Tyson Fury is defending his WBC heavyweight boxing crown on Saturday as he faces Deontay Wilder for the third – and likely final – part of a fierce three-year wrestling rivalry.
A convoluted build-up marked by bitter legal disputes, a Covid-19 outbreak and profane allegations of fraud comes to a head as Fury and Wilder climb the ropes at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
If Wednesday’s bad-tempered closing press conference is any indication, the stage is set for another explosive competition between the undefeated Fury, the self-proclaimed “Gypsy King” from Great Britain, and Wilder, the badass “Bronze Bomber” from Alabama.
The two heavyweights battled to a bloody tie in their first Los Angeles bout in 2018 when Fury somehow survived a devastating knockdown in the 12th round after boxing out Wilder for much of the competition.
Fury (30-0-1, 21 knockouts) then dethroned Wilder in February last year, distributing a one-sided loss en route to a seventh-round knockout that emphatically ended Wilder’s five-year reign as WBC champion.
Neither of the two has fought since that bout 20 months ago, and Fury was forced to abandon plans for a cash-rich bout with former WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua after an independent referee ruled in May, that Wilder is entitled to a rematch for a third fight.
An outbreak of Covid-19 in Fury’s camp, affecting the British champion and several members of his entourage, forced the fight to be postponed from July to October.
Wilder, meanwhile, insists that his loss to Fury last time was an anomaly, and offers a number of eccentric and unproven explanations for the loss, ranging from glove manipulation to splashes of water by his former coach.
– ‘He knows that he is lying’ –
Fury pounced on these comments from Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KO) as the two men shared a stage at a press conference on Wednesday.
“He knows what he’s saying are lies,” Fury said of Wilder’s fraudulent claims. “And deep down in his soul he knows that he has lost. He lost the first time, he lost the second time and he will lose the third time.”
Wilder has replaced his coach since last year’s loss to Fury, sacked Mark Breland – whom he accused of throwing in the towel too soon – and replaced him with Malik Scott, a 40-year-old former heavyweight who suffered a first round did knockout to Wilder during his own career.
Scott says he worked on expanding Wilder’s assault arsenal, adding weapons to a thundering right hand that is considered the most terrifying in heavyweight boxing.
“Deontay has good fundamentals, it just happens a lot of times he hasn’t used them,” said Scott.
Meanwhile, Wilder says he was “reinvented”.
“I’ve dedicated myself and I’ve dedicated my time and my body,” said Wilder. “I am ready to introduce myself to the world anew.”
Whether the reinvented version of Wilder is good enough to outsmart Fury, whose superior size, movement, and counter-attacking skills have proven too much for the American in their previous meetings remains to be seen.
Fury was unfazed by the discussion about a new and improved version of Wilder.
“I don’t make much of it because a lot of people speak a lot of words,” said Fury. “I hope it brings a better fight – because the last time was disappointing to say the least. I was training for a war and it was a one-sided blow.”
– ‘Do it or leave it’ –
Even so, Fury claims that Wilder is a more dangerous opponent now, considering what’s at stake. A repeat of last year’s knockout would push Wilder into the heavyweight wilderness.
“This is his make-or-break fight,” said Fury. Everyone expects me to go in there and knock him down – which I will – but you can never write Deontay Wilder off because he’s the most dangerous now. “
What Fury expects after Saturday is unclear.
The heavyweight division is still digesting the aftermath of Joshua’s massive loss to Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk last month.
Joshua has vowed to pursue a rematch with Usyk in 2022, meaning a fight between Joshua and Fury is unlikely anytime soon.
The fact that there is no clear path to a uniform champion is a source of frustration for Fury’s US promoter, legendary impresario Bob Arum.
While Fury insists he doesn’t stop by this weekend, Arum said the long-term picture should be clearer.
“If people were sensible, the solution would be obvious,” Bob Arum told the BBC this week. “But this is boxing, so no one is sensible.
“What should happen is for Tyson to win on Saturday. Everyone should agree that he will next fight Usyk for the unified title, provided that the winner will fight Joshua. If this were a sensible sport, it would happen – but it is not like that.”
rcw / bb