After more than a year of infomercials, mismatches, network cloak-and-dagger, promotional shell games, and the kind of 24-7 hype that makes “Hell is other people” (Sartre) a cyberspace specialty, the rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury is finally here. They face off on Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in a pay-per-view spectacular that will fall far, far short of the two million buys Bob Arum fauxcast in his best flimflam manner since he promised Evel Knievel would jump Snake River Canyon in a Skycycle X-2.
Building interest in this fight meant sending Fury on a short WWE tour (which included a match in the sometimes political hotspot of Saudi Arabia), allowing him to ragdoll Tom Schwarz, a fighter so inept that Joe Tessitore hardly had time to rhapsodize, in his usual melodramatic salesman bellow, about “legacy” and “greatness.” Schwarz was a bloody TKO victim in less than six minutes. Then Fury appeared in another showcase fight (his fourth in his last five outings) whose only purpose was to serve as an advertisement for the looming Wilder rematch. On September 14, 2019, Fury was cut, hurt, and generally unimpressive against Otto Wallin, a pedestrian talent from a country—Sweden—that had outlawed boxing from 1971 to 2006.
For his part, Wilder scored a first-round demolition of Dominic Breazeale, which was merely a continuation of the smackdown Wilder gave “Trouble” in an Alabama hotel lobby a couple of years earlier, and then engaged in an anticlimactic rematch with Luis Ortiz, whom he had previously stopped, in a pay-per-view so disastrous that even the bogus numbers floated by ubiquitous PBC operatives were humiliating. As far as mismatches go, Breazeale, Schwarz, and Wallin conjured whimsical images of the hapless fictional trio of Dusty Trunks, Willie Last, and Kenny Getup. Of course, even in some particularly quirky fantasy realm, Trunks, Last, and Getup, would never take part in multimillion-dollar pseudo-spectaculars.
For Wilder-Fury II, the PBC-DAZN-ESPN wars were put on hold temporarily for a co-production featuring two heavyweight stars (according to unassailable press releases). This brief capitalist detente sees ESPN and the PBC join forces in hopes of shifting more than 400,000 pay-per-view units (or about what Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. sold against Sergio Martinez nearly a decade ago).
In 2018, Forbes magazine produced a list of the five most hated industries in America; not surprisingly, cable providers owned the top slot outright. But networks should also be bundled into that equation. Programming is an afterthought in cable television; the same way, say, matchmaking is to Showtime. No one actually watches FYI or Oxygen, but the cable model guarantees one channel after another is underwritten no matter what they broadcast. So when networks use hours of airtime for Wilder–Fury shoulder programming and re-runs of fights featuring either participant to sell extracurricular content in the form of expensive pay-per-views, it brings boxing right into the cutting edge of consumer exploitation.
In this case, at least, the significance of the event, and its stakes, are undeniable. Make no mistake: this is an impact fight. As proven by their first encounter, Wilder and Fury are evenly matched. Although Fury, 29-0-1 (20), seemed to edge the decision, he let Wilder recalculate the scorecards in the final round, resulting in an unfulfilling draw. There is no more quixotic style than that of Tyson Fury, the oversized, switch-hitting dervish from Manchester, England. Yet Wilder twice almost solved the six-foot-nine puzzle flitting before him in 2018—first in the ninth round and then in the twelfth, when Fury hit the canvas like a funeral casket knocked from its bier. To beat Wilder convincingly, Fury will have to replicate his first performance—minus the knockdowns, naturally, which cost him precious points.
On the surface, all a competent fighter has to do to defuse Wilder, 42-0-1 (41), is move to the right, keep him turning, and drop one-twos from an angle. But outpointing Wilder for long periods is no guarantee of hearing the final bell. Gerald Washington had some unexpected success early against Wilder until he was suddenly receiving consolations from his cornermen; Ortiz held the whip hand in both fights against Wilder only to find himself on the verge of seeing the black lights each time. And then, of course, there is Fury, who deked and dodged ellipses around Wilder throughout most of their first fight and still found himself on the canvas twice. This is one reason why Wilder is so patient in the ring. There is no softening-up process necessary for Wilder to demolish an opponent; cumulative damage is not a prerequisite; he picks his high-spots (moments when he fully commits to his bludgeonous right hand) with care, and few can withstand its direct impact. Because of his ranginess (a byproduct of a wingspan roughly the equivalent of a Mini-Cooper) and the threat of his power, Wilder, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, minimizes action in the ring to such an extent that his endurance, stamina, and recuperative powers are rarely in play. The leisurely pace of most heavyweight slogs is slowed down even further when Wilder fights.
Of course, Wilder, thirty-four, is often so disorderly in his sporadic attack that he often winds up bouncing off the ropes or skidding to the canvas. Not many 40-0 fighters have looked as clumsy and as unpolished as Wilder does. There is a good chance Fury will out-finesse Wilder from round to round on Saturday night—juking, jiving, and jabbing from both orthodox and southpaw stances. There is also a good chance that Fury has slowed just enough physically for Wilder to capitalize more often than he did in their first fight. His lost years, spent with liquor, drugs, prostitutes, and suicidal thoughts, may have taken more out of him than realized. Since returning to the small wars in 2018, Fury has bookended his performance against Wilder with set-ups that were farcical even by the carnivalesque standards of boxing. But the twelve desultory rounds he fought against Wallin, specifically handpicked by promotional puppet-masters so as to avoid discomfort, may indicate that Fury thirty-one, has begun to decelerate. His biggest drawback, however, remains his tendency to hotdog, a flaw that nearly proved disastrous against Wilder in their first fight and against the painfully middling Wallin, who cut Fury when “The Gypsy King” decided to play jester in a corner. And while his exuberant style entertains prizefight newbies cross-eyed from atomic cocktails or taproom specials, it violates the economy-of-motion principle. His exaggerated defensive moves, which often last a few beats too long, like the dialogue of a poorly dubbed Giallo, leave him open to return fire, especially late in fights when he has slowed down considerably. Fury was dropped in the ninth and twelfth rounds by Wilder and he was visibly shaken by Wallin with less than three minutes to go in their bloody fandango.
If Wilder sometimes resembles a man trying to escape a dragnet and Fury sometimes resembles a man suffering from tarantism, it hardly matters. Both fighters share X factors that have allowed them to succeed against a motley field of heavyweights: Wilder a torpedo-like right hand that can sink anyone, and Fury a rollicking footloose style equal parts danger and slapstick.
Whatever their flaws—quality of opposition, low work-rate, poor balance, arcing punches, obnoxious personalities—Wilder and Fury are the only heavyweights that matter (with apologies to Anthony Joshua, whose brittle psyche may turn out to be insurmountable) and the winner of this matchup will undercut the limited amount of analytical scrutiny he receives from a handful of rational detractors still left in boxing.
Between them, they may have notched standout wins against only a trio of respectable names (Bermane Stiverne, Wladimir Klitschko, and Luis Ortiz), but that distinction only highlights the prevailing standards in the current conglomerate/fanboy-media age: one or two significant wins and a fighter is ready for beatification. But Wilder and Fury both offer legitimate gifts to the aficion, even if they are poorly packaged, the paper torn in spots, the ribbons twisted into knots, the Scotch tape frayed and peeling away. Everything else is just so much hullabaloo.