I was ringside when WBC world heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KOs) first faced Tyson Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs) in December 2018. While boxing fans tend to hate draws, it was a fair result based on Wilder winning the first several rounds on my scorecard, by landing more clean, effective punches than Fury. Fury won some and then there were two (hellacious) knockdowns by Wilder that could easily create the draw cards. It wasn’t a “robbery” of either man by any means.
Now, the two meet this Saturday for the rematch in Las Vegas. It will be broadcast live on FOX and ESPN pay-per-view (or in theaters). The lead-up has been tremendous, full of hype and drama as it should be for a big heavyweight championship fight. But how does the fight actually break down? What can we expect to see in the ring on Saturday night?
Wilder, AKA “The Bronze Bomber” (a play on words referencing his Olympic bronze medal and Joe Louis’ nickname, “The Brown Bomber”), is well known for his knockout power. It’s legit: as his team stresses, he has knocked out every man he’s faced except for Fury (so far). The only fighter to go the distance with Wilder was Bermane Stiverne in the 2015 match where Wilder won the world title; that was rectified in their 2017 rematch, when Wilder brutally knocked out Stiverne in the first round after knocking him down three times. In Wilder’s other rematch, against Luis Ortiz, he also stopped his opponent, in quicker fashion than he did the first time they fought.
Many focus on the fact that Wilder lost all or nearly all rounds against Ortiz in their rematch in November, before the knockout took place. Many bemoan Wilder’s unorthodox technique. Of course, it’s true that Wilder does not utilize textbook technique by any means. His punches are often wide and looping, despite Wilder’s 6’7” height and significant 83” reach. He often telegraphs his humongous right hand. He sometimes makes a “running start” at his opponent when looking for his knockout shots.
The thing is Wilder has been able to make all of it work for him. He keeps winning (with the exception of the draw against Fury—but it wasn’t a loss). He keeps knocking top heavyweights out. So how much can we reasonably criticize his technique if it’s achieving winning results?
I’ve interviewed Wilder exclusively several times, and he has spoken with me at length about how he fights. He’s well aware that he doesn’t fight in a way that most would consider being “correct.” He knows he’s wild. But as he said himself: “What makes me special as a fighter is that the things I can do in the ring, a normal fighter can’t do or a tall fighter isn’t supposed to do. I’m not supposed to be as fast as I am, to be so agile, so mobile…There ain’t no way a tall guy like myself is supposed to be doing the things I’m doing. And the way I’m doing it—I’m so long, it seems weird.”
He expanded upon it further: “It helps me out. I got an unorthodox style. To a lot of people, they’ll say I do a lot of things wrong. But with that…I win. That’s the thing about it. I win. A lot of fighters that do the right things in boxing, they still lose. So go figure.”
Yes, Wilder is devastatingly powerful. But how is he able to land that power on fighters who are known to be technically better boxers than him?
Wilder doesn’t get the credit he deserves for the skills he exhibits. He is very fast for a heavyweight, particularly his hand speed. He’s a smart fighter as well, setting traps–including making his opponents so wary of the right hand that they completely forget about his left. And his feet are deceptively fast and effective at cutting distance. He utilizes good defensive head movement and anticipation of punches, enabling him to get out of the way of most of them. He doesn’t get hit much.
As Wilder told me in an interview, “My defense is my athleticism. Being able to jump out of the way of punches and just move, jump around. It plays a big part in my game plan.”
Many think of Wilder as a one-handed fighter, that it’s only his right hand that’s devastating. His right is the best, but he also uses his left hand to good effect, as he showed in the first Fury bout; he actually dropped Fury with the left hook in the 12th round, after also hurting him with the right.
Tyson Fury, known as the “Gypsy King” in honor of his gypsy heritage, is known for his boxing ability over everything else. Standing at 6’9″ and typically weighing around 250 pounds, he is surprisingly mobile and fleet of foot for a man so large.
In the first fight, what was perhaps most impressive about his mobility was the fact that he sustained his energy for the full 12 rounds. It’s astounding that Fury was able to keep up his consistent movement of his entire 256-pound body for 36 minutes and not fade.
Fury is very good at reducing his opponent’s output, as he did against Wladimir Klitschko back in 2015. By utilizing that nearly constant movement, he makes the other fighter second guess letting his hands go because he thinks he may miss. That’s when Fury capitalizes on it by landing a couple of shots. Fury doesn’t throw or land much typically–but he often does just enough to win rounds.
Against Wilder, that was how Fury won the rounds he did win. The problem was that Wilder didn’t keep his hands at home as much as most of Fury’s opponents.
Fury is a smart boxer, utilizing the classic techniques to set traps and counter his opponents: he keeps a steady jab out there, shoots punches from good angles that the other fighter often finds it hard to see coming, and his movement in general keeps his opponent guessing about where he’s going to be. Fury also smartly showboats and uses herky-jerky movements to save energy while still making the judges and the fans think he’s winning the rounds (and often, he is, because the other fighter isn’t landing punches while Fury is doing this…Wilder, however, often did).
In his last fight in September, Fury fought prospect Otto Wallin and suffered a tremendous gash over his right eye. It required 47 stitches. While Fury and his team insist it is fully healed, there’s no way a cut of that magnitude can be healed enough that it won’t cause him problems on Saturday. I have the feeling that if Wilder lands anything of note in that area, it will rupture.
On Friday, Wilder weighed in at a career-high 231 pounds, while Fury weighed 273–the heaviest he’s been since he returned in 2018 after a three-year layoff. Fury has claimed he wants to throw heavier shots against Wilder this time and insists that he’ll stop Wilder in two rounds.
It’s tough to imagine Fury changing his mindset on Saturday from what it has always been throughout his career. Make no mistake, it is a mindset change–not just a style change. He was taught to hit and not get hit, the classic boxer strategy. And it’s worked for him for the most part. To change that up now, and to weigh so much that he’ll be heavier and slower, it seems like it could be a mistake. Not to mention that being heavier will have to impact Fury’s stamina over the course of the fight.
When Wilder knocked Fury down twice in the first fight, they were devastating shots that should have kept the man down. I believe it was not only Fury’s mental strength but primarily the difference in size between the two fighters (44 pounds different) that enabled Fury to absorb those shots the way he did. This time around isn’t much better: 42 pounds separate the two. But with Wilder at a more healthy weight for him, I expect him to feel better and stronger than he did the first time out.
It’s boxing. And these are heavyweights. So anything can happen on Saturday. But I expect we’ll see a few competitive rounds before Wilder lands something devastating that puts Fury down–and either keeps him down this time or makes it so the referee has to wave it off.
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