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December 1, 2018

Why Tyson Fury Could Pull Off the Upset

by Matt O'Brien

An edited version of this article was originally published on on December 1st, 2018:

Almost exactly three years to the day since he defeated Wladimir Klitschko for the WBA, WBO, IBF and lineal heavyweight crown, Tyson Fury steps through the ropes this Saturday night to face Deontay Wilder for the WBC portion of the heavyweight championship. Unsurprisingly, given Fury’s well-documented battle with depression and drugs while ballooning up to almost 400lbs during his long layoff, he goes into this weekend’s fight as the betting underdog. Considering the dearth of elite competition Fury has faced since returning to the ring in June though, alongside the fact he is facing the most explosive heavyweight in the world, the odds are not quite as wide as one might expect. Can Tyson pull off the upset? Here’s five reasons why it just might be possible…

  1. Mindset

Following his aforementioned problems with body weight, substance abuse and mental health, Fury appears, mentally, to be in an excellent place at the moment. The Englishman has never really been one to mince his words, but in the buildup he’s exuded positivity and confidence, clearly irking Wilder during their press tour and getting the better of the pre-fight mind games. Doing the rounds on a variety of podcasts and radio shows, Fury’s candour, friendly demeanour and willingness to talk openly about his personal problems have endeared him to his American hosts, all the while displaying a healthy balance between relaxed confidence and serious focus on the task at hand.

“The thing is, I was bred to do this, and Deontay Wilder wasn’t. He chose boxing because he couldn’t play basketball or football,” stated Fury, during Showtime’s recent All Access episode. And there is some truth to this: fighting really is a way of life for many in the travelling community he originates from, and this is apparent in Fury’s take-on-all-comers character outside of the ring, and his comfort in the heat of battle inside of it. See, for example, the Klitschko fight, where Fury did not only outbox the long-reigning champ but also – outrageously – stood in the centre of the ring with his hands down and chin out, daring the man with one of the hardest right hands in boxing history to hit him. That kind of confidence is not built in a single training camp. It is ingrained in your psyche.

  1. In Boxing, Timing is Everything

This is true as much inside of the ropes as it is outside of them. In taking the fight after just two uninspiring comeback wins, it seemed that Fury might be depriving himself of some much needed ring time. Perhaps, counter-intuitively, this could turn out to be a stroke of genius on Fury’s part though. For one thing, it confirms his cast-iron self-belief and willingness to get straight back to the top, but it’s also a sign that Fury knows he needs a big challenge in order to raise his game. As we saw when he faced Klitschko, he thrives best when the danger is the most real. In this sense, he might have done a sensible thing in ordering his promoter, Frank Warren, to make the fight immediately, rather than going through the motions in a couple more tune-ups.

For such a huge man, Fury’s punching power is fairly ordinary, but his footwork, movement and ability to judge distance are exceptional. Once again, the inactivity could be detrimental to this facet of his game, but where Fury makes up for his lack of competitive action is in his frequent sparring sessions in the gym. And if reports are to be believed, he’s looked very sharp and handled some excellent prospects with relative ease. It’s also worth remembering that while Fury has been inactive, so has Wilder. In fact, although Fury has only clocked up 14 rounds since his comeback began in June, that’s actually 14 more than Wilder has under his belt in the same time, and more than than WBC champ has completed in his last three fights combined, going back to February 2017.

  1. Ben Davison, the Wild Card

It seems all the rage these days to label a young, upcoming trainer lacking big-fight experience as a nothing more than a “pad man”. But while it was understandable that a few eyebrows were raised when Fury first revealed he was replacing his uncle Peter with little-known Ben Davison, in the time since the pairing seems to have done Fury a world of good. Davison has shown himself to be an articulate and knowledgeable coach who managed both Tyson’s physical and psychological transformation brilliantly.

That is not to disrespect Peter Fury’s input, of course – he’s an exceptional trainer who would be sorely missed in any corner. But judging by Tyson’s own comments, he needed a breath of fresh air in the gym, he gels incredibly well with Davison, and he clearly looks like a much fitter, happier fighter under his guidance than he has been for years. Notably, upon moving their training camp from Big Bear to the Wild Card gym in LA, the two of them also made a shrewd decision to bring Freddie Roach on board as an assistant coach. The move not only indicates an admirable absence of ego and willingness to learn on twenty-five-year-old Davison’s part, but also brings some valuable big-fight experience and added perspective to the corner, both during camp and on fight night.

  1. Wilder’s Power May Be Exaggerated (Slightly)

“All it takes is one hit from Wilder.” Or so the conventional wisdom goes. There’s no question that the American hits very hard, of course, particularly with his right hand – a punch that has left several opponents out cold, twitching worryingly on the canvas. That being said, it does seem that people are getting a tiny bit carried away with the idea that all Wilder has to do is land one shot, and the fight is over.

First of all, let’s remember that Wilder did not switch Luis Ortiz’s lights out with a single right hand. In fact, Ortiz rose from a fifth-round knockdown and fought back to within a whisker of stopping Wilder in the seventh. The champion showed immense heart to come through and win – but it took ten rounds and a further two knockdowns to take out a thirty-nine-year-old fighter who had basically emptied his tank. Also, Bermane Stiverne absorbed several, full-blooded whacks from Wilder in their first fight, yet still took him the full championship distance. It must also be pointed out how many of Wilder’s stoppage wins came against sub-par opposition: if you take away Ortiz and Stiverne from Wilder’s record, the remaining names leave a lot to be desired.

It’s true that Fury has been floored himself by lesser punchers, though each time he got up to win and he has never looked seriously hurt, despite taking a few meaty shots from Klitschko in their fight. In short, yes, Wilder really can bang, but he has to do a lot more than just show up and land a single right hand to win the fight.

  1. Styles Make Fights

Admittedly, this old truism could work in either man’s favour, as each has the potential to present the other with stylistic nightmares. There are a few things though, I think, that could work to Fury’s advantage. For such a big man, he has excellent punch variety, fights effectively on the inside, attacks the body well and gets through with some sneaky hooks and uppercuts. His footwork is also very nimble for a man of his stature; he has the ability to fight comfortably out of both stances; and he can create angles to take the sting out of incoming shots and to counter when Wilder least expects it. Of course, Wilder also utilizes unorthodox angles and could hit the jackpot with one of his leaping attacks; but if he’s not careful, he could find himself on the end of a swift counter as Fury steps aside and clips him with a short hook, much the same as Ortiz did.

Fury’s extra weight could also be a factor here, and if he is able to tie Wilder up over the first half of the fight, could wear him out and sap some of his punching power going into the later rounds. Despite lacking real “one hitter quitter” power, he makes up for it by mixing in fast, points-scoring combinations, which could make a difference in a 12-round fight, along with his superior jab. For Wilder, his lead left seems to be more of a pawing distraction to make way for his booming right down the pipe, rather than a weapon in its own right. Whereas, Fury can score points, hypnotize and frustrate with his faster lead hand, doubling it up and mixing in feints to keep Wilder guessing.

All things considered then, a reasonable case can certainly be made that Fury has the tools to re-establish himself as The Man in the heavyweight division this weekend. Deontay Wilder rightly enters as the favourite, but it would be foolish to write off the Gypsy King. Which is precisely what makes it such an intriguing match-up, isn’t it?

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