One of the things I find most depressing about the state of the world today is the hyper-partisan nature of everything. The lack of nuance and shades of grey. The “With us or against us” nature of discourse on the interewebz.
And the sphere in which it seems to be worst, even more than our febrile politics, is in sport. It’s not enough to like a team or sportsperson; you have to hate the opposition and believe that any loss or bad performance is down to some sort of awful conspiracy.
On Saturday night two undefeated big beasts, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, will fight and the winner will be both the Lineal and WBC champ. Then sometime next year the winner will fight Anthony Joshua and for the first time in a generation will have an undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
It seems for many people you have to decide which one of these you support, and the other two are de-facto bums, charlatans and chancers. This is the law of the internet.
Personally though I like all three, in different ways, and not unreservedly, both in and out of the ring. I think it is a fascinating era for heavyweight boxing and I’m enjoying it. For me, what is best is I really don’t know what is going to happen. They are all so very different and well matched.
For our competitors on Saturday one of the things that makes the bout so interesting and compelling is the number of question marks about both of them.
First up the defending champ Deontay Wilder. Wilder is such fun to watch; in great bit of nominative determinism he really is “wild”. I think it is fair to say the least skilled of the top guys, though by no means the utterly crude brawler he is sometimes portrayed as. Wilder was after all an Olympian who won Bronze at Heavyweight in Bejing in 2008 (though both the Heavys and the Super heavy’s probably a poor vintage; the only other notable pro from 2008 is David Price).
What he lacks in “sugar” he more than makes up for with power. I think many people who haven’t watched too many of his fights probably don’t really grasp what a one hit quitter Wilder really is. My view is that he is the hardest puncher in boxing today in any division. He has the kind of power that can stop people even when he doesn’t land cleanly. I’m always a bit sceptical about putting too much stock by reports from sparring; but having said that virtually everyone who has ever sparred with him states that he is a monster puncher even with 20oz gloves and headguards.
He combines this with being incredibly athletic and quick around the ring. Despite his 6 ft 7 in height, he regularly weighs in at around 15 ½ stone for fights, and he has a good engine. On top of that he has a huge reach even for someone as tall as he is. This blend of power, athleticism, reach and unorthodox brawling make Wilder extremely fun to watch, unpredictable and a genuine puzzle for anyone who steps in the ring with him.
But, as I said at the top there are question marks. And the really big “?” with Wilder is whether or not he is actually any good. All but the most died in the wool Wilder partisans would have to admit that mostly his match making has been pretty weak. In three years as a champ he hasn’t had a single unification bout. Only taken (and reluctantly at that) two mandatories when faced with being stripped.
And there are real question marks about even his signature bouts. Bermane Stiverne wasn’t a particularly impressive champion; his only wins of note prior to the Wilder defence were against a fading (and in the opinion of this author, not very good in the first place) Chris Arreola. Even before the bout with Wilder there were rumours that Stiverne had lost the plot after winning the belt and hadn’t trained well (whilst… ahem… living very well!). Wilder won a comprehensive points victory in a dull fight. And by the time Stiverne mystifyingly got a rematch as a mandatory challenger he was obviously no longer a professional athlete in any meaningful sense, having turned up just for the pay cheque.
His other signature bout was against Luis Ortiz in which Wilder showed some real mettle to come from behind against a genuinely world rated opponent. Now this was a good victory and unlike Stiverne I do think Ortiz a genuine top 10 fighter. Even then I do think Ortiz is over rated, for all he looked great against Bryant Jennings in 2015; I defy any fan to sit through the Ortiz vs Dave Allen or Malik Scott fights and tell me that Ortiz is unambiguously world class.
I think you can make a very strong argument this Fury fight is the first time that Wilder has ever stepped into the ring with a genuinely top opponent; and as such we really don’t know how good he actually is.
The same cannot be said for Tyson Fury, his signature win, dethroning Wladimir Klitschko in his own backyard was unambiguously a great win, against a great opponent, at the pinnacle of the sport. That the fight was as dull as ditch water (and it really was awful to watch) shouldn’t detract from how masterful Fury was that night.
His punching, or lack thereof, might not have thrilled. But his control of distance, angles and his amazing footwork was more akin to watching a top middleweight than a 6 ft 9 in monster of a big man.
The reality is that he utterly dominated a future hall of fame champion from start to finish. I’d argue it was the most dominant performance in a world heavyweight title fight since Lennox Lewis stopped Mike Tyson.
I think you can make a convincing argument that Anthony Joshua’s recent run of mandatory defences and unification bouts (including his own Wlad fight) gives him the stronger overall resume, no one amongst the big men has as significant a win on their record as Fury.
My view is that the version of Tyson Fury that stepped into the ring in Dusseldorf in 2015 would school Wilder with consummate ease….
But this is back to the question marks. And with Fury the big question mark is will we ever see anything even remotely resembling that Fury ever again. Years out of the ring, ballooning to 27 stone, drink and recreational drug abuse for a sustained period of time. Can he ever really get himself into the shape of a truly elite athlete? Even if he could get there eventually is there any chance of him having done that without a single meaningful fight? I think Fury’s pulling back from the brink is an amazing and admirable one, but it is hard to imagine he is already back.
Both the Seferi and Pianeta fights were basically exhibition bouts that did not test Fury in any meaningful sense; neither give us any hint that he is ready to rumble at elite level again. This combined with changing trainer, allegedly a difficult and troubled camp and a late change to his corner (with Freddy Roach joining his team at the 11th hour). Can Tyson Fury be anything like his best at this stage? I personally rather doubt it.
For my 2 cents Fury is by a significant margin the better boxer; and usually all things being even ish in size I’d almost always pick the boxer over the puncher. If I didn’t have the concerns I do about Fury’s fitness and sharpness levels I’d probably go with that.
But…. Even a fit and focussed Fury gives you chances to hit him. In the bout against Wlad he had to eat a couple of huge punches in the dying rounds. Against Wilder that will probably be lights out. I don’t truly believe we will have an elite level Tyson Fury (though I very much hope I am wrong) in the ring on Saturday.
So my TL:DR is this, I think Deontay Wilder will probably knock Tyson Fury out in the early rounds. However I wouldn’t want to put much money on that.
On the other hand I would not be in the slightest bit surprised if Fury utterly schooled Wilder on the way to a lopsided points with or a late stoppage. He shocked the world in Dusseldorf and doing the same again is clearly “In his locker”. He shouldn’t be written off.
I love it when you get a pick ’em fight where you honestly don’t know in advance what the likely outcome will be. Boxing at it’s best! Let’s hope the fight is a cracker and the winner get’s in the ring with Joshua sooner rather than later.
Originally published at Lunchtime Legend.