‘Fighting Words’ — Fury-Wilder 3: Five Knockdowns and Two Elevations
It was concussive. It was conclusive. It was everything a third fight between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder needed to be.
They had already fought for 19 rounds with four knockdowns between them. This time, there were five knockdowns over the course of 11 rounds. They had already provided drama in the first fight and demolition in the second. After those two memorable nights, they saved the best for last.
Two of the best heavyweights in the world. Only one would last.
Each hit the canvas. Fury had a pair of visits in the fourth round. Wilder was deposited in the third, delivered there again in the 10th, and dropped for good in the 11th. It was Fury who remained standing, who remained outstanding, who remained the WBC heavyweight titleholder, The Ring king, the lineal champion.
It is Fury whose career moves forward. It is Wilder who suffers the setback. Yet on a night when both were downed, both were also elevated.
There was ample drama. There was substantial action. And none of that would’ve been possible without their power, their heart, their drive, their desire to do whatever it takes — and to take whatever pain and punishment came their way — in order to win.
This conclusion was also a culmination.
They first met at the end of 2018, when Fury boxed very well — but not well enough. Wilder knocked Fury down in the ninth round of that December night in Los Angeles. Fury was nonetheless on his way to a narrow decision victory when disaster struck, or rather Deontay struck again.
Wilder landed a huge right hand and followed up with a big left hook that had Fury not only down, but out. Except Fury went from seemingly unconscious to stunningly awake, from on his back as the referee said six to on one knee by eight, from being beaten to beating the count, and from barely standing to making a stand.
In the span of 10 seconds, Wilder saved himself from a loss, and Tyson Fury then did the same thing. Their fight ended in a draw.
That decision was hotly debated. And so Fury sought to end the debate, to take the outcome out of the judges’ hands and into his own.
Each had two intervening bouts before they met again.
Each had one easy night. Fury took Tom Schwarz out in two rounds. Wilder knocked Dominic Breazeale out in two minutes.
Each had one night where they snatched victory after seemingly being on a pathway to defeat. Fury suffered a terrible cut but was able to beat Otto Wallin by decision. Wilder was behind on the scorecards when he knocked Luis Ortiz out with a single right hand in their rematch.
That right hand, the shot that had put Fury down in their first fight, loomed large before their second. The prevailing logic going into the sequel in February 2020 was that Fury needed to box perfectly for 12 rounds, while Wilder needed to land perfectly only once.
Except Fury turned that logic on its head. He turned into the aggressor.
It seemed counterintuitive. Yet the strategy was as rational as it was risky. Being aggressive would put Wilder on the defensive. Wilder liked to have room to throw. He was at his best when he planted his feet to let his hands go.
Fury didn’t need to be perfect for 12 rounds if the fight didn’t have to last for 12 rounds. He didn’t have to dodge Wilder’s power if he could drain it from him. Fury dropped Wilder in the third round, taking away his legs, his balance, his equilibrium — and his equalizer. Wilder was down again in the fifth, punished more in the sixth and pummeled in the seventh.
One of Wilder’s trainers — Olympic gold medalist and former pro titleholder Mark Breland — had seen enough and ended the fight. Wilder protested.
The first fight had been a draw. The second drew Wilder’s ire.
“Why did you do that?” he could be seen mouthing immediately afterward.
“I’m ready to go out on my shield,” he said in a post-fight interview. “I’m a warrior, and that’s what I do.”
Wilder fired Breland. And he lobbed a litany of excuses, accusations and conspiracy theories with as much wild abandon as some of his trademark windmill punches.
The heavy costume Wilder wore to the ring? It had taken away his legs, he said.
So did Wilder’s water bottle, which Breland must have spiked, he said.
And Fury’s gloves? They had been tampered with, he said.
Far too many boxing fans fixated and debated on these for far too much of the nineteen-and-a-half months between Fury-Wilder 2 and Fury-Wilder 3. No matter how many videos or podcasts they made, no matter how many tweets or comments they posted, nothing was going to win the argument. Nothing was going to convince the other side to change their mind.
More importantly, nothing they said was going to go back in time and overturn that second fight for Wilder. Nor was it going to win the third fight for him.
Wilder knew he couldn’t just talk about what he said were the wrongs. He also had to do his part to make things right.
They had to enforce their contractual right to the rematch, for one. Fury had sought to — and signed to — face Anthony Joshua this summer for the undisputed heavyweight championship. But Wilder had a contractual right to have his third fight with Fury come next, and he rightfully forced Fury to honor that contract.
There was also a big change in Wilder’s camp. He replaced Breland with Malik Scott, a longtime heavyweight contender, friend and sparring partner whom Wilder knocked out in 2014.
Scott is one of the more fascinating figures in boxing. His former trainer, the highly respected Joe Goossen, recently made the rounds and talked about Scott with reporters, including Kieran Mulvaney and Eric Raskin on the Showtime Boxing podcast, as well as Mark Kriegel of ESPN. Goossen praised Scott and spoke highly of what the former fighter would bring to Wilder’s team.
“The only possible drawback could be his lack of experience running the corner on fight night,” Goossen told Kriegel. “But Malik is a great listener and a great communicator. He’s got a high boxing IQ, and he gets excited about ideas. He can see and make the necessary adjustments. I think he’s going to be invaluable.”
Finally, nearly three years after they first fought, more than a year-and-a-half after they last fought, they were going to fight one last time. This was a heated rivalry with plenty of history, and it was all coming together at a big event in Las Vegas and on pay-per-view.
This was a collision where the judges almost seemed unnecessary. Someone was going to get knocked out.
The fact that it lasted into the 11th round was surprising. They weren’t gung-ho, but they weren’t gunshy either. Each man knew he could hurt the other if the right shots landed. It was just about setting up the right shots.
In their second fight, Fury ran out to the center of the ring at the opening bell. This time around, Wilder came out seeking to establish himself as the aggressor. He worked behind his jab and also directed a few right hands to Fury’s body.
This served a dual purpose. Fury has good upper body movement and is quite adept at dodging head shots. His midsection would be easier to catch clean. And Wilder was also setting a potential trap for later on. By repeatedly jabbing up and crossing down, Fury could come to expect that right hand to go downstairs, leaving his head vulnerable.
Fury got to Wilder first.
That came with about 40 seconds remaining in Round 3. Wilder was using his right glove to hold onto Fury’s neck, then switched to his left hand and threw a right uppercut. It was a tactic both men employed on Saturday. It was a savvy tactic Fury was about to use himself.
Fury avoided the shot, though, and pushed Wilder toward the ropes. That shove created enough room for a left hook to the face and a right hand to the side of Wilder’s head. Wilder was still adjusting to the sudden change in distance and hadn’t quite gotten his gloves up all the way. Fury’s shots not only went around Wilder’s guard, but that right hand was intentionally placed so as to upset his equilibrium.
Wilder was hurt and leaned forward. Fury draped his left arm over Wilder’s head to keep him from stumbling too far away, then turned into a right uppercut — reminiscent of how Lennox Lewis had amplified the impact of his uppercuts against Michael Grant. Fury followed with a left hook that seemed ceremonial. Wilder was already on his way down.
This was the same round that Fury had scored the first knockdown in February 2020. Now, as with then, there were about 35 seconds left on the clock. But this time, unlike last time, Wilder had a better Round 4 — much better.
In the final minute of the fourth, Wilder feinted with a jab and took a step backward, drawing Fury forward. That gave Wilder space to work — and it walked Fury into incoming fire. Wilder sent out a measuring jab that also served as a blinder for the right hand that followed. Fury immediately tried to hold on as his legs danced involuntarily beneath him, behind him, in front of him, until finally the lights were above him.
Fury was still hurt when he got back to his feet, more than half a minute to go in the round, an eternity when all Wilder needs is one more moment. Still, Fury dug down and scored with a nice looping right. Wilder took it fine, moved in closer, grabbed behind Fury’s head with the right glove and again switched his grip to the left. Wilder now had his right hand free and clubbed it into the side of Fury’s head, returning the favor from the third round. Fury tumbled down once more.
He beat the count, though, and had a minute’s respite.
That was the last time Fury was in serious danger.
At some point, Wilder injured his right hand. Fury also wisely leaned his 277-pound heft — the heaviest weight of his career, though not a hindrance in his performance — on Wilder when they clinched.
Wilder’s punch output remained relatively consistent. But the night began to wear him down. There was less speed and less steam on his shots. Fury dodged them more easily. He wasn’t as hurt by those that did land.
There was always the threat of that right hand, however. Wilder had shown that he could recover, regain his bearings and remain dangerous, whether it was the fourth round of this fight or the way he’d come back to stop Luis Ortiz in their first bout.
But in the meantime, it was Fury who had indeed recuperated — and who was coming on stronger.
It wasn’t another knockdown that changed the fight, though it might as well have been. Fury was already having a good seventh round, and then an opening presented itself. With about 50 seconds to go, Wilder pushed out a lazy jab, brought his left glove back low, then held his arm out again. Fury threw a left hook that served as a distraction for a heavy right hand to the side of the head.
The shot turned Wilder sideways, leaving him out of position and vulnerable. Fury smelled blood in the water and closed in with a short right hand to the jaw. Wilder’s head went down. Fury popped it back up with a right uppercut. Wilder teetered backward to the ropes but had more than enough of his senses present to duck another right hand and hold on.
Wilder made it out of the seventh but couldn’t turn things around in the eighth. Once again, Fury had Wilder wobbled and holding on with about a minute to go.
Between Round 8 and Round 9, Malik Scott asked Wilder to back Fury up. The pep talk helped somewhat — Wilder landed 11 power punches in the ninth, as many as he had landed in the previous two rounds combined, according to CompuBox — but the round still belonged to Fury.
“You was blessed with something that can end this right now,” Scott told Wilder before Round 10.
Instead, Wilder was soon hurt again, down for the second time, and it wouldn’t be the last.
Halfway through the round, Fury and Wilder stood right shoulder to right shoulder. Wilder changed his position and spotted an opening — the side of Fury’s head — and threw a left hand. But Fury was able to both see and feel what Wilder was trying to do. Fury smoothly ducked the punch and came up behind his opponent.
Wilder’s follow-through had taken him out of position, but in the perfect place for Fury, who waited for Wilder to turn around and then thudded a big right hand to the side of the head. There was so much force behind the shot that Wilder’s left leg lifted in the air. Wilder fell forward and tried to grab Fury, instead ending up on his knees.
Wilder looked nearly done. But he’d asked for the chance to go out on his shield, to go down firing. It was one of the reasons he’d fired Breland.
So as Fury let forth with an onslaught in the final minute of the 10th round, Wilder dug down, summoned his remaining reserve of power and landed a pair of good right hands before the bell.
It was Wilder’s last hurrah. And it was about to be his last round. Fury made sure of that in the 11th. He’d taken a commanding lead in this grueling marathon and had more than enough left to pull away with a final sprint.
He laced a right uppercut from close range that popped Wilder’s head back and created some space.
He ducked a jab and stood up into Wilder’s outstretched arm, turning both their bodies. Wilder turned around to eat a right hand.
He missed a right and a left but leaned on Wilder against the ropes, putting his head on Wilder’s shoulder while taking two subtle steps backward.
He created just enough space for a short right uppercut. Wilder leaned down, hurt.
He threw a short right hand to the side and back of Wilder’s head. Wilder slumped forward, pushing the two of them into the corner.
He leaned over Wilder to control his body, maneuvering him into the corner, where he was defenseless, wide open.
He sent out one more right uppercut, popping Wilder’s head up, then took a half-step to the left. Wilder tried to hold.
He dug his right forearm into Wilder’s neck to maintain space for a huge left hook and looping right hand, a finishing flourish.
Wilder was down for the third time. Down hard. Done.
It was a hell of an ending to a hell of a fight, with two fighters who had put each other through hell, who would go through hell and back in order to win.
It was an incredible end to a fight that will be imprinted in memory, to a trilogy that will go down in history, and to a rivalry that created a legacy.
There could only be one winner for this fight, this trilogy, this rivalry. But there were two elevations.
There was Fury, the heavyweight who won the championship from Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 and didn’t fight again for another two-and-a-half years, who struggled with depression and addiction, who had a positive test for a banned substance (he said it was from eating meat from an uncastrated boar), who ballooned up in weight to nearly 400 pounds.
There was Fury, who had just two fights to shake off the rust before stepping in with Wilder at the end of 2018. There was Fury that night, boxing beautifully. And there was Fury that night, coming off the canvas to escape defeat, then winning the rest of that final round.
There was the technical knockout in the second fight. There were the conspiracies and excuses. And then there was Fury, doing it one more time.
There was Fury, the heavyweight champion.
But there also was Wilder, who had taken up boxing later than most, lacing up gloves after his daughter was born with spina bifida, looking for a way to earn money to care for his child. There was Wilder, less experienced than most other amateurs, winning a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics.
There was Wilder, learning on the job as a pro, winning a world title six years into his career in the paid ranks. There were doubts and criticism, the fights where he looked lost, the times where he was wild, the opponents who never should’ve given him trouble but did. But there was Wilder’s right hand.
There was more than that. There were skills and techniques that he’d developed along the way but often didn’t get credit for. There was heart and grit. There was pride.
There was that demoralizing defeat in the second Fury fight. There was the way that Wilder responded afterward. There’s that pride thing again. It doesn’t always bring out the best in us. But what mattered most was the way that Wilder responded in the third fight, the way he showed up, the way he fought, the way he fought back.
There was Wilder, downed and damaged, defeated and dejected. There’s that pride thing, once more. It’s hard to find a victory after being vanquished. There’s no desire to find that silver lining when the dark cloud is looming.
But there is Wilder, who still must be considered one of the best heavyweights in the world.
It took Fury, and only Fury, to beat him.
It took Fury, and only Fury, to take the best that Wilder had — and be even better.
The 10 Count
1 – Tyson Fury wanted to fight for the undisputed heavyweight championship and had to wait (as he should’ve). He still wants to fight for the undisputed heavyweight championship (as he should). He may still have to wait (as he should).
Fury didn’t end up facing Anthony Joshua this past summer given that, well, Fury had already agreed to face Wilder and had to honor that contract.
Joshua, as we all know, has since lost his three world titles to Oleksandr Usyk. Fury vs. Usyk is an intriguing fight, even if it’s less of a box office blockbuster in the United Kingdom than Fury vs. Joshua would’ve been.
Two fights stand in the way.
One, Joshua has a rematch clause and may end up getting his second go-around with Usyk first.
Two, there’s Dillian Whyte — who has long been the mandatory challenger to the WBC world title. Whyte is scheduled to face Otto Wallin later this month. The winner may end up getting a crack at Fury next. If it’s Whyte, he in particular shouldn’t be forced to wait any longer, or he should be well-compensated if he’s asked to step aside.
2 – As for Deontay Wilder, he deserves as much time out of the ring as he needs to recover from the incredible amount of punishment he’s taken in the two losses to Tyson Fury.
Wilder is less than two weeks away from his 36th birthday. Time and wear and tear are a fighter’s worst enemy. Wilder may lose some of his speed with the passage of time, but I expect his power to remain — though the ability to deliver it with such shocking speed could somewhat lessen its impact. I also expect that his work with Malik Scott could continue to prepare him to handle heavyweights who aren’t Tyson Fury.
And there’s quite a list.
I’m among the many who would still love to see a fight that was negotiated years back but never came to fruition: Wilder vs. Anthony Joshua.
There are other names. I’d enjoy Wilder against some who’ve been featured on PBC programming: Andy Ruiz, Robert Helenius, Frank Sanchez and Efe Ajagba. Or a crossroads fight with some names on the periphery and with other stables: former titleholder Joseph Parker, undefeated prospect Joe Joyce or once-beaten Daniel Dubois.
I’m getting ahead of things. Wilder will need to recover, mentally and physically. The heavyweight division will continue to shake out. And then we can see who’s available.
3 – Gervonta Davis will have his second fight of the year — and his third pay-per-view headliner in a row.
Davis announced last week that he’ll face Rolando “Rolly” Romero on December 5 in Los Angeles. Romero isn’t a big name, though he’s an undefeated fighter who has been developing into a contender while getting the spotlight on a few Showtime undercards.
Romero, a 25-year-old lightweight from Las Vegas, is 14-0 with 12 KOs. He’s coming off a decision win over previously unbeaten Jackson Marinez in 2020, and TKO victories against Avery Sparrow and Anthony Yigit in 2021.
This is the second time in a row that Davis (25-0, 24 KOs) will be doing the heavy lifting when it comes to name recognition with the pay-per-view. However, I also understand what Davis and his team are doing. They’re making Gervonta Davis fights feel like big events.
Davis, a 26-year-old from Baltimore, has been built up into an attraction in multiple cities. He’s doing a great job of capturing the attention of those watching on television or watching clips after the fact. Davis had a highlight-reel KO of Leo Santa Cruz last year, then moved up to junior welterweight and stopped Mario Barrios in a good scrap this past June.
Romero has been calling out Davis for some time. He’ll do his part to sell the fight. The trash talk doesn’t interest me as much. The match itself? I wish it weren’t on pay-per-view, but I recognize why it is. I expect customers will feel like they got their money’s worth. This one should be fun for however long it lasts.
4 – It is unfortunate that 2021 will end without the “Four Princes” of the lightweight division — Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia, Devin Haney, and Teofimo Lopez — being any closer to fighting each other.
Three of them have their next opponents set. They are very much acceptable outings while we wait for bigger things to happen.
Davis-Romero was covered above. Garcia pulled out of a fight with Javier Fortuna this year due to his mental health. He’s slated to return on November 27 against Joseph “JoJo” Diaz, who stepped in and beat Fortuna in July.
Lopez? We covered the debacle that has been his fight with George Kambosos Jr. in last week’s Fighting Words. Per reports, Triller was declared to have defaulted on their promotional rights to the fight. Instead, Matchroom Boxing is expected to pick up Lopez-Kambosos and broadcast it on DAZN.
Kambosos is Lopez’s mandatory. I do wonder if Lopez will soon end up removing himself from the ranks of the “Four Princes,” growing out of the 135-pound weight class and going up to challenge different opponents at 140.
Haney defeated Jorge Linares in May and doesn’t yet have a date or opponent lined up. Dan Rafael reports that Haney could be back on DAZN in December.
5 – My eyebrows went up (sadly, not like The Rock’s eyebrow) when I saw the comments Teofimo Lopez Sr. made about Triller and his son’s fight with Kambosos.
“I just want [Triller] to pay for the whole year they took from my son,” Lopez Sr., who also trains Lopez Jr., told Mike Coppinger of ESPN.com. “I have the best lawyer on the planet … I want to make sure we get our money.”
Yes, Triller has been a mess. But what started this mess was his son’s irresponsibility. Here’s the brief timeline:
- February 25: Triller wins the purse bid for Lopez-Kambosos
- March 10: Teofimo tweets (and then deletes) that the fight will take place on June 5 in Miami.
- April 16: The June 5 date is officially announced.
- May 11: The date for Lopez-Kambosos is moved back two weeks to June 19 to get out of the way of Floyd Mayweather vs. Logan Paul, which was scheduled for June 6.
- June 15: Just days before the bout, Lopez tests positive for COVID-19 — he wasn’t vaccinated, which meant he had a greater chance of contracting the coronavirus. Lopez-Kambosos is rescheduled for August 14.
- July 9: It’s reported that Triller wants to move the fight to Australia to help recoup some of the expenses from the postponement, but that Lopez’s team doesn’t want to fly to Australia and deal with the country’s mandatory quarantine, nor do they want to move the date to October. Lopez’s manager says his fighter is ready for the August 14 date, though ESPN’s Mike Coppinger also says that “Lopez, who has asthma, was experiencing symptoms for weeks” after his positive test in June.
- A legal battle then ensued, with Lopez’s team working to get the fight to take place elsewhere. The fight was eventually announced for October 4, and then Triller tried to move the event on late notice so that it wouldn’t be competing with Monday Night Football. Lopez signs on to the idea. Kambosos scuttles it. Triller ends up defaulting.
Triller played a huge part in the recent mess. But if Lopez returns in 2021, he will have lost three or four months (from the August 14 date they wanted) because of the fledgling boxing promoter, not a full year. And if Lopez had been vaccinated and more cautious, perhaps none of this ever would have happened.
6 – Efe Ajagba’s appearance on Saturday’s all-heavyweight pay-per-view had me thinking back to one of his earliest television appearances — when the prospect, then 5-0 with 5 KOs, took on Curtis Harper (13-5 with 9 KOs) on the undercard of a Fox Sports 1 broadcast featuring welterweight Jamal James in the main event.
You might recall this fight not because of Ajagba, but rather because of Harper, who lost in one second via disqualification.
The bell rang and Harper stepped through the ropes and walked away.
It was easy to wonder whether Harper had sabotaged what little was already left of his career. There seemed to be nothing left afterward, no one who would reasonably work with him again.
Apparently, Harper, now 33, came back just a few weeks ago.
This time, Harper took on Mikheil Bakhtidze — a 33-year-old from the country of Georgia — on a show in the state of Georgia.
There’s no footage I could find. Harper apparently went from not fighting for even a single second against Ajagba to not winning a single round against Bakhtidze, who won a unanimous decision, a 60-53 shutout on all three scorecards.
7 – It’s hard to believe that Adam Kownacki ever was one fight away from challenging for a world title.
Then again, with four sanctioning bodies and a history of low standards, it’s never a surprise that someone who clearly isn’t ready for prime time winds up in prime time anyway.
Kownacki is what he has always been — a fun but limited fighter. He does deserve credit for his run from 2017-2019:
- Stopping Artur Szpilka (in Szpilka’s first fight back after getting KO’d by Deontay Wilder a year and a half beforehand)
- Putting away Iago Kiladze (once-beaten at the time)
- Outpointing former titleholder Charles Martin (though it pains my soul to use those two words to describe Martin)
- Taking out Gerald Washington in four minutes (Washington had only been beaten by Wilder and Jarrell Miller)
- Out-battling Chris Arreola in an entertaining action fight
All of that landed Kownacki in an elimination bout in March 2020 against Robert Helenius. The crazier thing? That Helenius was also on the verge of a title shot. He’d just suffered a stunning stoppage loss to the aforementioned Washington in July 2019 — a fight that came just six months after Washington had been obliterated by Kownacki.
We all know what happened in Helenius-Kownacki 1 — but here’s the official video in case you missed it or want to relive it. Helenius stopped Kownacki in Round 4 that night.
Neither of them had fought since, a long layoff due to the pandemic and them awaiting the right date for their next appearance. Their rematch on the Fury-Wilder 3 undercard started with Helenius once again reasserting his dominance, tagging Kownacki early and often.
Helenius eventually won in the sixth round from what had initially seemed like a disqualification due to repeated low blows but was instead announced as a TKO.
8 – I’d enjoy seeing either Helenius or Kownacki take on Andy Ruiz.
9 – Speaking of Andy Ruiz, he’s apparently living that Miguel Cotto post-defeat lifestyle by getting some ink.
Well, that’s not completely accurate.
One, Ruiz is coming off a win over Chris Arreola earlier this year, his first fight back after essentially giving three heavyweight titles back to Anthony Joshua in their rematch.
Two, it wasn’t just some ink. It was a lot of ink. It was all the ink. There is no more ink left.
TMZ described it concisely and appropriately: “The former heavyweight champ showed off new back ink Monday … and it’s HUGE — stemming from the top of his neck to the bottom of his bum.”
There’s a photo, too, if you want to see the second most embarrassing thing Andy Ruiz has ever done with his body. Appropriately, Ruiz immediately became the, well, butt of jokes…
Bless TMZ, by the way. They do actual journalistic work and they also do stories like this. They know how to get people to click on their articles. How could anyone ever not be intrigued by “Boxing Star Andy Ruiz Gets Massive Backside Tattoo, Butt Cheeks Included!”
I’ve been fortunate to have quite a career covering boxing. I’d give it all up — my membership in the Boxing Writers Association of America, my bylines with various publications of record, my ability to turn a hobby into a longtime side gig, all the traveling and amazing weekends spent with my fellow writers and boxing fans — to be the all-star behind that headline.
Whoever that hero is should retire. Their work on this mortal coil is done. They can go out on top by having gone out, well, with the bottom…
10 – And then there was this TMZ headline: “Boxer Adrien Broner Arrested in Kentucky on Outstanding Ohio Warrant.”
The Broner story is a sad and frustrating one, both inside and outside of the ring. And it doesn’t seem like his life in boxing can save him from his life outside of boxing.
That warrant, alas, was the only outstanding thing left about Broner…
Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.