even the biggest mismatches alluring. For Wilder, maybe all that is required is a change to his coaching team, or a style tweak, or simply an increase in effort and output. Whatever it is, so long as Wilder, in pursuing this fight, believes it, Fury has every reason to be wary and the rest of us have every reason to watch.

It is also worth nothing how unpredictable the Fury vs Wilder series has been to date. To be exact, it is worth remembering how different the two previous Fury vs Wilder fights have been in terms of how they played out and how both confounded all pre-fight expectations.

The first fight, which took place in December 2018, was meant to be a one-sided blowout in favour of Wilder, owing to the inactivity of Fury and the momentum, at the time, enjoyed by Wilder. In reality, though, Fury led Wilder a merry dance for much of the fight, outwitting him with his movement, before almost coming unstuck in the 12th round, when knocked down heavily. Fury was lucky to survive such a hellacious fall and Wilder, sleepwalking for much of the fight, was lucky to receive a draw.

By fight number two, both opinion and momentum had shifted. Now what people expected was a more even encounter in which Wilder’s undoubted punch power, the game-changer in the final round of their first fight, would this time meet its match in the form of Fury’s savvier skills, Wilder’s kryptonite in the view of some. Again, though, even this narrative would change once both set foot inside the ring, shaped up, and punches started to land.

Fury vs Wilder
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Basically, form lines and forecasts seem to count for little whenever Fury and Wilder share a ring. They are, as heavyweights, unpredictable by nature and their unpredictability has been enhanced of late by the fact that they have both endured periods of inactivity (neither has appeared in the ring since their second fight) and setback. In other words, it is hard to say which version of Fury and Wilder will emerge on any given night. It was hard to call back when they met the first time and it will be just as hard to call this weekend.

Like most rematches, Fury vs Wilder III boasts subplots aplenty, each designed to not only manipulate the pre-fight narrative but also make sure as many people are interested in it as possible. Here, with Wilder and Fury, it is fair to say Wilder is the one responsible for much of the fight-three intrigue. He is the one who has changed his head coach – going from Mark Breland to former opponent Malik Scott – and he is the one who has taken to alternating between periods of sulky silence and rants about conspiracy theories, blaming, in the process, his first pro loss on the following: the weight of his walkout robe, the trigger-happy attitude of his then-coach Breland, and two supposedly “tampered” Fury gloves.

“They couldn’t knock me out and they couldn’t keep me down,” Wilder, 42-1-1 (41), said. “It took a disloyal trainer to throw the towel in. We know he [Fury] has no power. He gave me everything and I took it all.

“I knew what was going on with my body. I knew something was wrong with me. I knew I was not right. I looked drained, drowsy.

“I was done wrong. The title for [the third fight] is ‘Retaliation’. I’m not as nice as I used to be. I’m not the same person. My mind is very violent.

“At this point in time, I’m very dangerous. The most dangerous person to be around is the one who has nothing to lose.”

With some punchers, especially the ones whose threat is enhanced by an air of invincibility, there is a suggestion that they lose something once coming up against an opponent who takes what they can give and proceeds to give it back to them. Seeing no fear in the eyes of an opponent is the closest thing to death for a puncher and, whenever this occurs, they are liable to start to question everything. How could this happen? What makes this opponent different from the rest? What do I do now? Amid the indecision, there is every chance they will implode. Then, after imploding, there is every chance they will have to establish some kind of explanation for why their punches no longer have yesterday’s impact. It is, in some cases, the only way they can continue, the only way they can return to anything like the puncher and the man of old.

“I think when you’ve been undefeated for a long time like Wilder you need to justify a reason why you lost,” Fury, 30-0-1 (21), said. “I don’t think he could come up with one reason why he lost. He could come up with 20. So sometimes emotionally, mentally, they have to say all these things to vindicate why they lost the fight. It can’t just be, ‘I lost to a bad man on the night, fair play, see you next time.’ They’ll be like, ‘Oh my God, he had crossbows in his fists.”

Fury vs Wilder seemed like a closed case 20 months ago, but unfinished business carries with it a hefty price tag and even closed cases will be reopened if new evidence (or an excuse) comes to light, the ending can be improved, or there is money – more money – to be made from revisiting it. The power is in the delay: the prolonging of it, the teasing of it, the milking of it. Two may be the best kind of company in life, but three big-money fights will always be preferable to two and, moreover, three big-name heavyweights in an entanglement is, in the business of boxing, a welcome crowd. Welcome, that is, until one of the three messes up and leaves the other two at a loose end, trying to claim back lost time.

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