Heavyweight trilogies are a rarity but last night at the T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas, we were treated to a big boy triptych, this time between the World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight champ Tyson Fury aka the “Gypsy King” (31-0-1, 22 knockouts) and Deontay Wilder (42-2-1, 41 knockouts) aka the “Bronze Bomber.”
Their first matchup in 2018 ended in a controversial draw. Most observers and boxing scribes grumbled that Fury out-boxed, out-maneuvered, and out-punched his hammer-fisted opponent. Fury was, however, dropped to the canvas in both the 9th and 12th rounds.
The second of Fury’s knockdowns has become legendary. In the final frame, Wilder was finally able to tattoo his opponent with a pulverizing right followed by a short explosive left hook. Fury dropped as though he had been shot.
The Gypsy King appeared unconscious. Wilder celebrated as if there would be no going to the score cards. Suddenly, at the count of seven, the near seven-foot-tall giant leapt up—as though from the dead—and within a few ticks of the clock, the Irish Traveler named after Mike Tyson was back on the attack. The action-packed but inconclusive fight called out for a rematch between these two still-undefeated gladiators.
In Feb. 2020, the NBA-sized boxers again squared off. Fury made adjustments, replacing his former trainer Ben Davidson with SugarHill Steward, the nephew of legendary boxing guru Emanuel Steward.
This time Fury came to his office with bad intentions. Instead of cautiously trying to outbox the bomber who almost decapitated him, Fury mounted a relentless attack. Wilder was knocked down in the third and fifth rounds. Bleeding from the ear, nose, and mouth, he was stumbling around as though he had been doing shots.
In the seventh stanza, Wilder’s trainer Mark Breland wisely ran up the white flag and tossed in the towel. Wildly furious, Wilder canned Breland and hired his friend and former knockout victim, Scott Malik, as his trainer.
Though a former Olympian, Wilder’s boxing technique is an insult to the sweet science, and yet the lithe 6-foot-7 Alabamian possesses a preternaturally powerful right hand that could put anyone to bed. And yet, power is of no use without a working delivery system. Among many other things, Malik worked to improve Wilder’s footwork and to get the big bopper to direct some of his matchless firepower at the Goliath-like target that was in front of him last night.
On Saturday, Wilder tipped the scales at 237; Fury at 277. In the pre-fight circus, Wilder seemed determined to make the point that Fury was not going to bully him around this time. He said, “My energy is like my mind, it’s very violent… Get ready for war…I’m wearing my red outfit because I want it back in blood.”
And war it was. As instructed, Wilder came out snapping hard jabs and right hands to Fury’s body. Fury rebounded in the second round with jabs and right hands and mauling tactics aimed at wearing down the Bronze Bomber.
In round three, Wilder rocked Fury with a right down the middle. Rather than stepping back and keeping enough distance to punch, Wilder let Fury grab him. They went to the ropes and Fury planted a right uppercut on Wilder’s less-than-iron chin. Wilder hit the deck and viewers got the sense that the curtain was about to come down on the challenger.
Not so fast. In the next round, Wilder clobbered Fury with right hands and notched two knockdowns, but he could not put away the trickster heavyweight champ, as Fury grappled and waltzed his way to the bell.
The fifth round was relatively calm—and yet, ever since Wilder rallied back and came within inches of stopping Fury, the crowd was alive with the electric excitement that comes with thinking the momentum of the fight could turn with one chopping right hand. But the expectation was a mirage. Wilder was being ground down. He gave up working the body and consistently moved toward Fury’s right hand. Seemingly devoid of any defense, Fury could not miss his foe, who neither slipped nor parried blows.
Though Wilder might have been too exhausted to listen, the only plan B his corner had was to tell their man that he was being lackadaisical and needed to go back to plan A— jab and go to the body. By round six, Wilder was in his do-or-die mode in which his only answer to the punching puzzle before him was to go back to launching the right that brought him to the boxing big time. However, Fury, like Ali, has terrific radar. He detects incoming blows and takes the sting out of punches by rolling with them.
By the championship rounds, Wilder was a rag doll. Prior to the ninth, the doctor hopped into the ring to see if Wilder was “all right.” Wilder assured him he was fine but was knocked down again in round ten.
In his second tussle with Fury, Wilder was enraged for not being able “to go out on his shield.” He got his wish last night. In the eleventh round, Wilder was still punching but his fastball was gone and Fury knew it. The Gypsy King drove Wilder to the strands and crushed him with an overhand right. Wilder seemed out before he kissed the canvas—and referee Russell Mora did not even bother to count out the brave former champ.
An instant classic, the end of this trilogy was as brutal as it was thrilling. While the punishment endured might raise eyebrows, the courage and resilience of the combatants was nothing short of inspiring. While I would not go this far, one fan described it as Ali-Frazier for millennials.
After the result was announced, Fury graciously thanked just about everyone on the planet then grabbed the mike and belted out Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis,” substituting Las Vegas for Memphis.
The heavyweight championship used to be considered the most prized possession in sports. Norman Mailer once referred to the heavyweight king as the “Toe of God.” Boxing has taken hard knocks of late (some self-delivered). And today, most people couldn’t even tell you who wears the belt that once belonged to universally recognized icons like Joe Louis, Marciano, and Ali. With his scintillating performance tonight, with his skill, personality, and grit, the Gypsy King might just be the one to lift-up boxing off the deck.