Sunday, February 23, 2020

Opinions and Observations: Wilder-Fury 2

"Crazy" by Patsy Cline. That sweet country ballad from yesteryear wouldn't typically be utilized for ring walk music in one of the biggest heavyweight fights in a generation. Fighters use music to get themselves revved up, not to mention their supporters in the crowd. Yet, there was something perfectly appropriately about Tyson Fury choosing that song. Fury and "crazy" have been linked for many years, for good or ill. Fury has long been one of the more outrageous talkers in the sport. He has battled mental illness over the years, specifically, depression. He has gained and lost well over 100 lbs. during his time away from the sport and his return. 

He also believed in himself when few others would. He was a healthy underdog in 2015 when challenging longtime heavyweight king Wladimir Klitschko for his titles. He won nine or ten of those rounds with relative ease. Although it wasn't necessarily a pretty fight to watch (or endure might be a better word), he effectively neutralized Klitschko's considerable weapons. After a two-and-a-half-year layoff, he returned to the ring in 2018 and beat two poor opponents. Yet Fury declared that he was ready to challenge Deontay Wilder for his belt. Although their first fight ended in a draw, the final scorecards flattered Wilder. Deontay did score two knockdowns, but better judging should have still given Fury the victory. 

Going into Saturday's rematch against Wilder. Fury again upset the apple cart. With just precious weeks to go until the big encounter, he replaced Ben Davison, his former lead trainer, with Javan "SugarHill" Steward. Davison was instrumental in getting Fury back into fighting shape and devised an excellent game plan for Tyson's first meeting against Wilder. 

Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams

Speculation again ensued from a number of boxing corners regarding Fury's focus and psychological mindset. If he and Davison had been working so well, why make the change? Was this evidence of flakiness, or something more concerning? In addition, why was Fury coming into the fight significantly heavier for the rematch when his mobility and elusiveness were among two of his best assets?

Fury entered Saturday's ring sitting on a huge red throne, wheeled in by four women wearing gold-plated bustiers. He was a gladiator, a king, and yet there he was mouthing the words to that tender ballad from 1961. And for some strange reason, that juxtaposition worked perfectly. Fury was winking at the sport. He knew what he had said in the past and what had been said about him. Win or lose, he has perceived himself in boxing as a singular presence in the sport. The normal rules of the sport (how a big man should fight, preparation, decorum) haven't applied to him. 

And as I was watching Fury's destruction of Wilder during Saturday's fight, the phrase "crazy like a fox" echoed through my mind as well. Fury told the world over that he was trying for the early knockout, which shocked many since Wilder was the bigger puncher in the matchup and a firefight would have in theory been beneficial to his chances of winning. But Fury made those pronouncements all throughout the buildup to the fight. Were they mind games (of which Fury had certainly participated in during his career), or were they truth bombs hiding in plain sight?  

From the outset of Saturday's fight, Fury demonstrated that his statements weren't bluffs or gamesmanship. Instead of the fancy footwork and elaborate pantomimes that were used to flummox Wilder through large portions of their first fight, Fury stepped to Wilder behind a jab and a right hand. He wasn't wasting energy, he didn't dance. He was determined. He was purposeful. 

Fury quickly established control in the first round. They traded power shots in the second where Fury took several Wilder right hands well. In the third Fury continued to march forward. He landed a number of right hands from different trajectories – straight shots, high arching ones on the temple, overhands. Later in the round he blinded Wilder with a solid jab and connected with right hand on the side of Wilder's turned head, dropping Deontay to the canvas. 

There were four more rounds of the fight until Wilder's corner threw in the towel. During that period, Fury demonstrated a clinic on applying effective pressure. He continued to land hard power shots. He mixed up hooks to the body (in the fifth he scored his second knockdown from a body shot). He avoided Wilder's right hands thrown in desperation. When Wilder missed with a lunging shot, Fury leaned on his opponent, grappled with him, put his hands behind his neck, anything to further deplete Wilder. By the time the fight was stopped in the seventh, Wilder only remained standing because of heart and muscle memory, but he had nothing left. Fury had comprehensively battered him. 

The knockdown in the third round was an equilibrium shot and Wilder's legs didn't look right for the rest of the bout. Wilder subsequently claimed that he had a leg injury coming into the fight. All of that could be true, but Wilder didn't pull out of the bout (which was his right). And it is common for fighters to be far from 100% when they are in the ring (ask Fury about that!). 

Throughout his career at the top level of the sport Wilder has played a dangerous game. He has given up rounds and taken big shots in order to land his right hand. Until Saturday it had worked out well for him, but the risks of his strategy were plain to see. It's heavyweight boxing and if a guy can land his best shot, anything can happen. Ultimately Wilder's defense has never been good enough. His chin had been sturdy, but he could be hit too easily. Unfortunately for him, on Saturday he was facing a creative offensive fighter who had the technical ability to land a clean shot in an area where any fighter could be vulnerable. 

Again, there was nothing flukish about the third-round knockdown. Fury had landed several big right hands before that exchange. And when a fighter as talented as Fury gets several bites at the apples, these types of things will happen. 

Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams

After the fight Fury was asked why he decided to attack Wilder in the rematch and he said that he tried boxing from the outside in their first fight, but it wound up a draw. To him it wasn't good enough. I found that exchange to be revealing on many levels. Fury could have easily blamed poor judging on the result of the first fight. He could have stuck with a style that led him to beating Wilder with relative ease through much of the fight. However, Fury did an honest and refreshing self-assessment. 

In his previous fight Fury had won a wide decision on the cards against Otto Wallin. But Fury had some difficult periods during the bout. Wallin strafed Fury with left hands from the outside and was able to open up a huge cut over Fury's right eye. The cut was so bad that the fight was in danger of being stopped. For whatever reason, Fury wasn't dealing with Wallin's left hand well from distance, so he took the fight to Wallin on the inside during the second half of the match; and he beat Wallin up. Fury demonstrated wonderful inside fighting technique, picking his shots expertly, using his size and not smothering his own work. 

In evaluating these two fights, it was clear that Fury wanted to go in a different direction in his career. Davison, like his past trainer, Peter Fury, emphasized boxing and footwork. To them, Fury's athleticism and reach were paramount to his success. But Fury perceived his career differently. He understood that there are certain opponents who are at their best on the outside. As good as Fury was from distance, that's where Wilder, for instance, wanted him. 

Instead of doubling down on or trying to perfect the same approach, Fury wanted to neutralize Wilder's advantages. One way not to get hit with right hands from distance is...not to be at a distance. Fury was daring Wilder to beat him with another weapon. He believed that he had more of an arsenal at close range than Wilder did. And his conviction was proven right on Saturday. 

Fury and Steward only had seven weeks to work together and as most in boxing would tell you, one training camp, and a short one at that, isn't enough time to make massive changes in a fighter. It wasn't that Steward taught Fury how to throw a better right hand or add new combinations. He functioned more as a pivotal support system. He blessed Fury's desire to fight in close. Steward helped implement that game plan. Essentially, Steward and Fury were at like minds and that is what Tyson needed. Davison and Peter Fury (Tyson's uncle) remain excellent and capable trainers, but they weren't the right people for what Tyson wanted to accomplish at this phase of his career, versus this particular opponent. 

More than anything, Fury's self-belief and honest self-reflection won him the rematch. At the biggest moment of his career, he made no excuses where many others would have. He didn't dismiss Wilder's success from the first fight. He remembered what those punches felt like. He believed that he could be successful on the inside even though he had been reared in the sport to minimize that style of fighting. Tyson sought a trainer, or a co-pilot, to assist him on the journey. Ultimately, Fury yet again demonstrated that he knew far more about his ability than his critics, either those within or outside of the sport. Furthermore, he wouldn't let himself be constrained by how others perceived him. Against Wilder, Fury wanted to dominate on the inside. Risks be damned. Those who called him crazy...well Tyson would have the last laugh, which has become a habit for him in the sport. 

Now there will be no more upset victories for Fury. The heavyweight division is his.  

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

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