- Wilder vs Fury: Two Fights, One Champion
Badly overweight, battling severe mental demons, any thoughts of a successful boxing comeback looked remote at best for Tyson Fury.
Frank Warren took a punt, and Fury miraculously launched an unlikely return. Two fights in, and the evidence proved inconclusive in terms of recapturing former glories.
But the unbeaten WBC world heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder was ringside for the second of those fights. Wilder clearly liked what he saw. Fury got an opportunity which looked a fantasy only a few months prior.
It looked too soon, winning looked impossible for Fury, victory looked a matter of when for Wilder.
Renowned broadcaster John Rawling was ringside in 2018 covering the fight for BT Sport. Rawling has been around the sport for many a year, and despite reservations, it had come a little too early for ‘The Gyspy King’ he knew that an upset was very much in the air, despite some telling him he had lost the plot:
“I think everyone thought it was too soon, but life isn’t about things coming about at the right time, it was a fantastic opportunity for Tyson. I think if Wilder and his people were honest about it they probably took the fight because they watched his two comeback fights and thought he is a good name on his record and was unlikely to beat Wilder. Even though a lot of people did think it was too soon for Tyson, Wilder is limited, so limited and anyone who followed the sport closely knew that with Tyson’s boxing ability he had a fantastic chance.”
Winning or losing a fight is often determined by the timing of a fight. Matchmaking is a skill that is often overlooked. Frank Warren is a past master of making the right fight at the right time:
“Frank Warren is by nature a gambler, and fearless as a businessman. He is also somebody who will back his judgement in boxing. He was adamant from the word go that Fury had a great chance of going over there and winning.”
Even though I firmly believed Wilder would eventually win, I could see Fury doing well early, winning rounds until the moment the right hand was unleashed to eradicate everything that had gone before. Fury certainly started the better of the two fighters:
“Fury had a gameplan and followed it brilliantly. I wasn’t totally surprised because having seen Wilder in virtually every fight, that was always going to be the story of the fight. Look at his fight with the Cuban Luis Ortiz, he was in all sorts of trouble in that fight. In the first fight, it was the boxing against the power, it was always a question of could Fury box for 12 rounds and avoid the right hand. In the early rounds, he was way superior and there is an argument he won practically everything other than the two rounds he was put on the floor.”
While the good start Fury made wasn’t all that of a surprise but could he maintain his early good work for 36 minutes:
“Fury boxed really well, but he was short of core fitness and maybe belief that he could pull it off. But to succeed at the elite level of any sport you have to have full belief in your preparation to go 12 rounds at a fast pace. When you think of the state he was in before his comeback, it is remarkable he got back into a ring at all. Ben Davison gets praise from some and criticism from others, but there is a very persuasive argument that what he did to get Tyson back in the ring from where he was, he might well have saved his life. Tyson had practically given up on life, and Ben deserves huge credit for guiding him to a world title fight so quickly.”
Fury appeared to be coasting to a famous victory at the Staples Center, going into the 12th and final round victory look practically guaranteed. An earlier knockdown seemed a minor irrelevance, and Fury had got up off the floor to regain control of the fight. But with victory so near, Fury looked as though his night would end in defeat:
“I thought it was over, I didn’t think there was any way he would get up. I just thought it was a question of him being counted out. When he got up, it was like a Rocky movie moment. Tyson even won the rest of the round and even had Wilder in trouble at the end. It was an astonishing 3 minutes.”
Having survived that incredible final round, and despite the two knockdowns, everyone thought Wilder would be about to lose his unbeaten record and with it his world heavyweight title. But the night had one final twist:
“Even with the knockdowns I still had Tyson winning the fight and I will always think he deserved to have won it. Wilder did so little other than those two big moments.”
Wilder escaped with a hotly-disputed draw, the rematch was inevitable. We had to wait a while, but in February last year they again shared a ring, this time in Las Vegas.
I had real concerns that Fury had switched trainers, he was coming in much heavier and his pre-fight talk of going looking for Wilder seemed like a mission to oblivion. Fury was also badly cut in his previous fight, a supposed warm-up bout with Otto Wallin, that proved far tougher than anyone expected.
But Rawling was convinced this time Fury would leave no doubt:
“This time he was a fitter, stronger man who had genuine belief. John Fury was spot on with the tactics. He knew they would put Wilder on the back foot and intimidate him. I remember John saying to me there are a lot of things I don’t know a lot about, but one thing I do know a lot about is fighting. Nobody has watched more of Deontay Wilder than I have, and he said trust me, he can’t fight going backwards.”
That belief and confidence in the tactics that Fury undoubtedly had, was clearly shown in the way Fury started the rematch:
“The first round he just took it to Wilder. I had David Haye at the side of me, and he just sat there open-mouthed, he said it was a perfect round by Fury. Tyson physically intimidated Wilder, he was terrific that night. Fury looked so much more complete physically than he did in the first fight. In the time since the first fight he had lived the life as a fighter, and he got his heavyweight man strength back.”
Wilder was never in the rematch, it was terribly one-sided and despite the criticism, Mark Breland did him a favour when he pulled his fighter out in the 7th round. The excuses were plenty, none were justified, many of them were worrying in many ways. Fury exceeded all expectations with his performance, and still, all these months on it defies belief what he did to Wilder.
There have been many great British performances on US soil over the years. Lloyd Honeyghan destroying Don Curry back in 1986, or more recently Carl Frampton defeating the brilliant Mexican Leo Santa Cruz, but just maybe, what Fury did to Wilder is even more impressive:
“I said at the time, and I still say now, that was one of the most outstanding performances by a British fighter in America. There will be a lot of people now saying that Wilder turned out to be nothing, but they were not saying that at the time. A lot of people were saying that Wilder would finish what he started in the last fight and smash Fury. A lot of late money came on Wilder, he hardened as the betting favourite.”
The comeback of Fury is a truly inspirational story of a man coming back from the brink, after all the weight gain, the substance abuse and all the mental health problems. For any normal fighter, just getting back into a boxing ring at all would be viewed as a win, but Fury has proved he is anything but normal.
“It’s an incredible story and I am so pleased for him that he has conquered his demons. I have known Tyson since he turned pro, and I always rated him and I have always liked him as a man. He’s honest, he’s open and charming. I found it so sad that after beating Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 that he didn’t get the praise or the credit he really deserved.
“After some of the silly things he said, some in the media influenced the public to turn against him. But having come back and producing that spellbinding performance in Las Vegas, he showed as a boxer, just how good he is. And in the meantime he talked so openly about mental health, being so honest about the problems he had and how he had lost his way, many people have now learned what a good man he is. What he has said and what he has done in the ring, has been an inspiration to so many people.”