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March 12, 2022

Fury vs. Wilder III: Fight Report

by Matt O'Brien

An edited version of this article was published on on 10th October, 2021:

When a world heavyweight title fight delivers all it promises to be, the drama is unparalleled. There have been great heavyweight trilogies in the past: together, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier carved their names into history during the sport’s golden era, and more recently Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe fought three epic battles in the 1990s. It is no exaggeration to say that Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder’s trilogy, and the instant classic they delivered last night, will sit alongside these and so many other great rivalries of the past. You really couldn’t ask for more, or expect two men to give more of themselves, in a boxing match.

There was bad blood going into the fight, as former WBC champion, Wilder, gave a laundry list of absurd excuses to justify his defeat to Fury, in February 2020. Former trainer Mark Breland was fired for throwing in the towel, with Wilder furious that he was not allowed to go out on his shield. He got his wish this time, and can have absolutely no complaints with the result. But we must recognize the scale of the effort he put forward: the sheer will to win and refusal to quit was well beyond any reasonable call of duty. There was absolutely no shame in this defeat; he simply lost to a great fighter, in a great fight.

A wide-eyed and fierce looking Fury glared menacingly during the pre-fight stare down, but it was the Bronze Bomber from Alabama who immediately took the centre of the ring and made the more positive start. A solid jab to the body pushed Fury backwards and helped set up the right hand behind it, giving the Gypsy King pause for thought and showing Wilder had come equipped with a more intelligent, strategic approach than in their rematch.

With just seconds left on the clock in the opening session, Tyson landed a clean right hand that snapped Wilder’s head back, drawing gasps of “Oooh” from the 16,000-strong Las Vegas crowd. Still, it was the challenger who raised his arms aloft at the bell, took the round on all three scorecards, and made a clear statement of intent: Fury had promised to “run him over like a truck,” but on this night, Wilder was not about to roll over for anyone.

Fury settled down and tried to assert himself more in the second, outworking Wilder to take the round 2-1 with the judges. The action really started to heat up as they exchanged shots with mean intent in the third. Wilder’s dangerous right began finding its target with ominous regularity, and for a moment Fury looked to be hurt and in retreat. Then suddenly, he backed Wilder onto the ropes and cracked him with a massive right hand. As Wilder bent over from the effect of the shot, Fury turned his feet and uncorked a beautiful, short right uppercut that sent him crashing backwards onto the canvas.

Rising at the count of four but on shaky legs, Wilder shook his head in annoyance with himself. “Yeah, let’s go!” came the firm response, when referee Russell Mora asked if he wanted to continue. With only 15 seconds left in the round, Wilder was able to ride out the remainder of the storm, but there was no question that he was badly hurt.

In round four it became apparent we were witnessing something special. Wilder’s legs had still not fully recovered, and with Fury smelling blood, it seemed like his early KO prediction was about to come true. Instead, the Bronze Bomber turned the tables and very nearly scored one of the great comebacks in heavyweight history. With about a minute left, Wilder found himself with some space and blasted a perfect shot through the middle of the guard. Fury’s legs wobbled and his arms instinctively reached out to hold on to something, but found only air. Pausing on the spot for a brief moment as his mind and legs struggled to communicate the whereabouts of the floor beneath them, his giant 277-pound frame finally gave way and crumpled forwards into the corner.

Rising at six, Fury looked clear headed and signalled he was fine to continue. Wilder went in for the kill, unloading with both hands until another clubbing, short right towards the back of the head sent Fury down again. Lying on the canvas, he nodded to himself, seemingly in full knowledge of the world of danger he was now in, and slowly dragged himself to his feet. The bell sounded to end the round, luckily for Fury, just as Mora was waving them back into action, and it was clear we were now in the midst of a championship classic.

Wilder had almost had Fury finished, but expended a lot of energy in the process, and it showed from the fifth. As he began to load up with more predictable attacks, Fury started to time him with stiff jabs and heavy one-twos, sneaking in some clever uppercuts inside. It was a weapon he employed successfully again in a messier sixth round, as Wilder, clearly feeling the effects of Fury’s massive bulk leaning on him, looked fatigued.

Malik Scott pleaded with Wilder to “Wake up! Get back to the body!” but it was Fury landing the more effective shots again in the seventh, scoring with hooks to the body and damaging right hands upstairs. A series of swiping hooks and uppercuts rocked Wilder again, but he clung on and raised a defiant fist at the bell.

Tyson was clearly back in full control now and pressed forward behind his jab in the eighth, crashing home heavy right hands with increasing regularity. Wilder was showing immense heart but he was taking a lot of shots, and the doctor came into the ring to speak to him before letting him go out for the ninth. Tired, shipping punishment, and unable to get out of the way of Fury’s ramrod lead hand, Wilder pulled out a peach of a right uppercut to end the round. It was a timely reminder to Fury that the danger posed was still very real and the fight far from over.

In the minute rest before the tenth, Fury’s corner urged him to re-focus and get back to basics. “All you gotta do is jab! Just jab the mother fucker!” implored Sugar Hill Steward. Looking ragged and exhausted, Wilder threw a sloppy overhand left in close, but Fury easily ducked under and countered with a huge right hook. The force of the shot took Wilder’s left leg from under him and spun him forwards onto his hands and knees. Looking groggy, face now swollen and bloodied, Mora would have been well within his rights to wave the fight off at this point, but Wilder raised his hands defiantly and was allowed to go on.

The courage on display at this point was an order of magnitude greater than any human can reasonably be asked to give in the name of a sporting contest. We speak of “bravery” and “willpower” in many arenas, but rarely is it presented in such pure, visceral form outside of a boxing ring. With Fury pouring on the pressure, it seemed just a matter of time before Wilder could give no more of himself. Yet somehow, he summoned one last burst of energy from the depths of his soul, exploding with a flurry of hooks that had Fury stunned again at the end of the round.

Coming out for the eleventh, both men showed the clear signs of battle, but Wilder’s legs looked so leaden, his movements so weary, it was hard to see how he could make it to the finish line. Having virtually swept rounds five to ten on all three scorecards, Fury was now in a commanding lead, but was determined to take the fight out of the judges’ hands, snapping Wilder’s head back with more right hands and uppercuts. Wilder flailed, but just didn’t have the strength in his arms to grab on or mount a proper defence anymore. A last, brutal right hook crashed into Wilder’s skull, and finally his body, emptied of its last ounce of vitality, could no longer follow the monumental effort his mind required in its service. As he pitched forward limply, Mora began to wave his arms before Wilder even hit the canvas.

As a distraught Wilder made his way back to the dressing room, the victor spoke to ESPN’s Bernado Osuna in the ring. “Like the great John Wayne said, I’m made of pig iron and steel, baby,” beamed the undefeated and lineal heavyweight champion. “I was down a couple of times, I was hurt. Wilder’s a strong puncher and he’s a tough man, I was hitting him with some big shots.” After such an incredible war, it was a shame to hear Tyson say that when he went over to give some love and respect, Wilder rejected his offer to reconcile. Perhaps, when the wounds have had time to heal, Deontay will come to appreciate a new level of respect for his opponent. Together, they have given boxing fans a truly memorable rivalry.

As Fury said, before serenading the crowd with his customary post-fight ballad, “It was a great fight tonight, it was worthy of any trilogy in the history of the sport.” Words that perfectly encapsulated an incredible fight. When boxing is at its best, there really is no other sport like it.

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