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March 12, 2022

Fury vs. Wilder III: Repeat or Revenge?

by Matt O'Brien

An edited version of this article was published on TheFightCity.com on 8th October, 2021: https://www.thefightcity.com/fury-vs-wilder-repeat-or-revenge-boxing/ 

It was almost six years ago that Tyson Fury travelled to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and clambered into the ring to confront Deontay Wilder, after “the Bronze Bomber’s” emphatic KO of Artur Szpilka. Fresh off his title win over Wladimir Klitschko, a fired-up Fury grabbed the microphone to call out his rival belt holder.

“Anytime, anyplace, anywhere!… I’ll beat you, ya bum! You’re a bum!” yelled Fury, as Showtime’s Jim Gray struggled to regain control of the situation.

“I don’t play this… This ain’t wrestling, this ain’t the WWE… I promise you: when you step in this ring, I will baptize you!” retorted Wilder. And with that exchange, a rivalry was born. It took almost three further years, but in December 2018 they met for Wilder’s WBC title. Fury, beltless following an extended absence from the ring, still proclaimed himself as the lineal and “real” heavyweight king. He boxed superbly until being caught flush in a dramatic final round, barely scraping himself off the canvas to earn a draw. The inevitable rematch came fifteen months later, with Fury putting on a masterclass to stop Wilder in seven one-sided rounds.

It’s taken another twenty months, a protracted legal tussle, a cancelled superfight between Fury and Anthony Joshua, and a coronavirus infection postponing the original date, but the trilogy match is finally happening. Can Wilder do anything to stop “the Gypsy King” in his tracks? Here’s a closer look at three crucial factors going in to Saturday’s big fight.

Mentality

While boxing fans should be cautious before playing armchair psychoanalysts, you don’t need to be Sigmund Freud to see the struggle Wilder is going through here. Fury’s peculiar mix of quirky confidence and incessant trash talk clearly got under Wilder’s skin before both previous fights. From almost instigating a brawl when asking for a body spar at a London press conference, to his relentless “big dosser” gibes, Fury has always been one step ahead in the verbal sparring.

To compound matters, Wilder has never come to terms with his defeat to Fury. The litany of excuses spouted in the aftermath have included everything from his ring-walk costume being too heavy, to Fury’s gloves being doctored, to accusing his own coach, respected former champion Mark Breland, of colluding against him. If true, some of these accusations would not just be against the rules of boxing; they would be serious criminal offences.

Of course, Wilder showed no interest in the authorities properly investigating the allegations, or even attempting to publicly justify them, because they are nonsense, and he needs to be able to hold on to the idea that he was defeated by foul means. To admit otherwise would be to admit he was beaten by the better man, to sacrifice his own self-image as the “king of the jungle”, as he called himself before the rematch. So, while the conspiracy theories are absurd taken at face value, they actually make sense as a kind of defence mechanism, providing his ego with the protection it needs to retain some of his old fire and self-belief.

For Fury, all of this is just a clear sign of mental weakness. But let’s not forget that, despite his excuses outside the ropes, between them Wilder has shown tremendous heart. Taking a huge shellacking from Fury, he refused to quit and was furious at being rescued; out on his feet against Luis Ortiz, he fought back from the brink to win by stoppage. That kind of mettle in the heat of battle is a great asset that cannot be taught or acquired.

As for Fury, is there a risk he could underestimate Wilder, after his dominance last time? It seems unlikely. He openly admits that Wilder is “the most dangerous heavyweight on the planet” – a healthy level of respect that stands in stark contrast to Wilder’s own state of denial. At the final presser, Fury poked and prodded at the excuses in an effort to get a rise out of Wilder; the American tried to play it cool and not engage, but eventually the mask slipped and he was drawn into a heated back-and-forth. When the war of words died down, once again it looked as though the pre-fight mind games had gone firmly in Fury’s favour.

Physicality

“I was too strong for him, dad. I was 40 pound heavier than him.” That was Tyson’s frank assessment immediately after the rematch, speaking on the phone in his dressing room. And his camp has made no secret of the fact they plan to utilize Fury’s huge size advantage again, even suggesting he will likely come in at a career heaviest weight. Which leads to the obvious question: What can Wilder do to counter Fury’s size, and what weight will he aim to come in at?

In the first fight Wilder was his lightest since his pro debut, at 112 ½ pounds, compared to Fury’s 256 ½. In the rematch, Wilder bulked up significantly, scaling 231 pounds to Tyson’s 273. Still, the disparity was huge and the strength advantage for Fury was palpable. This time, going by Wilder’s social media output, he’s working a lot more in the weights room and making a concerted effort to add more strength to his game. It’s a boxing truism that physiques do not win fights, but it’s clear Wilder has whipped himself into very impressive physical condition. In his own words: “This time around I can pack a little bit of muscle on top of the power, with the speed [too], you know, we got dynamites all day long.”

The thing is, we already know that Wilder has dynamite power. But if your opponent can manhandle you around the ring and dictate where and how the fight is fought, the punching power becomes almost obsolete. In that regard, the extra strength training may help prevent Wilder from being physically bullied the way he was in the rematch, especially given that such an aggressive approach from Fury should not be a surprise this time.

Alexander Usyk’s recent win over Anthony Joshua may also be instructive here, as he showed that smaller heavyweights can compete with the modern behemoths. In fact, after bulking up from below 200 pounds, by the end of the fight Usyk was the one pushing the bigger, career-heavyweight back. Wilder does not have the footwork or technique that Usyk has, of course, but if he can combine his natural punching power with some added muscle mass and a more effective game plan, he could make it a much more competitive fight. Which brings us to…

Strategy 

Prior to the rematch, Fury told us all he was going for a “Kronk-style knockout”. It sounded like gamesmanship, but he was true to his word. “I gave my game plan away the first time because he wasn’t good enough to do anything about it, and I’ll do the same thing this time because he’s not good enough to do anything about it… I’m going to run him over as if I’m an 18-wheeler [truck] and he’s a human being,” says Fury. Will he repeat the trick, or is he bluffing? It’s impossible to know, since he certainly has the tools and the ring IQ to do things differently. But then, why try to fix something that already worked so well?

The onus is really on Wilder to make the adjustments this time. To that end, hiring former opponent Malik Scott as his new trainer and their apparent focus on punching technique during mitt work sessions has drawn praise. At 35 years old though, and without a single interim fight working with his new trainer, Wilder is not going to eradicate his well-documented technical flaws. More realistically, the focus will be on refining the strategy to better use what he already has in his arsenal. And here, the signs are positive: “We’re gonna be targeting the body, targeting the arms, targeting the neck, targeting the head – there’s no body part that’s not gonna be hit,” says Wilder.

Given his tendency to head-hunt with his powerful right hand, these are encouraging words. Instead of relying on the home run punch, Wilder will need to vary his offense, use his left hand much more effectively, target Fury’s huge body, but also be more defensively aware – and then, ironically, when he’s not looking for it, the home run punch may actually find its target. Still, Fury took some clean whacks in the first couple of rounds last time, and barely flinched. In other words, Wilder needs to be more proactive. He cannot be too patient, or he may cede the momentum and never get it back; on the other hand, while he obviously needs to use his best weapon, he cannot just depend on one shot to get him out of jail.

Who Will Win?

The ridiculous conspiracy theories notwithstanding, Wilder has to be given credit for insisting on forcing this immediate rematch, and for pushing himself to be better in training. That said, Fury appears to have a clear mental edge, is significantly bigger and stronger, has a much more versatile skill set, and already served up a beatdown in their previous meeting. As such, Fury has to be favoured again, probably by mid-to-late rounds stoppage. We should expect a determined and improved Wilder to put up a serious dogfight though, and the threat of his right hand will make for a fascinating and tense heavyweight title fight, for however long it lasts.

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