It was hard to see anyone lasting twenty-four rounds with Deontay Wilder. Disparage his technique, those comical spasms of aggression carried on the ungainly stilts of a newborn giraffe; mock his mask fetish and affinity for ringwalks-turned-costumed-processions; crinkle your nose at the bombastic “Bombsquad!” that Wilder is ever exploding into microphones—you could do all of these things. And yet you probably still had trouble believing any heavyweight could survive twenty-four rounds with boxing’s apex puncher.
Tyson Fury found a way, though—one audacious and inconceivable. Fury took Wilder’s WBC title as a challenger should on Saturday night, battering the “Bronze Bomber” from corner to corner of the ring in the MGM Grand Garden Arena until Wilder’s co-trainer Mark Breland hurled a merciful towel in the seventh round. How do you survive twenty-four rounds with Wilder? You beat him defenseless with five rounds to go.
No one had come close before. Luis Ortiz had his moments in a pair of failed attempts to separate Wilder from his title and was twice flattened for his impertinence. There were other opponents too, Bermane Stiverne, Artur Szpillka, maybe one or two more, who put a little wobble in Wilder en route to defeat. And if it is true that Wilder’s fights offer drama and suspense because of his ability to kill the lights, they are no less dramatic for his seeming vulnerability. But Wilder was never quite the chinny fighter with sloppy technique people wanted to see. His technique is poor, yes, but it is perhaps better to describe him as limited. That limit was imposed when Wilder was nineteen, when he first put on a pair of gloves, but also by what the people holding the mitts for him felt, the fury that exploded from Wilder’s toes and came to rest in the aching shoulders of the man barking out combinations. Wilder is the mirror image of Andre Ward, an incomplete fighter because of his power. With little time to smooth and polish him, Jay Deas and Mark Breland focused on expediency. They taught Wilder how to deliver his right hand. And they taught him well.
Fury, 30-0-1 (21), almost succumbed to it in their first fight, a twelfth-round knockdown a beat from ending him. He swore to turn the tables on Wilder in the rematch, and he kept his word. Rather than avoid Wilder’s power, Fury tempted it, taking the fight to the bigger puncher. It’s a daring strategy, one that pays off provided you have the nerve to see it through. Danny Garcia humbled Lucas Matthysse by matching the Argentine slugger bomb for bomb, an act of calculated daring that took Matthysse’s confidence and, with it, his invincibility. In their rematch, Saul Alvarez stepped arrogantly into Gennadiy Golovkin’s wheelhouse to ensure no “GGG” success went unpunished. More recently, Andy Ruiz humiliated Anthony Joshua by welcoming the fire that was supposed to incinerate but one of them. Punchers expect men to fall when they hit them, and when those men don’t, worse when they reciprocate that hostility, then we see what all that power compensates and overcompensates for.
Double-jab, right hand; feint, feint, double-jab. These were some of the tools Fury used to confound the heavyweight division’s premier seek-and-destroy expert. Fury need not even land those punches to disrupt Wilder: the aggression alone was enough to force Wilder back, make him reset his feet, restart the process of his right hand. But woe to any opponent who thinks muscle memory and a trainer’s reinforcement between rounds is enough to replicate this strategy. Fury is the only heavyweight with the size, speed, and reflexes to torment Wilder so. (And the nerve, a quality that until further notice eliminates Anthony Joshua from consideration. His feeble act of supposed vengeance against Andy Ruiz cannot be unseen. Joshua has the tools to beat both Fury and Wilder yet will remain the odd man out in the heavyweight triumvirate until he regains his champion’s arrogance.)
Wilder took some dissuading, though, more than most would, which is proof of how utterly he believes in his power, his disregard for all that precedes its detonation. But Fury had him here too. Fighting tall in a way he didn’t in their first fight, the “Gypsy King” took the sting off Wilder’s right hand by rolling with it or by avoiding it completely. This wasn’t the safety he sought, however. No, Fury wanted inside Wilder’s reach and got there with jabs and feints. It was here that he went from winning the fight to dominating it. Fury dropped Wilder with a left-hook-right-cross combination in the third. Crashing into Wilder’s left ear, that right hand ostensibly ended the fight. Wilder, who spoke cryptically of a leg issue in the aftermath, and who seemed unstable even before the knockdown, never regained his balance. Fury sensed it, and moved in for the kill, mauling the wilting Wilder whenever he could.
A left hook to the body dropped Wilder in the fifth, penalty for his backing away square. But this wasn’t a question of technique or poor defense—Wilder was by then ruined, reduced to relying on a toughness he is rarely credited with. Fury was unrelenting, however, and while the punishment he meted out is being exaggerated considering the agent and the spectacle, he removed all avenues to victory for Wilder. So when the final Fury uppercut crashed through Wilder’s guard, Breland was spurred to action as much in consideration for the future as the present. It was a decision that will cost him his job but not a wink of sleep.
The trilogy, of course, is inevitable. Wilder will rightly want his get-back, and there is no more lucrative fight for him. Fury will welcome a third fight because of the second, and because while he would make more against Anthony Joshua the obstacles to delivering that fight aren’t yet worth it with a third Wilder fight all but guaranteed.
Wilder apologists will tell you the blow to the ear, flukey as it was definitive, is unlikely to happen twice, that there are ways to offset Fury’s feints and speed, that the right hand will land. They might be right. But if rematches answer the questions produced by their predecessor, Wilder can do little to alter the outcome of his next fight. And if that thought has crept into his mind it might feed the insecurities born of a first defeat like so many mogwais after midnight. It is one thing to want to go out on your shield, but another entirely to recover from such a noble end. Fury’s supporters will tell you that the nearly four-hundred-pound man who swore he would right his career to derail Wilder’s has, in making good on his word, distinguished himself as the best heavyweight in the world, perhaps the best since Lennox Lewis (because they cannot help themselves). But only five months ago Otto Wallin was leathering Fury with embarrassing ease. There is no telling what version of Fury will step over the ropes because there is no telling what he might succumb to outside them.
There was little reason for a third fight while the second unfolded. There may be little reason now. But a lot can happen between now and the opening bell. And if the two best heavyweights in the world want to test that hierarchy at least they are doing what too many other divisions should but don’t.