Tyson Fury entered Las Vegas’s MGM Grand Arena on a throne and left as a champion on Saturday evening. On a night of high drama, the former unified heavyweight champion defeated American Deontay Wilder in the seventh round to snatch the WBC title and reclaim his place at boxing’s top table.
After a controversial draw between the two fighters in December 2018 – where most ringside observers had Fury comfortably ahead – the self-styled ‘Gypsy King’ left nothing in doubt by way of a truly scintillating performance in the hotly anticipated rematch.
Wilder, previously undefeated in 43 bouts with an astonishing 41 knockout victories, is often labelled the hardest puncher in the sport’s storied history. However, on a February night that will go down in British boxing folklore, the Alabaman’s fearsome right hand was entirely nullified by Fury’s speed, power and superior game-plan.
Wilder, who had held his championship for five years and made ten successful defences, was sent to the canvas in the third and fifth rounds, before his corner threw in the white towel during the seventh. It was the right call, their man hopelessly out of his depth, skidding and thudding around the ring as Fury pursued him ruthlessly.
With new trainer Javan ‘Sugarhill’ Steward in his corner, Fury deviated entirely from the style boxing fans have come to associate him with. Previously relying on solid defence and an agility one would not expect from a man standing 6’9, the Mancunian took a more aggressive, and therefore risky, approach. Needless to say, Fury’s risk-taking paid off handsomely, and he will have woken up on Sunday morning as unquestionably the top heavyweight on the planet.
It has been a long road back for Fury, who defeated Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 to capture the WBA, IBF, WBO, IBO and lineal straps, before descending into a period of depression and drug abuse. Excess was his aperitif, and he weighed 28 stone as recently as 2017, before losing 10 stone to facilitate a return to the sport.
This Vegas victory marks the apex of an extraordinary comeback, during which Fury has become an inspiration to those afflicted by mental health issues. When the heavyweight champion of the world talks openly about his suicidal thoughts, others feel empowered to step forward and do the same.
Big occasions bring big entrances, and the two superstars didn’t disappoint. The Englishman was carried in on a throne, decked out in a crown and imperial red robes. The chords of Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy’ drifted around the arena as Fury enthusiastically sang along. A natural showman, he certainly isn’t out of place among the bright lights and razzmatazz of Vegas.
6’7 Wilder – or ‘The Bronze Bomber’, as he likes to be known – is also notorious for his showy ringwalks, and this time looked like a cross between a Lord of the Rings villain and a fetish party attendee. For those 15,000 present at the MGM, for those million or so who’d paid top dollar to watch the fight on pay-per-view, and for countless others who’d purchased an overpriced pint of Tennent’s to nurse in the battlecruiser, it was already worth every penny.
Fury began proceedings by occupying centre-ring, a strange sight given that his supporters are used to seeing him fighting off the back foot, moving around the outskirts of the ring in a way which manages to be at once awkward and graceful. He took the first two rounds as Wilder, so accustomed to being the aggressor, looked befuddled and searched fruitlessly for a chance to unload his straight right.
Round 3: Wilder down, the victim of a hard right hand. Fury, whose promise to end things early had been met with widespread scoffs, was sticking to his word. The Bomber continued to be hit with bombs, struggling on until the end of the round and increasingly looking out of his depth at the highest level.
The following round, the American went down again, though this time it was merely ruled a slip. Referee Kenny Bayless, to British eyes at least, seemed to be unprofessionally looking out for his countryman, separating the fighters when Fury was having particular success on the inside.
The fifth round knockdown came from a sumptuous Fury body shot, his left hand gliding towards Wilder’s midriff and then settling in the crevices of the Bomber’s ribcage. The Alabaman’s already slender legs looked ready to snap. He tottered, held, tottered, held, in a performance that elicited real pity for a man so routinely feared. ‘Get him out of there, ref’, we all mouthed, urging Bayless to call a halt to the one-sided contest.
Blood trickled from Wilder’s ear, apparently the result of a burst eardrum. He wouldn’t have heard the pro-Fury crowd, urging their hero on to finish things and confirm his win. The ‘Gypsy King’, eccentric at the best of times, courted insanity by licking Wilder’s wound as they wrestled in the corner. There’s psychological warfare and then there’s licking blood off your opponent’s body: Fury has a keen sense of what gets a crowd going.
Seven rounds down, the writing was etched indelibly on the wall, and Fury continued to pummel his rival, patiently stalking before unleashing a barrage of heavy shots. Bayless stepped in just as the towel soared symbolically into the ring. All over. Tyson Fury is the heavyweight champion of the world once again.
More motivated than ever before, it is, hopefully, only a matter of time before he faces unified IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight king and fellow Briton Anthony Joshua to decide an undisputed master of the division.
Boxing is notorious for its tangled politics and squabbling sanctioning bodies, so this is no given. Joshua is lined up to face IBF mandatory Kubrat Pulev of Bulgaria in London in June, and may then face the Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk, leaving little time in 2020 for a bout with Fury.
The ‘Gypsy King’ seems eager to retire sooner rather than later, continually stressing that he wants a Joshua unification fight, followed by a farewell match. Undisputed champ, money in the bank, ride into the sunset et cetera.
It’s never that simple in this cruellest of sports, but by now we have discovered that when Fury says he is going to do something, he usually does it. Watch this space.
Image: Nadavspi via Wikimedia Commons