ON October 9, in a sensational fight at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Tyson Fury knocked out Deontay Wilder in the 11th round to put the finishing touches on their heavyweight championship trilogy.
It has been a strange dance between these two men. Less than a minute into round 12 of their first encounter on December 1, 2018, Wilder knocked Fury unconscious and shimmied to a neutral corner, having established his primacy in the heavyweight division. Or so it seemed. Somehow, Fury managed to beat the count and rise to his feet. Wilder couldn’t finish. A minute later, Fury shook him with a clubbing right hand and Deontay was holding on to survive.
The rest is history. Fury-Wilder I was declared a draw. On February 22, 2020, they fought again. This time, Fury dominated from start to finish and stopped Deontay in the seventh round. Now these two men have engaged in a fight that, when the dust of time settles, will be remembered as a classic.
Let’s look at the framework that gave Fury-Wilder III its drama.
Wilder’s performance in Fury-Wilder II was evocative of a playground bully who gets flustered when a kid who’s tougher than expected decides to hit back. And, like a bully, Deontay took the low road in the aftermath of his defeat. He should have said, “Tyson was the better fighter tonight. I got beat. There’s a rematch clause. Next time, I’ll kick his ass.” Instead, he manufactured excuse after ludicrous excuse.
Initially, Wilder blamed the costume he’d worn into the ring – glitzy black body armor accessorised by a black mask adorned with horns and lit up by batteries – for his defeat. “My last couple of outfits, they had no weight on it,” he said. “It was more Styrofoam. This time around, we added different heavy things. The skulls, the rhinestones that was on there. There was a lot of things that were designed on there that made it very, very, very heavy. It had battery packs in the mask. When I first tried it on, I saw it had some type of weight to it. But during that time, you get so excited and you want people to see it. But we immediately started feeling, ‘All right, we’re gonna have to put this uniform on a certain amount of time before we go out, even if we had to delay it a little bit.’ But our timing wasn’t perfect.”
“He [Fury] didn’t hurt me at all,” Wilder continued. “The simple fact is that my uniform was way too heavy for me. I didn’t have no legs from the beginning of the fight. In the third round, my legs were just shot all the way through. A lot of people were telling me, ‘It looked like something was wrong with you.’ Something was. I knew I didn’t have the legs because of my uniform. It weighed 40-some pounds with the helmet and all the batteries. I wanted my tribute to be great for Black History Month and I guess I put that before anything.”
Now we know. The reason David defeated Goliath had nothing to do with David’s sling and five smooth stones. It was all about Goliath’s heavy body armor. Lest one forget, the Bible tells us that Goliath wore a tunic fashioned from hundreds of bronze scales, bronze shin guards, bronze plates covering his feet, and a heavy metal helmet. Boy, did that weaken Goliath’s legs.
And by the way; keep in mind, Wilder said in a 2018 video that he trained regularly while wearing a 45-pound weighted vest.
Paulie Malignaggi put things in perspective when he observed, “This is where Deontay has had a problem in the last couple years. Nobody around him is honest anymore, in my opinion. Starting from the first Fury fight, somebody should have been like, ‘Yo, playa; you didn’t win that fight.’ But now, just like the first fight where you said you got robbed and everybody’s cheering you on, now you’re saying after this fight, ‘Yo, that thing was heavy. Man, that outfit was heavy.’ Not one of your team has the balls to say shit. If everybody’s just agreeing with you, a bunch of yes-men, you start to lose track of reality. Somebody in his team should’ve been like, ‘Yo, you’re gonna look like an idiot if you put that out there. Don’t say that.’ If you say, ‘I didn’t feel right on fight night,’ say that. Don’t say it was the outfit.”
Then the excuses got worse.
In several social media posts, Wilder accused Fury of cheating. “I highly believe you put something hard in your glove,” Deontay said. “Something the size and the shape of an egg weight. It’s the reason why the side of my face swelled up in an egg weight form and it left a dent in my face as well… You scratched flesh out of my ears which caused my ears to bleed. Why did my ear have scratches deep inside my ear? Because of your nails. It’s so many different facts and proof that we have.”
Here, one might note that, when a fighter’s hands are wrapped before a fight, he makes a fist and his nails are tucked into the palm of his hand, which is wrapped with gauze and tape and encased in a glove. There’s no way a fighter can scratch the flesh out of an opponent’s ear with his nails.
Next, Wilder targeted Kenny Bayless (one of the most respected referees in boxing), claiming, “The referee coming in the dressing room, I could feel his negative energy. His eyes looked like he took a cocktail drink before going into the fight. His energy felt like, ‘I’m gonna do something to you, black man, but I’ve gotta do it’. Fury didn’t come to box. He came to really, really, really make the fight as dirty as possible. He was putting me in headlocks and still hitting me in the body, leaning over on me and still hitting me in the body. He came to fight dirty, and the referee let him get away with it. He elbowed me in my face too. He [the referee] acted like he ain’t know what was going on. Either this motherfucker was drunk or he was part of it. Which one was it?”
But Wilder’s ugliest accusations were aimed at his trainer, Mark Breland.
Breland is widely recognised as one of the most decent men in boxing and had trained Wilder from the start of Deontay’s pro career. Under his tutelage, Wilder had been undefeated in his first 43 fights, scored 41 knockouts, and reigned as WBC heavyweight champion for five years. In round seven of Fury-Wilder II, Breland made the decision to halt the fight. Not only was Deontay taking a beating, the big punch that had always been his equaliser seemed to have been beaten out of him.
Initially, Wilder blamed Breland for making a good faith error in stopping the fight.
“I am upset with Mark for the simple fact that we’ve talked about this many times,” Deontay said. “It’s a principle thing. As a warrior, as a champion, as a leader, as a ruler, I want to go out on my shield. If I’m talking about going in and killing a man, I respect the same way. I abide by the same principle of receiving. So I told my team to never, ever, no matter what it may look like, to never throw the towel in with me because I’m a special kind. I still had five rounds left. No matter what it looked like, I was still in the fight. I understand he was looking out for me and trying to do what he felt was right. But this is my life and my career and he has to accept my wishes. I still had my mind. I still knew what I was doing. Although I didn’t have the legs, I knew how to move around the ring. It may look a certain type of way. But I’m never out of a fight because of my tremendous power. And I’d rather go out on my shield and my sword than anything.”
But as time went by, Wilder moved to a more conspiratorial theory – that Breland had deliberately betrayed him.
“This motherf***er didn’t even give me a warning,” Deontay maintained. “In round seven, I’m getting myself back together and all of a sudden the towel is thrown in. They couldn’t knock me out. They couldn’t keep me down. It took a disloyal trainer to throw the towel in.”
The accusations got worse.
“About 15 minutes before going out to the fight,” Deontay said in a rant on 78SportsTV, “warming up on the mitts, it was perfect, I felt great until I went to the ring. That transformation, I was drinking certain water and stuff, trying to keep myself hydrated. I just start feeling weird. My water was spiked, as if I took a muscle relaxer or something like that. It wasn’t just the suit; my water was tampered with. This feeling here, it was a different feeling. It was like I had no control over my body. My legs was weak and stuff like that. I believe he [Breland] was part of it. He was the only one handling my water. He was the only one. I have strong sources.
“We know what the deal is,” Wilder continued. “We know what’s up, man. You would want to debunk something that we all have proof and evidence of. I told Jay [co-manager and assistant trainer Jay Deas], ‘I believe Mark did something to the water.’ I’m telling you; I know how I felt in the ring. That wasn’t me. Now this is all coming out. He was definitely part of what was going on. If the shoe was on the other foot, they’d prosecute me. He’s a bitch.”
On October 2, 2020, it was publicly revealed that Breland’s services had been terminated and that Wilder would be trained by Deas and Malik Scott. Finally, in February 2021, Breland spoke out.
“A coach can only teach someone if they’re willing to learn,” Breland said in a social media post. “Deontay had become untrainable because he was at the point of, he knows more about boxing than all of us. I’m not a doctor. But I know blood coming out of your ears and dazed eyes could be a brain issue. And power comes from your legs, and his legs were gone. So I made a decision to stop the fight and I’d do it all again.”
We live in age in which, if someone says something often enough and loudly enough, his or her supporters will believe it no matter how ridiculous and lacking in evidence the assertion is. Wilder’s accusations were boxing’s version of The Big Lie.
“All I can say is that he [Wilder] is mimicking Donald Trump,” Bob Arum (Fury’s co-promoter) said. “He likes come up with conspiracy theories.”
Asked about Wilder’s allegations, Fury responded, “I think he has lost his marbles.”
When Tyson Fury thinks that someone has lost their marbles, the chances are that more than a few marbles are missing.
The contracts for Fury-Wilder II contained a rematch clause. Thus, Wilder was entitled to an opportunity to avenge his defeat. But putting Fury-Wilder III together was easier said than done.
Each man was said to have been guaranteed $25 million for their second encounter. There was a widespread belief that Fox (which shared pay-per-view rights with ESPN) and PBC (which promotes Wilder) had needed between 1.1 and 1.2 million buys in the United States to break even. But Fury-Wilder II only generated in the neighborhood of 800,000 domestic buys. Sources also say that Top Rank lost in excess of $5 million on the promotion.
Because Fury had won the second fight, the purse for Fury-Wilder III was to be divided 60-40 in favour of Team Fury. Tyson expected to make at least as much money from the third encounter as he’d made from the second (if not more). And Wilder didn’t want to take a pay cut. But revenue expectations for Fury-Wilder III looked bleak. This was the COVID era.
In autumn 2020, Team Fury announced that, since Fury-Wilder III hadn’t occurred within the contractually-mandated time frame, Fury planned to fight another opponent on December 5. In response, Shelly Finkel (Wilder’s co-manager) said that Wilder was seeking mediation in an effort to ensure that Fury-Wilder III would take place before another fight for either fighter and that, absent a settlement, legally-binding arbitraton would follow. On November 15, Fury tweeted that his return to the ring would be pushed back to 2021.
Then talk turned to a proposed mega-fight between Fury and Anthony Joshua.
On March 13, 2021, Fury and Joshua signed provision of services agreements for a two-fight deal with Queensberry, MTK, and Top Rank (all on Fury’s side of the table) and Matchroom (Joshua’s promoter). Income from Joshua-Fury I was to be split 50-50 between the two camps. Income from the rematch would be split 60-40 in favor of the winner of the first bout. It was contemplated that the first fight would be in June or July, with Fury-Joshua II in November or December.
But it was an agreement in principle, not a finished deal. The site had yet to be determined. And more significantly, the money to finance the venture wasn’t in place. There was a 30-day window within which to finalise the contracts.
“I think that everybody is proceeding the way they should be proceeding,” Bob Arum said. “When the fight will take place, where it will take place, that will work itself out. Right now, we’ve got a motherfucking pandemic. Everybody is stuck in the same thing, the coronavirus. The problem is, when can we schedule the fight and where. We’re dealing with an element we have no control over. Who’s going to put up money for a site unless they can attract people from the outside? Everybody is behaving appropriately except the pandemic.”
And what would Arum say to fans who were tired of waiting for Fury-Joshua?
“’Go f**k yourself,’” Arum said. “’Find a life.’ That’s what I would say to them.”
Things went downhill from there.
- Matchroom CEO Eddie Hearn (on April 5, 2021): “July is the date. Really, I think end of next week it will be done. Talks have progressed extremely well and we’re closing in on securing the venue and there will be an announcement in due course.”
- Queensberry CEO Frank Warren (on April 9): “Hearn is the one who is dealing now with Saudi Arabia. We expect to know by early next week if the money there is real.”
- Eddie Hearn (on April 22): “Some more exchanged final drafts, more calls tonight. It’s as done as it can be. It’s non-stop at the moment but it’s happening. It’s one hundred per cent happening.”
- Eddie Hearn (on April 26): “People doubted we would achieve the site fee. We have achieved that. Both fighters have signed the contract to fight. Both fighters have agreed to an offer from a site. It’s never done until the ink is dry, but there are no obstacles to overcome except to finalise the paperwork and get it announced. I’ve not seen a fight fall through at this stage before.”
- Bob Arum (on April 29): “It will take months for the Saudis to do their due diligence on such a huge deal. It is not just a site fee. There are ancillary demands from the Saudis stretching into the broadcast deals and other things. It could take months for it all to play out. It could even take until 2022 the way it looks right now. The fight in July or August is dead in the water as far as we are concerned. It is absurd what Hearn is saying, that it is a done deal.”
- Eddie Hearn (on April 30): “The deal is agreed and we are waiting for the longform agreement to be signed. In the coming hours or days, they’ll get a copy of the contract that’s ready to go and they’ll sign. Bob’s ego is out of control. Let’s all do our job.”
- Eddie Hearn (on May 1): “Last night, we received the contract from the Middle East. All sides’ lawyers have got to go through that and make sure they’re happy with it. But we’re all systems go. This fight is on. This fight is happening. I believe you’ll get an announcement next week. You will get this fight next and you will get it for the undisputed world championship.”
- Eddie Hearn (May 11): “August 7, August 14. It’s a very bad secret that the fight is happening in Saudi Arabia. It’s the same people we did the deal with for Andy Ruiz. That event was spectacular. As partners, they were fantastic, so we’re very comfortable. We’re ready to go.”
- Frank Warren (on May 11): “I’ve seen Hearn has put something out today. It’s just bullshit. I just don’t get why he does this stuff. How many times has he announced this? I want the fight. But until it is signed, there ain’t a fight.”
As noted above, the contracts for Fury-Wilder II had provided for an immediate rematch. After losing to Fury, Wilder had exercised that right. Then, when Team Fury unilaterally declared that the rematch clause was no longer operative, Wilder sought mediation to resolve the issue. Ultimately, he took the matter to binding arbitration.
On May 17, 2021, Daniel Weinstein (the judge overseeing the arbitration) sided with Wilder and ordered that Fury-Wilder III take place before September 15.
“It was a shock to the system,” Hearn declared on hearing the news. “This negotiation has been going on three, four months and we were always assured this wouldn’t be a problem.”
“Eddie Hearn has diarrhea of the mouth,” Arum responded. “He can’t stop talking and he doesn’t think. In the contract, which Joshua signed and Fury signed, we specifically had a section talking about the arbitration and talking about the possibility that the arbitrator would order [Fury] to fight [Wilder]. So everybody knew about that. It’s not a secret that it was in arbitration and that this was a possibility.”
Either way, Fury-Joshua was dead. Thereafter, Fury-Wilder III was signed and scheduled for July 24 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Almost immediately, the fighters began exchanging insults:
Tyson Fury: “This guy is a glutton for punishment. He’s an idiot. He got absolutely dismantled and smashed to bits in our last fight and he wants that all over again. He’s telling people I cracked his skull, I injured his shoulder, I done his bicep. Yet he wants to get in there with me again. It’s one of two things. He’s absolutely crazy or he’s a sucker for punishment. I’m knocking him out cold.”
Deontay Wilder: “My mind is very violent. We built a whole facility to commit a legal homicide. I cannot wait. When you contemplating and premeditating about harming a man and when you see that person, what you’ve been thinking and what you’ve been feeling will come out. If your stomach can’t digest what your eyes about to see, don’t come to my fights. Don’t watch my fights. Because I mean blood, and I’m out for blood.”
Tyson Fury: “Clearly, he’s suffered his first mental breakdown. Not surprising, really. I injured him heavily. As well as the torn biceps he kept going on about, he ended up with a ruptured shoulder while I also gave him a cracked skull and two burst ear-drums. I smashed him to pieces. He felt like he’d been run over by an 18-wheeler. Make that a six-foot-niner. Then he lost the plot completely with all those mad allegations. He’s had a lot of mental issues.”
Deontay Wilder: “My mentality is, you’ve been contemplating about hurting a person so bad, to the point you wanna disfigure him so his mother wouldn’t even know who he was. You wanna decapitate him in every way, like premeditated stuff.”
With that as background, the kick-off press conference took place on June 15 in Los Angeles.
Fury, who sometimes wears suits that look like they were stitched together from fabric left over after draperies were made for a bordello, appeared shirtless. Wilder made a brief opening statement in which he proclaimed, “Time to cut off his head. Come July 24, there will be bloodshed.”
Fury responded, “He said all this last time. Decapitation, bloodshed, and all that. And we all know what went down there. Deontay Wilder’s a one-trick pony. He’s got one-punch power. We all know that. Great. But what I’m gonna do to Deontay Wilder this time is, I’m gonna run him over as if I’m an 18-wheeler. I guarantee you, he does not go past where he did before.”
Thereafter, Wilder refused to answer questions at the press conference, letting Malik Scott answer for him. At the close of the festivities, there was a six-minute staredown.
Talking with reporters afterward, Fury said of Wilder’s silence, “What’s he gonna say? We’ve all heard enough of them excuses. Probably best he didn’t speak because then no one could ask him any questions about why he’s been saying all that stuff. So, probably good. Good idea, actually.”
Thereafter, Wilder declared, “I’m looking forward to July 24, to show the greatness of me.”
He also analogised himself to Muhammad Ali, saying, “Deontay Wilder come along to take that same stand outside and inside the ring. It seem like it ain’t enough. It seem like they have these buck-dancers that dance in our kind to go against us and try it down. But you can’t buck-break me, man. I’m chosen. Ali is one of my idols in boxing, I appreciate to be compared to him, and I can see the comparison of what he stood for.”
Here, it might be noted that this is the same Deontay Wilder who went to the White House for a photo op with Donald Trump after the politically-motivated posthumous pardon of Jack Johnson in 2018 and, five years earlier, acknowledged assaulting a prostitute in a hotel room in Las Vegas.
Fury has a history of irrational behavior and anti-social rants that have been well-catalogued by this writer in previous articles. In this instance, he seemed like the more stable half of the promotion.
Then there was a problem. A big one. On July 8, it was announced that Fury had tested positive for COVID and that Fury-Wilder III would have to be postponed.
“He got vaccinated in Miami,” Bob Arum explained. “He got the first shot. And then he said he didn’t want to get the second shot because he didn’t want to get sick [from the vaccination] so close to the fight. So he got COVID instead.”
In due course, Fury-Wilder III was rescheduled for October 9. Then, on September 25, the promotion (and boxing) received a jolt when Oleksandr Usyk outclassed Anthony Joshua to claim the WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight belts. Part of the buzz for Fury-Wilder III had been that the winner was expected to fight Joshua next, in what would have been a megafight of the highest order. Now that pot of gold was gone.
On September 28, responding to Wilder’s threats to inflict bodily harm beyond the norm upon him, Fury took to social media and said, “I’m gonna smash your fucking face in, you prick. How about that for a fucking message.”
As the clock ticked down to fight night, Fury continued to verbally savage his foe. Focusing on Wilder’s claim that he had cheated to win their second encounter, Tyson proclaimed:
“I don’t really make much of the excuses. I think they just made him a weaker character and less of a man and less of a fighter. When you get beat, you get beat. Shake the man’s hand and move on. Lots of fighters have lost. It’s what they do after they lose that makes them who they are.”
“He’s very unstable at the moment. I’m not sure how I would react if I got absolutely smashed to bits like he did. But I guarantee it wouldn’t be like this.”
“Maybe we should have him weigh his costume before he walks to the ring in it so there can’t be any excuses this time. It’s been embarrassing for American boxing, really. You come up with excuses like this on the global stage with the world watching. It’s absolutely pathetic.”
“Acceptance is a hard thing because nobody wants to accept the truth. When I was an alcoholic, I didn’t want to be told I was an alcoholic. I didn’t want to be told I’m a fat bastard. It’s almost like this little game in your own head where you don’t want to know the truth even though you do know the truth. The moment that I accepted that I had to change and I had to get help and stop what I was doing, that’s the moment I could step away from it all and start again. From what I’m hearing from this idiot here, he hasn’t accepted what’s happened to him.”
Fury was a 5/2 betting favorite. But more than was usually the case, many insiders (including this writer) were reluctant to pick a winner. Or if they did, they hedged their pick a bit.
The case for Fury beating Wilder rested on the belief that Tyson was the better boxer technically; he was stronger mentally; he took a better punch; and 20 months earlier, he’d dismantled Deontay. Speaking of Wilder’s performance in Fury-Wilder II, Teddy Atlas observed, “He showed that he doesn’t know how to fight. He was exposed again for having no fundamentals, really none of the rudimental things that you need, usually, to be a top fighter.”
Moreover, when Wilder dismissed Mark Breland, he could have accepted offers of assistance from experienced trainers. The fact that he chose Malik Scott and Jay Deas to train him (each of whom was already in his inner circle) indicated that Deontay planned to enter the ring with the same weapons and delivery system that he’d deployed in the past.
That said; it was strange to hear some of the same people who had once called Wilder the hardest-punching fighter in boxing history now saying that Deontay didn’t have a chance.
Any heavyweight who hits as hard as Wilder hits has a chance.
Malik Scott was vocal in playing up his fighter. “He’s not some big dumb guy who just throws a right hand,” Scott said. “There’s method to his madness. Deontay’s IQ is very high. I watch him create, watch him put himself in position, set guys up into surgical traps. He is 10 times more focused [than he was before], training one hundred times harder. It’s a violent camp. His mentality is very violent. This will be the best version of Deontay Wilder that you have ever seen.”
Trainers always talk up their fighter’s chances. But the prevailing view was that Wilder had used the preceding 20 months more effectively than Fury and would enter the ring in far better physical condition. Deontay would be in shape to go 12 hard rounds. Fury might not be.
Also, Wilder unquestionably was the harder puncher. And as Tris Dixon noted, “It wasn’t about who he was beating [before] but how he was beating them. It was the inevitable knockout. You don’t beat fighters like that if the only thing you have is a punch. That’s not how the sport works. You need more than a few crumbs of talent. You need more than to be a one-hit wonder. You need to take your licks. You need to do the work. These fighters didn’t just bow down before him, roll over and play dead. To get as far as he had, you can’t just rely on Thor’s hammer for a weapon. That was a gift but not the only thing that made him a champion.”
Once the bell for round one of Fury-Wilder III rang, Deontay would have three strategies to choose from:
(1) He could back up in the face of Fury’s onslaught, in which case he’d lose.
(2) He could move forward, throwing wild punches. But Fury is a good enough boxer that he’d be able to evade damage; or
(3) Deontay could work his jab (which is a good one), draw a line in the sand (the way Evander Holyfield did against Mike Tyson), refuse to back up from there, and throw his right hand when the opportunity presented itself.
At the final pre-fight press conference, Fury expressed confidence that he would win. But Tyson understood the risks involved. “Deontay Wilder is the most dangerous heavyweight out there,” he acknowledged. “Combine them all together and they don’t make a danger like Wilder. So that’s what I’m messing with. I’m playing with an atomic bomb, messing round, clipping wires. Every time you go into the ring with Deontay Wilder you’re playing with that danger.”
In sum; even though Fury-Wilder III might not turn out to be a difficult fight for Fury, it was a dangerous one. Tyson was expected to win. But…
★ ★ ★
We live in a world in which there’s frightening power in lies and wild accusations. No matter how irresponsible and blatantly false a statement might be, people who want to believe it will believe it. And social media enables its spread.
Within that milieu, there’s something comfortingly honest about what happens a boxing ring. The truth shows. Even if Wilder had won Fury-Wilder III, it wouldn’t have justified his scurrilous allegations with regard to his knockout defeat in their second encounter. But Fury’s performance on October 9 put a punctuation mark on the truth.
Fury is a massive man. He’s 6-feet-9-inches tall and weighed in for Fury-Wilder III at 277 pounds (his heaviest fight-weight ever). Wilder is two inches shorter and came in at a career-high 238. Fury’s body evoked images of a slab of marbled beef. Deontay’s looked as though it was plated with armour.
Wilder came out aggressively behind a hard jab in round one. He didn’t land much but neither did Fury.
In round two, Tyson picked up the pace. “I’m going to go all guns blazing,” he’d said before the bout. “Full-out attack.” Now he made good on that pledge.
Essentially, Fury’s fight plan boiled down to, “I’ll hit you. If you hit me, so be it. And we’ll see who’s standing when it’s over.” That’s quite a strategy for fighting Deontay Wilder. But that’s what Tyson did. From then on, the two men were like giant mastadons battling for supremacy.
In round three, Fury dropped Wilder with an overhand right followed by a hard right uppercut. Deontay rose at the count of six, hurt, and referee Russell Mora gave him a few extra seconds to recover, asking Deontay if he wanted to continue and instructing the fighter to walk toward him before the battle resumed. That was appropriate. The same process worked to Fury’s benefit in round four when Wilder dropped him twice; first with straight right to the forehead and then with a clubbing righthand behind the head.
“He caught me twice in the fourth round,” Fury would say at the post-fight press conference. “But I was never like thinking like, ‘Oh, this is over.’ I was thinking, ‘Okay, good shot. But I will get you back in a minute. And I did.”
After the fight, some observers would liken the battle to Ali-Frazier III and Holyfield-Bowe I. A more apt comparison would be the 1976 slugfest between George Foreman and Ron Lyle, when each man was dropped multiple times before Foreman prevailed on a brutal fifth-round stoppage.
Fury-Wilder III was enthralling. The two men fought like starving dockworkers battling for a sandwich on a pier. They mauled. They brawled. The bombs kept coming. They were slugging as much as boxing. Clearly, Fury was getting the better of it, landing hard clubbing blows. But every moment of a Wilder fight is high drama because – BOOM – Deontay has the means to end matters with one punch at any time.
They both showed incredible heart.
In round 10, a roundhouse right put Wilder on the canvas for the second time. Deontay was exhausted but came back to hurt Fury at the end of the stanza. As Corey Erdman later wrote, “People that wounded, that tired, with eyes drooping and mouth dangling open, are only dangerous in the pro wrestling universe where fighters can power up and hit their signature manoeuvre out of nowhere. To watch that scenario play out in real life was nothing short of astonishing.”
The carnage ended in round 11. Wilder, bleeding from his mouth and left ear, went down face-first after being hit with a right uppercut followed by a left hook and then a crushing right hand. Russell Mora didn’t bother to count. It was over.
Fury won eight of the first 10 rounds on my scorecard. The judges had it a bit closer (95-91, 95-91, 94-92) at the time of the stoppage. Give Fury credit. He didn’t just get off the canvas. He got off the canvas and won.
Wilder left the ring before the result was formally announced – but not before a final lack-of-grace note.
“I’m a sportsman,” Fury told ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna in an in-the-ring, post-fight interview. “I went over to show him support and respect, and he didn’t want to give it back. So that’s his problem.”
At the post-fight press conference, Fury elaborated on that moment, recounting, “I went over to shake his hand and say well done. And he was like, ‘No, I don’t respect you.’” Tyson subsequently told IFL-TV, “I went to say well done to him, and he wouldn’t have any of it. The man’s a sore loser and a proper sh**house.”
Later, a statement was issued in Wilder’s name: “I did my best but it wasn’t good enough tonight. I’m not sure what happened. I know that, in training, he did certain things and I also knew that he didn’t come in at 277 pounds to be a ballet dancer. He came to lean on me, try to rough me up, and he succeeded.”
By then, as a precautionary measure, Wilder was on his way to University Medical Center where he was found to have a hairline fracture of the middle finger on his right hand. He suffered a lot of physical damage in his three fights against Fury. Some will last forever.
How good is Fury? It’s hard to tell. We know he can take a punch. We know he has heart. His size and boxing skills would make him a formidable opponent for any fighter ever. But Tyson’s reputation has been built in large measure on a victory by decision over an ageing Wladimir Klitschko (who would later be stopped by Anthony Joshua) and three fights against Deontay Wilder (who most definitely can punch but has limited boxing skills).
Fury deserves recognition as the best heavyweight in the world right now. Beyond that, he put the matter in perspective himself when asked at the post-fight press conference to assess his place among boxing’s heavyweight greats.
“I can never fight people from the past,” Fury answered. “I can only beat who’s in my era. I don’t like competing with fighters from the past because it’s fantasy; it’s not reality. And I wouldn’t like to disrespect any of the former champions, even from when heavyweights were like 185 pounds. Let’s just say I’m the lineal champion in my era. I can only beat the best of my day.”
Thomas Hauser’s most recent book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing – was just published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honoured Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.