THE greatest boxing trilogies, bar none, are poised at one-each after two, with bout three designed as the decider. Think Barrera-Morales, Bowe-Holyfield, Ali-Frazier, Zale-Graziano and Gatti-Ward. In fact, think all of ‘em.
This is where Tyson Fury versus Deontay Wilder Part III is different. It is fair to say, with an unbiased (or even untrained) eye, that Fury has thus far won at least 14 of the 19 rounds he’s shared with Wilder. A third fight, particularly if you consider the brutal seven-round shellacking Deontay endured in part two, is more like 90/10 going in as opposed to the desired 50/50.
No matter. Thanks to that pesky and by now infamous rematch clause, the kind that essentially put the entire heavyweight division on hold, the one we all (perhaps unfairly) blame for the collapse of Fury-Joshua, we embark on an extra helping of Fury-Wilder that was, upon announcement, difficult to stomach.
The first contest certainly merited seconds, however. That memorable Los Angeles draw in December 2018 is remembered for three things: One, that last round knockdown from which Fury rose so unexpectedly; two, the contentious scorelines that followed to cruelly deny Tyson victory; and three, how good the Briton looked in every moment of the contest he was upright (he also went down in the ninth) after such a long layoff from elite boxing.
But seconds was surely enough.
What happened in Part II was about as conclusive as things get in big time boxing. Fury destroyed Wilder physically and mentally inside an electric MGM Grand in Las Vegas in February 2020. From the opening bell he went after his rival to produce what must be the most impressive performance of his life. For the first time in his career, Fury banged like a man of 6ft 9ins should bang. Not only that, he did it with the patience and expertise that only a heavyweight as skilled and clever as Fury could possibly muster.
Wilder, rescued by his corner, was beaten to a literal pulp. The almighty chasm between skill levels – Fury was all the way up here and Wilder was all the way down there – made the thrashing uncomfortable to watch with each passing second. In fact, the gap seemed so insurmountable for Wilder, and the mugging so brutal, it was a shock when the American triggered his right for a third bout with Fury later that year. And if it went ahead in July 2020 as was originally scheduled (pre-lockdown), five months after Fury’s demolition job, it’s likely that odds of a repeat would be markedly shorter than the already short 10/11 they are today.
Time can change things, of course. Memories grow ever more hazy and questions start to build. Has Fury retained the focus he had 20 months ago? What if the time away has allowed Wilder to improve under a new trainer (Malik Scott)? What happens if Fury is so overconfident he walks into that Wilder right hand? What if Wilder’s poor showing in the sequel was purely because of an ear injury that wrecked his equilibrium? Also, is the heavyweight division in the midst of a fateful shakeup that began with Oleksandr Usyk’s recent victory over Joshua?
Asking questions like that is certainly worthwhile, particularly when one combatant can bang like Wilder and the other can lose concentration like Fury, and particularly in a weight class so unpredictable. And those questions just about prevent this encounter being widely regarded as the mismatch it might ultimately turn out to be. Because if they are both the same fighters they were in the return, if part III is merely a continuation of part II, the forecast is easy-peasy: Tyson Fury inside three or four rounds.
Whichever version of Fury and Wilder we get, in fact, it’s still a stretch to predict the upset. In truth, if you’re picking Wilder to win this one, you are doing so on a hunch. You are not doing so by examining the evidence. And there is plenty of it to choose from.
Even in fight one, Fury was the better fighter. True, he was respectful and cautious at times but when he was boxing and crucially, concentrating, he was in charge. Even after hitting the deck in round nine, he quickly regained both his composure and control of the fight. Even after getting knocked out in the last round, he still woke up in time to hurt Wilder more than Wilder could hurt him. He ended fight one exactly as he started: Bossing it. In short, fight one taught Fury all he ever needed to know about Wilder and that, in a nutshell, is that Wilder is as dangerous as he is beatable.
Hence why the second bout was so one-sided. Hence why fight three, unless there is an act of logic-defying brilliance from Wilder, will likely be even more so.
For those who believe Wilder has a realistic chance, ask yourself how many boxers have lost three-quarters of a championship 12 or 15-rounder, been hammered in the rematch, then bounced back to win a third? The reason you’re struggling to name a single one is because a third fight is deemed wholly unnecessary under such circumstances, so cases in point are exceptionally thin on the ground.
Even if we go back 70-odd years, to when Jersey Joe Walcott shocked Ezzard Charles in the third fight after losing the first two (the last time a world heavyweight champion went into a third fight with someone they had not yet lost to), it’s still not quite the same. Charles beat Walcott in two back-and-forth 15-rounders before Jersey Joe spectacularly dropped the bomb in their third meeting. Charles, though he won the first two, had not gained insurmountable supremacy over Walcott in either of them. It was, in a way, all still to play for.
Better examples from history might be fights that didn’t actually happen (for good reason). Would anyone have picked Arturo Godoy to beat Joe Louis if they’d have fought a third time (after a close 15-rounder, Louis walloped Godoy out of sight in the follow-up)? Would you have given Segundo Mercado a shot in a third encounter with Bernard Hopkins (after their draw and one-sided Hopkins rematch win)? Or Vito Antuofermo should he have somehow secured a third contest with Marvin Hagler (after a draw and dominant Hagler victory in part two)? Would Dwight Muhammad Qawi have been expected to be competitive in a third scrap with Evander Holyfield (after losing a split decision and then getting halted inside four rounds)?
In short, for Wilder to win, he needs to do something so spectacular it is frankly unbackable at this stage. Something that has never been done before. Also consider how Wilder, the epitome of seek and destroy, has approached all of his 44 professional contests thus far. What is required is not a tweak or a rethink, but a complete reinvention. And at the age of 35 years and 11 months, no less.
Malik Scott is warning of that great reinvention. He’s talking a good game, admittedly. But if you’re the trainer of someone and you’re not publicly backing them to win, well…
We should also point to Wilder’s demeanour when the two came together for the first time since February 2020. Acutely aware of how Fury had tied his brain in knots during the build up to both of their fights, Wilder opted to stay silent at the press conference to announce their upcoming dance. Simply, he knows he cannot allow himself to be drawn into a war of words with Tyson again. It’s a war he knows he cannot win. Surely, he must also remember how tricky an opponent Fury is once inside the ring, too. Keeping himself to himself won’t do him any good in there. Already, there are signs of damage limitation. Some might even call them signs of defeat.
“Bronze Bomber” fans will of course counter all of the above with one thing that can trump any name-calling, any psychological beef, any old habits: The power of a speeding truck. Godoy didn’t have it. Mercado didn’t have it. Antuofermo didn’t have it. Qawi didn’t have it. Truth is, few ever had in their gloves what Wilder has in his. If it lands, we know what it can do.
If: The most useful word when marketing a fight. Expect it to be rolled out over and over again by the marketeers this week. If this. If that. The get out of jail free card. The tool to cover all bases. The word that can make the unsellable sellable. But for Fury, the biggest if, the likeliest if to trip him up, is not if he gets caught on the sweet spot (because he was clumped there several times in the first contest and once in the rematch, and survived), but if he heads into this bout over-confident and/or disinterested.
Therein lies the real question mark, or at least the one that will be used over and over again. After seemingly putting this rivalry to bed, then focusing on a career-defining showdown with Joshua that spectacularly fell apart, and after watching his new-born baby fight for her life before he flew out to the US, will Fury be able to regain the focus and desire that saw him smash Wilder last year?
Before that contest, many – including Boxing News – were picking him to lose. And Fury thrives on being written off. Back then, there was the Joshua showdown to aim at. Now, 20 months on, the outlook is completely different. That will be enough for the spin doctors to go to work. Fury is a sizeable favourite therefore he won’t be as motivated, we’ll be told. He’s grown disinterested, he hasn’t been training effectively. Then there’s Wilder’s own role reversal. The new and improved Wilder. The big underdog Wilder. The Wilder who is determined like never before. That Wilder and that Fury – the Wilder and Fury we are yet to see – will likely lead the storylines of fight week because they sell the fight far more effectively than the Wilder and Fury we have seen.
Expect one or more of the following ‘revelations’ to emerge: Fury looks overweight; Fury has looked bad in sparring; Fury didn’t really have Covid and was looking for a way out (this contest was postponed a second time this summer when the virus allegedly rampaged through Team Tyson). It’s really up to you to choose what you believe. But it’s worth keeping in mind that almost every argument you’ll hear about why Wilder wins will be dependent on Fury being below-par. For now, all we can do is base our opinion on facts. And all facts point to Fury winning again, and winning convincingly. Wilder, I don’t doubt, is hugely motivated. But nor do I doubt that Fury is, either. After all, this is his chance to show the rest of the division who the real king is, how it’s really done. The lavish occasion at the T-Mobile Arena, as the world heavyweight champion, against a familiar old rival, will surely be to his liking.
Wilder may try to be a little cleverer, conserve his energy, be bigger physically, impose his jab and do his best not to be bossed around. He is unquestionably courageous. Crucially, though, he doesn’t know how to beat Fury. Yet Fury knows exactly how to beat him. He can outbox him or he can smash him to smithereens. The feeling is that he will opt for the latter, knowing that the former gives Wilder too many chances to land his famed equaliser.
Look for Fury to again go on the offensive. Maybe not from the get-go, but early. And when he does, all the memories will become crystal clear. Yet again, Wilder will realise what a nightmarish brute Tyson Fury is. The pick is for “The Gypsy King” to again stop Deontay in the middle rounds. And that, we hope, will be that.
Bravo to Top Rank for putting together a solid undercard with a strong heavyweight flavour. Adam Kownacki, a Brooklyn crowd favourite from Poland, looks to avenge the lone defeat on his 21-fight record when he rematches Finnish veteran, Robert Helenius. Helenius, a 37-year-old perennial contender who Wilder has been using for target practice in sparring, has seen better days and it showed during the first three rounds of their first encounter in March last year. But he retains his punch power, evidenced by the finish in the fourth. That will again be a huge threat to Kownacki but the younger man by five years is the favourite to win.
A battle of unbeaten pitches Nigeria’s Efe Ajagba, 15-0, against Cuban Frank Sanchez, 18-0, in a fascinating 10-rounder. Ajagba, at 6ft 6ins, is both hard-hitting and imposing but is not as skilled as his opponent. The 2014 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist (and 2016 Olympic quarter-finalist) is the underdog but Sanchez, one senses, is in for an exceptionally difficult evening.
Other prospects worthy of your attention are heavyweights Viktor Vykhryst, featherweight Robeisy Ramírez, super-middleweight Edgar Berlanga and there’s run outs for super-welterweight Justin Williams and super-lightweight Rances Barthelemy.
The Verdict This is surely the final instalment of the Fury-Wilder rivalry.