Gray Matter: Deontay Wilder was extraordinary and Tyson Fury was better than that
For my money, the last time there was a heavyweight championship showdown better than Fury-Wilder 3, it was Holyfield-Bowe 1. That fight took place 29 years ago next month, and we’ve had the second chapter of Mike Tyson’s career, the Lennox Lewis era and Joshua-Klitschko in between.
That speaks volumes.
Was the action in Holyfield-Bowe 1 of a higher quality? Yes, it was, but the ebb and flow, the drama and the conclusion of Fury-Wilder 3 gave almost any heavyweight showdown in history a run for its money. And that is not hyperbole. Perhaps George Foreman-Ron Lyle (non-title bout) from 1976 is a good comparison.
When Wilder went down in Round 3 from a solid right and an uppercut, I thought the fight was over. Those spindly “Bronze Bomber” legs couldn’t carry 238 pounds; no one-rep max on a bench press could save him now; and Fury wanted to finish him quicker than he did in the second fight. I didn’t think the fight was over, I knew it was over.
Wilder’s short right hand to the temple in Round 4 was brutal. That shot was an equilibrium remover, and when you consider the colossal size of Fury, it was a near-miracle that he got his legs back. And maximum respect goes to Wilder, who instantly jumped on his tormentor looking for the finish… and he came close to getting it.
When Fury hit the deck for the second time in that round, there was a look on his face that I’ve never saw before. He was hurt in Los Angeles, when Wilder dropped him with that nuclear two-piece in the 12th and final round of their first fight in December 2018. But this was different. No heavyweight has a better poker face than Fury, but he looked momentarily demoralized when referee Russell Mora began yelling out the count.
And then he got up!
As the late sportswriter Ralph Wiley once said about George Foreman, “He’s not normal, he was never normal.” Well, Tyson Fury is not normal. His fighting heart — bolstered by his beloved Traveler heritage — got him off the canvas once again and sent him straight back into the firefight.
The main reason that Fury is a fly in the ointment for Wilder is because he forces the American to make the transition from puncher to finisher. Usually Wilder puts someone out with a single shot, or the opponent is so badly damaged that you could blow him over. But Fury’s powers of recovery are Larry Holmes-esque, and Wilder doesn’t have the versatility or structure in his follow-up attack to apply the finishing touches.
From the fifth round on, the champion imposed his boxing skills on Wilder. The jab was a terrific weapon, and Fury slowly drained his opponent’s tank up close, wrestling him out of position and working away to the body. By Round 6, Wilder, as I mentioned on Twitter, had “one drop of fuel” left in the tank. And he still shook up Fury more than once over the next few rounds.
The Alabama star carried the bravery of a soldier throughout and, like Holyfield experienced following his first defeat to Bowe, Wilder will likely receive more credit for this losing effort than he’s been given for any of his prior victories. That’s how brave the challenger was last night.
He was amazing!
When Wilder was put over by a right hand in Round 10, I still wasn’t convinced that he was done. What he proved last night, more than at any other time in his career is that lungs burning, absolutely exhausted, next to nothing left, he is still the most dangerous fighter in the world today.
But then the final drop of fuel dried up.
Fury’s blockbuster right in the 11th was a contender for Knockout of the Year in a heavyweight championship carnival that moves into the No.1 slot for potential Fight of the Year. This glamour division showdown was absolutely out of this world.
Despite fan or expert opinion coming in, both champion and challenger proved beyond doubt that they are authentic fighting men. Fury just happens to have a significant edge in terms of technical skill, durability and stamina.
According to Fury, Wilder refused to congratulate him for the victory or display sportsmanship. I hope the former world titleholder has a change of heart because taking this defeat with class and dignity will add to his own legacy.
Both men should take a bow.
Tom Gray is Managing Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing