It was not a pretty night for Tuscaloosa’s Deontay Wilder.
What was billed was a highly anticipated boxer-versus-puncher battle. What we got instead was the full-fledged evolution of Tyson Fury into a boxer-puncher a la Anthony Joshua. We got a one-sided beatdown. And, in a fight where Wilder’s power was billed as the one to watch, we got to see him outboxed, harmlessly land few power punches, and show a suspect jaw that had not been there for the previous half-decade.
The recap is fairly grisly, so it shall be perfunctory.
Both men were fighting at much heavier weights: Wilder at 231 and Fury at a near-porcine 279. But that extra weight was part of Fury’s plan: He wanted to add more power to his repertoire. For weeks he gabbed about knocking Wilder out; he jawed about bringing a more aggressive style to the ring. He changed trainers just a month out, signing up with KO specialist, SugarHill Steward. He proclaimed that fighting heavier wouldn’t affect his ability to move in the ring.
No longer content to sit on his punches, Fury came out very aggressively, throwing molly-whoppers early. I’m not sure if Wilder thought Fury’s prefight gab was a bluff, or if he never really respected Fury’s power, but Wilder’s corner was simply not ready for it. And, as limited as Wilder is as a fighter, he was simply not well-equipped to adjust on the fly against the world’s cagiest, least orthodox heavyweight — one who had added an entirely new dimension to his arsenal.
One got the sense from the opening bell that Wilder may be in trouble. Fury was able to dance his way out of trouble, avoid Wilder’s big right, and he did so by taking the fight to Wilder. By the second round, he had already hurt the Champ. And, sensing that Wilder was reeling, he became even more aggressive. Throwing a flurry of haymakers, backing Wilder into the ropes, and never relenting, Fury never gave Wilder a chance to use the left hook that had served him so well in the first fight. And, as notoriously weak as Wilder is with the body, Fury made him pay for exposing his torso. By the end of the second, Wilder was clutching and trying to make this one a scrum.
We really only had to await the end.
That beginning of the end wouldn’t take long. It would be the pivotal third round that saw a one-sided fight become an inevitable rout. Fury put Wilder on his backside in the round, and the champ just never recovered after that.
This 3rd round knockdown by Fury is something else. Anger at its peak. pic.twitter.com/d0jqF00xMk— Street Strict (@streetisstrict) February 23, 2020
Showing that he can toe the line into crazy just as well as Wilder, Fury even lapped at the blood he drew from Wilder.
In the 5th round, Fury again laid Wilder out. And, honestly, that is probably when the fight should have been stopped. Wilder never recovered his legs or his balance thereafter. The 6th would see Wilder be dominated again, as Fury teed off on Deontay for a very long three minutes. And then it was mercifully over when Fury knocked Wilder down again in the 7th.
D’s camp had seen enough. They threw in the towel. Wilder had suffered his first professional defeat. Fury claimed the WBC title, and it wasn’t anything resembling a fluke either.
As in their first meeting, Fury got into D’s head and made Wilder fight Fury’s fight. But, unlike that bout, Wilder never seemed to have anything in the tank. The alleged aggressor had been neutered, as the big Irishman unloaded time and again on a Wilder who frankly looked slow and timid in the ring. Going into the 7th, Fury was ahead on every card, and had won every round 60-52. The Gypsy King had landed 58 power punches to Wilder’s measly 18.
And it wasn’t even that close.
Fury’s gamble and fight strategy paid off; all of it. It’s not a gamble if you win. The worst part, if you’re Wilder, is not the losing — bad nights happen. No, the worst part is knowing that you were so lightly regarded by your opponent that you were the testing ground for a new Tyson Fury. Because, make no mistake, Fury’s evolution into boxer-puncher was made for Anthony Joshua’s benefit, not to handle Wilder.
The Bronze Bomber was just an obstacle.
So, where do we go from here?
I suspect we have to first ask whether the public is ready for Wilder-Fury III? They may not be.
Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, long seen as the obstacle to a Joshua — Wilder fight, said on Saturday night that he saw no need for another fight between Wilder and Fury, and wants to schedule a unification bout for this summer. As much as it pains to say me, I think he’s right. We’ve now seen 19 rounds between Wilder and Fury, and Tyson Fury has dominated most of them, in a variety of ways: from the sweetest science to street fighting, he’s been the better man.
It may be a long way back up to the top for Wilder too, if Fury and Joshua decide to make this happen.
As with so many things, it will probably come down to the money. Saturday’s fight in Vegas was the biggest draw in history — $375 million dollars just at the gate and in PPV sales. It was also the biggest purse in history for the heavyweights. So, one can only imagine what an Anthony Joshua — Tyson Fury unification bout, featuring two of the UK’s most beloved men, will command at 90,000 seat Wembley Stadium? Now, imagine the rematch. And then a possible third.
In that case, Wilder could be on the outside looking-in for several years. To say nothing of a very crowded heavyweight division with several good fighters looking for their shot.
But Father Time is not on Wilder’s side. The window of being in his prime is closing: He’s 34 years old already, and it remains to be seen whether Saturday’s result was the window closing shut ever so slightly — or if it is now closed for good. It did not seem as though it was just an off-night, however. Saturday night felt very much like something different; that pinprick leak that can swiftly flood the hull.
If Wilder never gets back to this level, if his once-invincible carapace of terror has been shattered, then he’s been a great ambassador for the state, and a hometown hero that put Tuscaloosa on the map for folks from Lagos to London. If this truly is the end of the apex, then it’s been a great ride. And we can thank the Champ for the memories.