Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Fury And Wilder Save The Best For Last?


As there always seems to be in the build up to many of the biggest fights/events in the sport of Boxing, the prelude to the third encounter between undefeated two-time Heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury and former WBC Heavyweight world champion Deontay Wilder was certainly not void of hype, trash talking between the two fighters, and of course the numerous “What If” scenarios and debates amongst both experts and fans as to how the third fight between the two would play out.  Such scenarios and “What If’s are often covered in various pre-fight writings penned by those of us who cover the sport including yours truly. No matter how much one analyzes what may occur when two fighters enter the ring to do battle, sometimes even the most experienced writers/journalists/historians/commentators can be surprised by what takes place. Although some would say that oftentimes such hype prior to a major fight can exceed what actually occurs on fight night and that indeed can be the case, there are times where the fight does the hype that preceded it justice.

This is exactly what happened on October 9th when Fury entered the ring to defend the WBC World Heavyweight championship against the man he took the championship from in February 2020, Deontay Wilder. In previewing this bout, this observer stated that it was my view that it was hard to envision Wilder becoming a more technical fighter in just one fight given the long period between fights and the fact that he had not fought in over twenty months due largely to both the ongoing COVID-19 global epidemic and the legal battle which preceded this third encounter, but to my surprise and I think anyone who looks at things with an objective mindset, Wilder began this fight with a strategy we did not see in the first two bouts, by attacking Fury’s body, most notably with his jab.

While some, particularly casual fans may not see the value in this approach, I felt it carried much of the tempo in the first two rounds as the former champion, now challenger was able to use what was for a time a consistent jab and mixing in right hands to the champion’s body to keep Fury at distance where he had trouble establishing his own tempo. It was this approach that I felt earned Wilder the first two rounds by simply showing patience. For a fighter that has been known primarily for his devastating punching power and not for technique, this was in a lot of ways showing that Wilder could add new elements to his skillset.

Although I was impressed with Wilder’s approach, it was not long before the third encounter went in another direction that was arguably more entertaining if you are a casual fan. In round three, the challenger would be caught by a Fury combination highlighted with a right hand to the head. As I watched this fight, I commented on social media that Wilder made one mistake and for a moment it appeared Wilder was both hurt and that the ebb and flow was firmly in the champion’s favor. Unlike the second encounter, which gradually became more one-sided as it progressed in Fury’s favor, this time Wilder responded as in round four still showing signs of being hurt in the previous round, he decked Fury hard with a right hand that sent the champion down near a corner of the ring.

As he had done when Wilder had knocked him down in the first of their three encounters, Fury did get up.  Despite this, Fury was clearly hurt and moments later Wilder would score his second knockdown of the bout by dropping Fury with another right hand to the head. Some might say that he benefited from a slow count by Referee Russell Mora, who had to stop midway through his count of Fury to tell Wilder to get back to a neutral corner. At this point in the fight, I will be honest with the reader that I was very surprised that Fury was able to beat the count after the second knockdown and that the fight was able to continue.

It was at this point however, that the fight got away from elements of technique and turned into a slugfest between two big men. While a slugfest is a type of fight that will always garner more attention, I felt that after scoring two knockdowns of the champion, Wilder got away from what had worked well for him in the first two rounds, which led to the success he was able to have in landing offense to the head, the body work. In fairness, it should be noted as this observer has often said over the years that fighters are human like the rest of us and while it is understandable in a sense after scoring two hard knockdowns that Wilder would want to be aggressive sensing that his power would be enough to take him the rest of the way toward regaining his world championship, without the set up that led to those knockdowns and by reverting back to his noted seek and destroy mentality, which at it’s core is based strictly on power punching, it allowed Fury time to recover.

As often happens in fights that are deemed “Slugfests,” there is a lot of trading offense between the two fighters, often heavy offense where a punch either way is capable of ending a fight. Even though Wilder was able to gain an advantage in my view in terms of scoring for a period of time, despite suffering the knockdown in round three, by winning the first two rounds and getting two knockdowns of his own in round four, by neglecting what worked well for him early, played into Fury’s hands as the bout progressed. Despite the fact that both fighters continued to trade punches with fight-ending intention, gradually Fury was able to use his 6’9 frame and 277lbs. to his advantage on the 6’7 238lb. Wilder.

With the battle rapidly turning into a war of attrition where Fury opted to use his physicality to turn the tempo of the combat in his favor, the fight continued on. Although there was a clear shift in momentum towards the champion in the middle rounds of this fight, Wilder was still very dangerous and, despite both fighters fighting fatigue, I felt the fight could end at any moment, but as it progressed seeing the punishment both men were dishing out to each other, I wondered what was keeping both up. Usually when something like that comes to mind, you know you have witnessed a fight that can only be described by two words “A Classic.”

Nevertheless, as the fight moved into the late rounds of the scheduled twelve round world championship bout, it appeared that Fury’s physicality was taking a toll on Wilder more so than Wilder’s power punches were on the champion. While Wilder remained extremely dangerous, at this point as the fight moved into the ninth round, I began to wonder two things. One would the fight be able to go the distance with both fighters throwing bombs at each other and two, if it somehow managed to make the twelve round distance, would the knockdowns earlier in the fight have an impact on the overall scoring.

After all, even after what has to be thousands of fights on every level of the sport amateur, professional, and professional bareknuckle bouts that I have covered over my many years covering and writing about Boxing, you never really know what way three judges may be leaning, even though the experience you gain by both watching fights as a fan or covering bouts in the capacity of a journalist can give you the means to make an educated guess. By this point, although I felt Wilder did do some good work early on and did gain the advantage, which for a period of time nullified Fury’s knockdown of him in round three, by round nine with the momentum clearly in Fury’s favor, I wondered if Wilder had one more offensive burst in him that could have made a difference in the scoring if it were needed, even as he looked extremely exhausted both from the pace of the fight as well as the punishment he had taken.

In some ways, the way Deontay Wilder looked at this stage resembled how he appeared for much of the second fight when frankly the combat was more one-sided in Fury’s favor. The obvious difference this time was though he was fatigued, Wilder was still dangerous, still fighting hard, and even as it seemed as though he had, had enough punishment where you almost expected to see either the referee step in or the corner either throw in the towel as was the case in the second fight, or to stop the fight between rounds, Wilder kept fighting and landing offense periodically despite going down for the second time in round ten from a Fury right hand. Despite this, as someone who has unfortunately seen circumstances emerge from fights that were allowed to go on longer than they should have been that have resulted in fighters either suffering permanent damage or dying from injuries suffered in fights, I did start to wonder in the late rounds particularly after the second knockdown in the tenth round,  if Wilder would end up being seriously hurt if the clear visual of extreme fatigue and increased punishment were not enough to convince the referee, his corner, or even a ringside physician that he had taken enough punishment.

By the same token, Fury was not coming out of this fight unscathed and had also taken punishment throughout. Of the two fighters however, the champion seemed to have a little more left in him as he won both rounds nine and ten convincingly in my view. As the fight entered the eleventh round, Fury had pulled away on my unofficial scorecard to the point that if Wilder could not land a fight-ending blow or at least score a third knockdown of the champion, I could not see him being able to win a decision. This was particularly due to both how he looked visibly, his decreased offense later in the fight, which was obviously attributed to fatigue, but may have also been the result of what was later revealed to be a broken right hand, which compromised Wilde’s primary weapon later in the fight. This set the stage for the conclusion of this third battle between two warriors. Round eleven.

It was in the eleventh round where Fury would stun Wilder with a right hand, despite being hurt, the former champion tried as much as he could to hold on to the bigger champion to try and recover, but it was not to be. Fury would score his third and final knockdown of Wilder with a flush right hand to the head that sent the former champion down hard on the canvas. There would be no count as Referee Russell Mora immediately stopped the fight.

There is no disputing the heart Deontay Wilder showed in this fight as similar to when the bout was stopped in the second fight, he protested and insisted he could have continued. A fighter’s heart and courage notwithstanding, I agreed with the stoppage and even in defeat Deontay Wilder can and should hold his head high after putting forth a brave and valiant effort in defeat.  Although Fury having won two of the three fights by what were brutal knockouts should be enough for most to say that the rivalry between the two is over, I am not certain.

It cannot be overlooked that there was a lot of bad blood between the two fighters going into this third bout and, despite Fury showing sportsmanship after the fight in wanting to congratulate his opponent and say good fight, Wilder according to the champion did not or would not return the respectful gesture. While some may choose to make an issue of this and say that “Bad Blood” is often a manufacturing tool to promote bouts and that fighters should not take things seriously in that regard, only Fury and Wilder know if the ill feelings between them is truly legitimate.

As for why I am not necessarily convinced that this third chapter will close the book on the Fury-Wilder trilogy, we are talking about two fighters who are at the very top of the division and while there are always fighters and contenders looking to maneuver their way into fighting for a world championship, even in defeat, Deontay Wilder is still a legitimate top-five Heavyweight who can give anyone a tough fight and has dropped Tyson Fury four times in their three fights. With undefeated unified IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO Heavyweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk nearing a rematch against former two-time Heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua, which could take place in the spring of 2022, Wilder may be a potential opponent for the winner of that fight, if of course the winner of that fight does not pursue a bout with Fury for the Undisputed world championship. With Fury also having WBC number one contender Dillian Whyte in line for a title shot, Wilder will likely have to fight a few fights to get back in contention if a fight with the winner of Usyk-Joshua 2 is not in the cards. For the moment, Wilder should take time to recuperate from what was a grueling three bouts with Fury and two consecutive bouts where he sustained significant punishment.

While it was not long ago where Wilder turned down what was a lucrative offer to sign with digital subscription sports network DAZN, which would have in theory led to an encounter with the then undefeated Joshua for what would have been the Undisputed world championship, a decision that many including yours truly questioned, Wilder did say that he was betting on himself and while there may have been elements of the business of the sport, that could well have been looking out for their best interests as opposed to his, it was a gutsy move that if he were able to avoid the two setbacks against Fury, he would have been in a great position where he may have been able to obtain an even more lucrative offer.  Now having suffered two losses to Tyson Fury, the end is not near for Deontay Wilder as a fighter, but he will need time to recover both physically and mentally before he begins the comeback process. Despite the two losses, he still has the power to see himself back on top of the division and if he takes time to further develop a more disciplined Boxing approach that we saw glimpses of early in this third encounter with Fury, he will likely be right back in the mix.

As for where this series of fights ends up in the discussion in the all-time great trilogies, assuming that there will not be a fourth fight at some point, I am not sure. Most great trilogies throughout Boxing history regardless of weight class all have qualities that make a viable argument as to where they place in such discussion. Since this observer is not convinced that Fury and Wilder will not cross paths again, all I will say in closing is this third bout between the two was one of the best Heavyweight fights, if not the best, I have covered in over twenty-five years writing about and covering Boxing. While this obviously covers an awful lot of ground, I will say that it is also not often that you see a Heavyweight fight in the modern era of the sport, even at the highest level as this was, able to make an argument as being a Fight of the Year candidate. This fight is an exception and even though there is still 2 ½ months to go in 2021, for now, Fury-Wilder 3 has my vote.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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