Wilder vs Fury: Big Boys' Bronze Age
Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder and other risk-takers aren’t exactly ushering in a Golden Age for the heavyweight division by agreeing to meet but, Ron Borges argues, it’s the closest thing to it...
When historians look back at 2018, this may not be remembered as a Golden Age of heavyweight boxing but thanks to the willingness of Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, and to a lesser extent Joseph Parker, Dillian Whyte and Luis Ortiz, it may at least prove to be the dawning of heavyweight boxing’s Bronze Age. Frankly, that’s better than it’s been for some time in the sport’s most important division, so it’s something to be thankful for.
Several factors are required to create a special moment in boxing. You need skilful practitioners possessed with a warrior’s spirit. You need competitive match-ups with a reasonable hint of danger on both sides. Most of all, you need fighters willing to take great risks in the arena to prove who is best rather than being satisfied simply launching declarative Twitter rants that promise much but prove little.
It is rare these days when all these factors are aligned but what has gone on this year among the towering heavyweights who populate the division has left fight fans with reason to believe that while there may be no Jack Johnson or Joe Louis on the horizon and no Ali-Frazier, Dempsey-Tunney, Bowe-Holyfield or Holyfield-Tyson clash to enthral us, there are at least guys willing to toe the line against the best opponent they can find to prove their mettle.
The decision of Fury ti quickly accept what was offered to square off with Wilder in Los Angeles this weekend may be a seminal moment for this generation of heavyweights because it pits two undefeated champions willing to take the kind of risk that creates a fever among fight fans and a legitimate debate over who will prevail when it arrives.
“It’s no good talking about fighting the best, challenging the best and then bottling it when a chance comes," Fury has said of his decision while also taking a dig at Anthony Joshua. "I know Wilder is a fighting man and just wants to fight. We are real fighters, unlike the other guy."
Fury (27-0, 19 KOs) and Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs) seem the perfect mix for a promotion whose hype may exceed its drama in the end but whose anticipation will be high. Fury stands 6ft 9ins to Vegas Wilder’s 6ft 7ins, one of the few times the WBC champion is likely to face a bigger man. Fury is arguably also the more skilled boxer. He moves well and knows how to use his size as both a smothering blanket of long arms and frustrations and as a way to keep opponents at bay with a stiff jab.
Just as significantly in this day and age, Fury can also talk and sell, the latter clearly evident during his ring walk before his 10-round points victory over Francesco Pianeta on 18 August. With Wilder in the crowd at Windsor Park in Belfast to urge him on, Fury sauntered towards the ring to the strains of Sweet Home Alabama, obviously baiting the Alabama-born and bred Wilder.
After Fury had captured a one-sided decision in which he held control of the ring’s dangerous geography so smartly from start to finish without really hurting Pianeta that referee Steve Gray scored the bout a 100-90 shutout, Wilder went from boisterous cheerleader to avid salesman himself. Wilder boldly climbed into the ring after Fury prevailed in his second comeback fight since returning to the ring following a near three-year disappearance and went nose to nose — and joke to joke — with Fury.
“Oh, we’re ready now!’’ Wilder bellowed to the packed house. “This fight will happen. It’s on! This is on! This fight is official. It’s on, baby. This is what we been waiting on right here. The best fighting the best!
“I can’t wait to fight you because I am gonna knock you out! This I promise you. Every victim that has stepped in the ring, I done knocked them out in devastating fashion. You’ve never been knocked out, but you’re gonna feel the experience, what it feels like to get hit by the Bronze Bomber.”
What that has felt like to everyone but Bermane Stiverne when he lost the WBC belt to Wilder in 2015 has been concussive power and eventually either a need to take a nap or be taken into protective custody by the referee.
Wilder has proven to carry dynamite in his right hand and enough power in his left to dispose of you with one shot. It’s that rare kind of power that rights a lot of wrongs for Wilder, as it did when he faced Ortiz on 3 March at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Despite Ortiz’s punching power and then unblemished record (28-0, 24 KOs), Wilder willingly accepted his challenge and nearly paid dearly for it when Ortiz rocked him several times midway through the fight.
But Wilder steadied himself and then unsteadied Ortiz, dropping him once in the fifth round and twice in the 10th, when the bout was mercifully stopped.
At the time of the stoppage, Wilder led by only one point on the judges’ cards but none of that matters if your opponent can’t make it to the end, as a tired and battered Ortiz could not. When referee David Fields stepped in and waved the fight over without even picking up the count after that third knockdown, Ortiz seemed relieved someone had finally come to their senses while he was losing his and ended the carnage.
Among the heavyweights, it is power that sells and both Wilder and Joshua (21-0, 20 KOs) have it in abundance. Despite his size, Fury does not, but he comes with his own set of assets. He fully understands Wilder’s strength but he doesn’t fear it. He believes when his moment comes he can nullify that danger with his size, footwork, mastery of angles and those long arms while at the same time understanding Wilder’s predatory nature is a risk worth taking come what may.
“You know, we are two men that will fight anybody,’’ Fury said after defeating Pianeta as Wilder stood nearby listening. “This man has been trying to make a big fight with the other chump. [Then] they called, I answered. I said ‘send me a contract’. They sent me a contract. I said ‘yes’.
Now he gets his chance to fight the lineal heavyweight champion of the world. I got my rounds here tonight, 10 rounds, but one thing I promise when I go to Las Vegas is I’m knocking you the fuck out, boy!”
The crowd in Belfast went wild at that as Fury glared at Wilder, who now stood only inches away. It was a promoter’s dream and a fan’s as well and there were plenty more moments like that in the weeks and months leading up to their showdown. Both fighters are masters of hype and their clear willingness to face each other will further energise the heavyweight division.
But they will likely do more than that. Their meeting will crown one of them an opponent Joshua will find impossible to avoid in 2019. The clock is ticking for them all, with competitive matches for both Wilder and Joshua leading each inexorably towards the other — unless, of course, Fury turns the tables on all those plans, as he did when he upset Klitschko and the heavyweight applecart on 28 November 2015.
That clear victory made Fury the undefeated lineal champion but he lost all those belts not in the ring but as a consequence of bad decisions and mercurial behaviour outside it. No matter now. At the time, Fury’s victory came as a shock and seemed to leave the division adrift but in reality it was the beginning of this new Bronze Age in heavyweight boxing. It made room for young fighters like Wilder, Joshua, Fury, Parker, Whyte and even the bombastic American Jarrell “Big Baby’’ Miller on a stage long dominated by Klitschko.
Klitschko, who was subsequently stopped and retired by Joshua when he came back 17 months after losing to Fury, was blessed with commanding size and solid ability but cursed by the absence of a true challenger, which finally pushed him out of the American pay-per-view market and made him basically the world champion of Europe. He was a one-man show in a sport that needs a co-star to be at its best.
That wasn’t Klitschko’s fault. It was just bad luck. Today’s young heavyweights, while at this stage probably all lacking his abilities, have avoided that curse. Joshua, holder of the IBO, IBF, WBA and WBO titles, and Wilder, who has successfully defended the WBC championship seven times, are the proper foil for each other.
Each is highly dangerous and well capable of short circuiting the other with one punch (or perhaps two at the most). With some luck, they might create their own heavyweight trilogy if they are willing. But the real beauty of this moment is that they do not stand alone or too far above Fury.
This has round-robin possibilities if Wilder and Fury put on the kind of stirring fight we all hope and Joshua immediately accepts the challenge of the winner.
That is the real beauty of Wilder and Fury agreeing so quickly to face off. It is a fight where no one is totally sure who will win between two guys who are showing Anthony Joshua the way to become what they all want to be.
What is that, you ask? What the heavyweight champion of the world has always been - the baddest man on the planet.
That is a title worth chasing and with Fury and Wilder agreeing to face the best available opponent (each other) to stake their claim to it, they have brought heavyweight boxing back. not back to the days Not back to the days of Ali-Frazier-Foreman or Lewis- Holyfield-Tyson but back a lot closer to a Bronze Age than to fool’s gold.
“When two fighters are not afraid to fight each other, it is easy to make a fight happen,” said Fury’s promoter, Frank Warren. “There has to be a desire from the fighters. Wilder and Fury want to fight, it’s that simple.”
Not so many months ago, Wilder believed he would be facing Joshua this autumn, feeling the financial concessions he’d agreed to would force the issue. When it didn’t happen, both sides launched into the usual recriminations and dubious blaming that fight fans have for too long been forced to put up with. Had things stayed at that impasse, the division would once again have receded into the shadows but Fury stepped up and made short work of negotiating with Wilder once he realised Joshua wasn’t ready to fight either of them.
“[Joshua] should be embarrassed and he should be disgusted by himself for being a champion and conducting himself this way,’’ Fury said on a video he recently posted on his Twitter account. “No champion acts that way. No champion talks like they’re not ready.
“As a champion, there’s no such thing as not being ready when you have all these hungry lions out here ready to eat. I think it’s such a sad time for heavyweight boxing. You’ve got the so- called super champion and golden boy Anthony Joshua and he is avoiding Deontay Wilder and is not fighting him at any cost.
“It’s a disgrace and he’s a disgrace to boxing and I think it needs somebody good enough to step up and take on the challenges and not be afraid, not be afraid to take risks and go to people’s backyards and do it.
“Can you imagine if I went to America and beat Deontay Wilder after beating Wladimir Klitschko in Germany? That would be sensational. It might happen, who knows?’’
No one, which is what makes Fury- Wilder so enticing. Fury is wrong in his assessment of this being “a sad time for heavyweight boxing’’ though. In fact, it’s probably as bright as the picture has been since the day Lennox Lewis retired.
There is a young, undefeated unified champion who was an Olympic gold medallist. There is a one-punch knockout artist throwing out challenge after challenge while holding the one remaining belt. And there is a third champion in Fury, with his lineal title in hand, willing to fight either and having already agreed to face the first American to hold any portion of the title in more than a decade.
American heavyweights have ruled the division for most of its history but it has been nearly two decades since Evander Holyfield laid claim to being the last great American heavyweight. For Wilder to become the next, he must not only defeat Fury but also Joshua, but to get to the latter he needed the former and Fury wasted no time in obliging him the opportunity.
In a division long seemingly bankrupt of talent and ignored by most average sports fans, heavyweight boxing now has not only an interesting match on the horizon but more to look forward to in 2019. That’s a good thing for the sport and, if he is who he thinks he is, also for Anthony Joshua. And if he is not who he thinks he is, it will be just as good for Deontay Wilder or the Gypsy King himself, Tyson Fury.