When Tyson Fury rose from the canvas 15 months ago to somehow beat the count after a debilitating combo from Deontay Wilder, few thought the calendar would have to turn twice before we saw a rematch.
Boxing is not linear though, it rarely provides the fans with what they want and it is only when the big promoters and broadcasters have been fed that the fights logic dictates should occur, actually do.
2018 ended on a crescendo, its pedigree stamped by this absorbing heavyweight contest and bell-to-bell thriller between Josh Warrington and Carl Frampton in Elland Road.
2019 promised to be an exceptional year and yet there are few, even the ever ebullient and enthusiastic Steve Bunce, who would argue that the year was anything other than a damp squib.
Yes, Andy Ruiz caused one of those upsets that made the entire sporting world sit up and take note but his disappointing defeat in the rematch with Anthony Joshua in December proved that Ruiz was probably the one hit wonder many feared.
Eddie Hearn did his best to suggest Joshua reinvented the wheel in Saudi Arabia but the reality is he finished the job in December that should have been seen to in May. Joshua, of course, can’t be faulted for the nature of his victory in the rematch but the point is there have been few quality contests at the top weight this year.
That said, the one man in the top division willing to take on a truly difficult contest in 2019 was Deontay Wilder, the WBC heavyweight champion, when he faced the underrated, always feared, Cuban, Luis Ortiz.
Ortiz, who defies age on the basis that nobody has clue what age he is, has proved an intriguing prospect over the last few years. He’s a very proficient fighter, technically sound and very awkward, basically the type of fighter Anthony Joshua has taken a wide berth of at the behest of Eddie Hearn.
Wilder, though, overcame ‘King Kong’ twice, once in an enthralling back and forth fight and more recently in October with a devastating right hand, when the Alabaman had trailed on any score card compiled through sound judgment.
The debate still rages, though perhaps views will be formed more uniformly come Sunday, as to whether Wilder is, in fact, a good boxer.
Wilder has held the title for almost five years, his record in this time 9-0-1, with all nine victories coming inside the distance. Indeed, after next weekend, Wilder will have faced both Tyson Fury and Ortiz twice in just under two years. That is as tough a slate as any heavyweight fighter during that period, indeed it would stand up in any era of heavyweight boxing.
Boxing aesthetes, many self-proclaimed, suggest that Wilder has got his far through not much more than a combination of that prodigious right hand and luck. This is absolute nonsense. Perhaps in no discipline more than heavyweight boxing will an overmatched competitor be cruelly found out. Luck might get through one night unschathe, not 41.
Wilder does get tagged, more than most champions do, but all the while he is measuring the distance, establishing the distance he needs to set the feet and then, it ends.
Having said all this, Wilder’s quality of opponent has elevated considerably in the past two years. The reason, though many would not acknowledge it, is that American heavyweights ceased to be a major draw after the retirement of Evander Holyfield and the end of the last great era of heavyweight boxing.
Indeed, the rise of the Klitschkos, remarkable in so many ways as they were, coincided with the demise of heavyweight boxing in America. It would be stretching credulity to suggest that the two are interconnected but whatever the case, the U.S. struggled to produce a top weight of note for more than a decade.
Then along comes the rangy Wilder, an olympic bronze medallist in 2008, who tore through a path of mostly no names until his WBC title victory in 2015.
Outside of boxing circles, Wilder remained largely unknown until his first victory over Ortiz yet it’s difficult to understand why. Bunce and Mike Costello raised this question on the excellent, Five Live Boxing Podcast earlier this week and, like many, they came to the conclusion that Wilder’s star would have shone brighter and earlier had he been handled by an old-school promoter like Bob Arum.
The Alabaman interviews extremely well, and unlike the last American to dominate boxing, Floyd Mayweather, Wilder is a straight-up, decent and compassionate family man.
Most perplexing, though, is that Wilder has everything you want in a heavyweight boxer distilled into the most alluring weapon in this savage sport – a night-ending right hand. His knockout rate is the best in heayweight history and should he prevail in Las Vegas, his stretch of defences of the WBC heavyweight title will surpass that of his, and many other people’s, hero, the incomparable Muhammad Ali. How is this man not box office gold?
Opposite him on Saturday night is a man who has never endured difficulty in courting attention. Tyson Fury is one of the most charasmatic and enigmatic characters to emerge, not just from boxing but any sport, this century.
The Englishman has not always endeared himself to the public with his highly offensive old-testament pronouncements but after a tumultuous period following his excpetional defeat of Vladimir Klitschko in 2015, he has won over many with his candour and willingness to acknowledge his past misgivings.
Moreover, Fury showed true grit and resilience in recovering from the dark psychological hole he found himself in not long after that famous victory. There are those who will never warm to Fury, and so be it, but it’s hard to deny his wit and intelligence when effortlessly engaging with the boxing media.
Further, and this is not hero-building, simply a relfection of the facts, Fury’s return from the precipice, as a man as much as a boxer, was hugely impressive.
However, in keeping with the wildly unpredictable Gypsy King’s actions, just months ago he parted ways with Ben Davison, his former trainer. Davison is widely credited with taking Fury from his lowest ebb, reinvigorating and returning him to a position, both mentally and physically, whereby he could challenge once more for heavyweight gold.
Still, boxing perhaps more than any sport, largely treats loyalty with utter disdain. It’s a violent sport, its protagonists are volatile and once a fighter feels they’re getting stale, they usually look to point the finger elsewhere. This, to be fair, is totally understandable as certain gyms focus on very specific traits.
The Ingles in Sheffield came to prominence in honing crafty fighters, focused on timing and elusiveness, their most famous protegee bing, the most exicting fighter of our childhood, Prince Naseem Hamed.
Davison himself seems an unsually astute boxing brain for a man of just 27 but he was openly criticised by Fury’s father, John, after the lineal champion’s last victory over Otto Wallin. The party line seems to be that Fury is going for a knockout in the rematch and Davison is not the man to prepare him for this outcome.
With staleness setting in on Fury, a man who you suspect needs to work constantly on staying focused, his eyes turned to Javan ‘Sugarhill’ Steward. Javan is the nephew of the legendary Emmanuel Steward, founder of the world renowned Kronk gym in Detroits in the 1970s.
The Kronk has seen countless men enter its humble environs as novices and emerge as world champions: Milton ‘Ice Man’ McCrory, Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns and Limerick’s own, Andy Lee, all wore the famed red and gold with distinction.
Fury becomes the latest man to commit himself to the ways of the Kronk, the result of a phone call with Lee at the end of 2019. That he will be joined in camp by Kronk acolyte, Lee, gives a sense of grandeur to the type of night “Manny” Steward lived for.
The Kronk as Lee, Hitman Kearns and many others can attest trains its fighters for one true outcome – the knockout. Fury has a reasonably decent record for finishes insde the distance but as the quality of opponent increases so his ability to close it out diminishes.
While he tagged Wilder a few times in the first fight, you could never say the champion was ever truly rocked. To be fair to Fury, he was comprehensively outboxing Wilder until the first kncokdown in the ninth and had it not been for the thunderous knockdown in round 12, he would be the defending champion tonight.
Therein lies the stark contrast between the two fighters: Fury can pick angles, defend almost perfectly, lean in on the far lighter Wilder in close exchanges, pick him off with the jab and create an insurmountable lead as early as the eight round. Wilder, in the meantime, seems only to need to work the jab and wait for one opening before pouncing.
If a road map to succss was being drawn out, Fury’s is infinitely more sustainable and yet, 41 fights later, Wilder is still working that erratic style of his and then finishing his opponent in the latter half of the fight.
There is no way Wilder wins a decision and it’s extremely difficult seeing Fury knock Wilder out, let alone put him on the canvas.
Wilder’s once-in-a-generation power is finally getting the recongition it deserves but pay attention to the ring smarts he employs to set up the shot.
Fury to dominate, Wilder to end it late in a thriller.
SUS Prediction – Deontay Wilder by KO
Tip – Wilder to win in rounds 10-12 @8/1