Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Wilder-Fury 2: Preview and Prediction

We all remember what happened in December of 2018 when Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury first met in the ring, but allow me to provide a quick recap: Fury, the challenger (although an undefeated former champion in the heavyweight division) built a considerable margin on the scorecards with his slick boxing skills. Wilder broke through in the ninth round, trapping Fury along the ropes and dropping him with a four-punch combination. In the 12th, Wilder, the premier puncher in contemporary boxing, connected with a vicious right hand/left hook combination. Fury crashed to the canvas and practically all who were watching assumed it was over. But not only did Fury beat the count, once action resumed he took it to Wilder until the final bell. Ultimately it was one of the more compelling rounds of boxing in recent memory.  

The fight was ruled a draw and neither fighter was pleased with the result. Wilder thought that referee Jack Reiss allowed for too much recuperation time after the 12th-round knockdown. Fury was incredulous that judge Alejandro Rochin found seven rounds to give Wilder. Even Phil Edwards's 113-113 scorecard seemed by many as being too generous to Wilder.

Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams

They were close to a rematch in early 2019 until Fury changed his promotional and broadcast representation, signing a new deal to be co-promoted by Top Rank, which was affiliated with ESPN in the United States. (Wilder-Fury had originally been a Showtime pay per view in the United States. Showtime had been closely affiliated with Wilder over the preceding years.) Fury subsequently decided to go in another direction for 2019. He would dominate the overmatched Tom Schwarz, stopping him in two rounds. But he did struggle against little-known Otto Wallin, who opened up a gruesome cut over Fury's right eye in that fight and hurt him badly in the 12th. Fury wound up winning by a comfortable decision on the scorecards, but the bout was a further reminder that all of the top heavyweights in the division are vulnerable. (Joshua-Ruiz I was another recent reminder of this truism.) 

During 2019 Wilder destroyed Dominic Breazeale in one round and struggled with Luis Ortiz early in their rematch before knocking him out in the seventh. On one hand Wilder stopped Ortiz faster than he did in their first bout in 2018, but he also lost almost every round in the rematch before the knockout.


On Saturday Fury and Wilder meet at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for the rematch. Both Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KOs) and Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs) have vowed to make changes from their first fight. Each fighter is expected to enter the ring heavier than they had been 14 months ago. Wilder, who fought Fury at 212 1/2 pounds, the lightest of his career since his debut bout in 2008, feels that his punches will have even more of an effect at a heavier weight. And Fury and his team believe that by coming in heavier he will be able to use his physicality more in the ring (as well as perhaps absorbing Wilder's shots a little better, although this has remained unsaid). 

The most important question when analyzing the rematch is what did they learn from the first fight? Many boxing fans will insist that Tyson Fury turned in a masterclass against Wilder. However, I know of no boxer who wants to be one second away from getting knocked out as part of a masterclass performance. Clearly, if Fury was blown to bits in the 12th round, something was amiss. 

In three fights – against Klitschko, Wilder, and Wallin – Fury has had significant trouble in the 12th round. His problems arise from overconfidence mixed with fatigue. It's worth pointing out that Fury had won the 11th in all three of these fights and should have been in a position to be up significantly on the cards. Yet, all of these opponents rallied against him. Fury thought that he was out of range against Wilder, he didn't appear to view Wallin as a serious threat at the end of the fight, and he seemed surprised by Klitschko's aggression in the 12th round. In all three of these bouts, he miscalculated. Unfortunately for Fury, these aren't 11-round fights.  

However, Fury needs to do more than just finish the fight better. In the ninth round against Wilder, he found himself stuck on the ropes, which enabled Deontay to connect with a temple shot. This sequence led to the first knockdown of the fight. I can assure you that Fury hanging out on the ropes was not part of the plan.

In addition, Fury spent so much of the first four rounds mugging that he at times actually forgot to throw punches. He stuck his tongue out, raised his arms like a champ and mocked Wilder, but the business of actually winning a boxing match was put on hold at points. Remember, he lost seven, five and four rounds on the judges' scorecards. I'm not saying that this judging panel did a wonderful job, but we should be able to agree that Fury could have won the earlier rounds more definitively – especially as the challenger for Wilder's belt. 

Not that things were all rosy for Wilder either. He spent the first six rounds of their fight sailing his right hand well over Fury's dropped shoulder. Wilder was trying to get the knockout with almost every shot. He didn't put punches together and he restricted his arsenal to just the jab and right hand. He telegraphed his punches and got very little work done. If he won some of the early rounds, that could be chalked up to Fury doing very little as well.

In the eighth round Wilder finally remembered that he had a left hook. That punch helped lead to the knockdown in the ninth and also was the finishing touch in the memorable knockdown in the 12th. It's no surprise that when he started to unload additional facets of his arsenal that he found more success.


Perhaps the most radical difference for Saturday's rematch will be Fury's new corner. Only a few months ago Fury replaced Ben Davison with Javan "SugarHill" Steward. Davison had played a pivotal role in Fury's ring comeback, helping him lose over 100 pounds and preparing him for the Wilder fight, in which Tyson performed at an elite level.

However, Fury believed that he needed a new voice in his corner and he had familiarity with Steward from his time spent at the Kronk Gym in Detroit. Steward, the nephew of the famous boxing coach and broadcaster Emanuel Steward, has trained a number of world-class fighters, most notably Adonis Stevenson.

Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams

Steward and Fury will have a number of pivotal strategic decisions to make for the rematch: Should Fury remain in the conventional stance? Tyson is one of the most gifted switch hitters in the sport, yet he remained right-handed for almost the entirety of their first fight. There were reasons for that choice (the straight right is often the easiest to land against a southpaw), but will Fury benefit from switching, providing Wilder with less predictability?

Furthermore, should he fight more on the inside?  Although Fury is known for his 6'9" frame, slick footwork and boxing skills, he has demonstrated in a number of his bouts that he can fight effectively at close quarters. Picking shots well, not smothering his work, using his body to tire his opponents, Fury can batter smaller fighters in close. However, he didn't employ this strategy against Wilder when they first fought, although it does present an intriguing option for the rematch. 

Fighting Wilder on the inside involves a massive risk vs. reward calculation. Consider that Wilder likes to have his arms extended to land his best shots. His punches, although quick, are long. Furthermore, although Wilder has an uppercut, he rarely throws it, which will be a further benfit to Fury in close. But before Tyson can have success on the inside, he has to get there first. This is where Wilder will have opportunities to connect with his power shots, either with Fury coming in or exiting from close range. 


Even if Wilder fights his best fight, it's unlikely that he will win the bout on the scorecards without multiple knockdowns. Fury is more coordinated, has many more weapons and features the type of hand and foot speed that bothers Wilder. On Saturday, of course Wilder will be going for the knockout – he has dropped every opponent he has faced in his career; however, he must consider that the first fight wasn't necessarily a fluke. Wilder must stay within shouting distance of Fury on the cards. In particular, he has to increase his volume in slower rounds to steal a point here or there. His game is predicated on hitting home runs, but singles and doubles will help him in the fight as well. Although Wilder might not be able to win a clean seven rounds on the scorecards. Winning six with a knockdown or two would do the trick.

In addition, Wilder has to maintain his composure if he is able to drop Fury. Investing to the body after knockdowns will be beneficial, as would understanding that touching Fury with punches, even if they aren't his knockout blows, will help considerably. Wilder needs to be more systematic and clinical in going for the finish. It may not be one punch that will finish the fight, but four, five or six solid blows. Those crucial moments when Fury is hurt will most likely determine if Wilder can win the rematch. 

Ultimately, I think that Saturday's rematch will look much differently than the first fight. Both boxers will be motivated to win rounds decisively on the scorecards. I believe that Fury will alternate periods of dominant boxing from the outside with sequences where he fights Wilder in close quarters. He will attempt to use his physicality to deplete Wilder. By bringing the fight on the inside he will force Wilder into counterpunching mode, not necessarily his preferred style. Fury will galvanize the crowd and impress during these periods. However, he'll need to be worried about catching the odd-angled Wilder shot. 

As the fight progresses, I believe that Fury will continue to win the battles. But he will eventually lose the war. It may take several rounds for Wilder to adjust to Fury's dimensions, but I think that he will find the right distance to land his power punches. Look for Wilder to make significant in-roads in the fifth or sixth round, with perhaps an opening knockdown or a point where Fury is badly stunned. Wilder may not finish the job at that juncture, but his confidence will grow. Look for Wilder to get the stoppage by the 10th round.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of  saturdaynightboxing.com.
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. 

1 comment: