2020 has been slow in the boxing world. There’s no getting around that. We’re used to January and February being something of a drag, but if you look ahead at the schedule for March, that’s probably the worst month of the year on paper. Things are looking brighter for April and May, and hopefully the sport will pick up with more significant matchups once the weather really turns.
But this Saturday night, we’ve got what very well may be the biggest fight we’ll see all year, as WBC heavyweight titleholder Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury meet in a highly-anticipated rematch in Las Vegas, live on FOX and ESPN+ pay-per-view.
Usually in these previews we really dig into how the fighters got here and all that, maybe look at how they match up, and more often than not, we’re talking about something perceived as some level of mismatch; either a terrible mismatch or just a fight where, even if both fighters are respected for their abilities, one of them certainly is the clear favorite.
Wilder-Fury 2 is a real oddity for modern boxing. We’ve got a poll to pick the winner, which will be open through Saturday morning, and as of this moment as I’m writing this piece, we’ve got just under 1400 votes on it.
51 percent are picking Fury, 49 percent are picking Wilder. A mere 36 more people are taking Fury than are going for Wilder.
This is not common. Ideally, it would be, but it’s absolutely not.
We saw the strengths and weaknesses of both in their first encounter back in Dec. 2018, but drawing too much from that fight may be a fool’s errand. That night, we saw what we expected: the 6’7” puncher, Wilder, against the oddly slick, 6’9” technician, Fury.
For many, Fury boxed his way to a deserved victory, despite being dropped in the ninth and 12th rounds of the fight, and floored so hard in the 12th that when he went down, everyone thought it was over — the Showtime commentators, those in the arena, those watching on TV, Wilder himself. Miraculously, Fury rose from the canvas and even went on to do damage before the fight ended.
The result was a draw. One card was 113-113, from judge Phil Edwards, with Fury docked the two points for knockdowns that otherwise would have given him a win. One card was 114-112 for Fury, eight to four in his favor in terms of rounds scored; even counting the knockdowns, judge Robert Tapper felt Fury had done enough to win. And then there was judge Alejandro Rochin, who broke from the pack and score the fight 115-111 Wilder. He was one of a brave and hearty few who felt that Wilder deserved the victory even without the knockdowns.
The fight, which sold about 325,000 on pay-per-view, became one of the most talked-about fights of the decade after the fight. There was plenty of conversation about the scoring, about Fury’s insane ability to recover from that 12th round knockdown (which became a meme, something pretty much unheard of in boxing), about Wilder’s power, and about how dramatic the fight had been.
When the WBC ordered a rematch in early 2019, Fury did something Tyson Fury has often done: he zagged on ‘em, turning it down and instead signing with Top Rank, while promising he would eventually fight Wilder again. Wilder, of course, took it as an opportunity to say that Fury ducked the rematch, but he also routinely guaranteed the rematch would happen in time.
Instead of fighting one another last year, Wilder and Fury scored a couple of wins. Wilder knocked out Dominic Breazeale and Luis Ortiz, while Fury rampaged over Tom Schwarz and then had some real struggles with Otto Wallin.
Fury’s purpose in signing with Top Rank and ESPN was to become a bigger name with the American public. Certainly, Fury is a bigger name now than he was a year ago, but the jury is out on how much bigger, what with two fairly buzz-less matchups behind the ESPN+ paywall, and even considering the caterwauling of ESPN’s talking heads about LINEAL!!!!!! championships and THE MAN WHO BEAT THE MAN WHO BEAT THE MAN IF THE MAN HAD ACTUALLY BEEN RUSLAN CHAGAEV.
What really makes the difference for Saturday’s matchup, in terms of what’s being expected business-wise, is that this fight is not a Showtime pay-per-view; it’s being served up on both FOX and ESPN+ pay-per-view, with full and wide-reaching promotion from both networks. FOX and ESPN both have pushed this fight hard, and I can attest to the fact that its visibility has reached at least some folks who normally don’t care a lick about what’s going on in boxing these days.
“Idz the biggiz fide sinz Tyzoninnholyfeeld,” one incredibly drunk friend of mine told me repeatedly last Saturday night. This is not a guy who watched Wilder-Fury 1, let alone any of the fights either had in 2019. But he’s excited about this and has already ordered the pay-per-view. My point is, mainstream promotion matters.
(On the same topic, I offered that as big as this fight is, there’s a good chance it’s not even half as big as Mayweather-McGregor, but he replied, “FUCK Maywethrrmuggrreeggrrr.”)
Fight-wise, Fury (29-0-1, 20 KO) is adamant that he’s not coming to box the way he did in 2018. Even if he comes in heavier as planned, he’ll probably be in better fight shape than he was that time, when he was just six months into a comeback after nearly three years away from the sport.
He amicably parted ways with trainer Ben Davison to head to the Kronk Gym, now led by Javan “SugarHill” Steward, and the idea behind that is, perhaps, for Fury to come with more power for the rematch. The Kronk style favors punchers, but it’s not all punching, either. Fury also told Steward he wanted more technical boxing training for this fight, which doesn’t mean boxing safe and smart, necessarily, but about having the proper balance and placement for his punches; again, this would seem to indicate Fury is serious about knocking Wilder out, as he claims will happen within two rounds.
Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KO) has changed nothing, it would seem. Everything he’s done in his camp forever with the same trainers has worked out fine. Wilder and his team all have bought into the idea that no matter what, sooner or later, his power is going to come into play.
“The battles are the rounds, and the war is the result,” trainer Jay Deas told PBC this week. “If we’re getting in position to land some of the shots we want to land, losing the battles is okay against live resisting opposition. Losing rounds to gain position, it’s a tradeoff that we’re willing to make. Once we’re in position and landing shots, with the way Deontay hits, we know that we’re going to win the war.”
Deas does say he doesn’t think Deontay can afford to be down going into the 10th round, as he was the first time, and that he won’t be surprised if on the whole, this fight is a bit more tactical than the first meeting.
That could mean some dull stretches if Fury betrays his trash-talking prognostications for this bout and boxes like himself, while Wilder patiently waits for the openings, as we saw him do in November against Luis Ortiz.
But even that doesn’t mean there can’t be tension and drama. When Wilder is involved, you’re always waiting for the bombs. In that rematch with Ortiz, Wilder was way down after six rounds, but scored the huge KO at the end of the seventh. There’s really no question that at some point, Tyson Fury’s chin is going to be put on trial by Deontay Wilder’s right hand. And you never really know when that might come.
Will this wind up being the nerd-chosen Fight of the Year when all is said and done in 2020? Probably not. But it’s a rare fight that the diehards want to see and the filthy casuals have at least been convincingly told they want to see.