The third bout between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder is quite possibly the biggest fight of the year, and certainly the most significant contest to be had in the heavyweight division. While I believe this to be an undeniable fact, I think it says more about boxing that this is the most important event in the year of our lord, 2021 than it does about the quality of the contestants who will be renewing hostilities this Saturday.
On one hand, at least it’s a real fight without a YouTube personality in sight. At the same time, are either of these guys all that great, or is it just that they are the best of a long moribund post-Lewis/Holyfield/Bowe/Tyson era weight class? One that has never even threatened to rise to the golden age when truly exciting heavyweights ruled the landscape.
I suppose you could argue that the current group of top heavyweights (Fury, Wilder, Joshua, and Usyk) are an improvement over the pawing, play-it-safe at all times Klitschko era, but that is faint praise indeed. In fact, in the case of Fury, I wouldn’t even give him that. If I were forced to choose between watching Fury or one of the Klitschkos fight, I honestly think I’d go with a Klitschko (Vitaly, if I must).
Although believe you me, you’d have to force my eyes open like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange either Klitschko way.
There was one bright shining moment (somebody cue that theme song, or, better yet, don’t) when it looked like we might be on the precipice of – if not a new golden age – at least a worthwhile era of heavyweight boxers. That night in April of 2017 when Anthony Joshua picked himself up off the floor and ended the miserable reign of Wladimir Klitschko once and for all, seemed to usher in a more exciting time to watch a heavyweight bout.
But as we soon learned, Joshua, for all his many gifts, appears to be lacking that extra something that makes a great talent a great fighter. His loss to the barrel-chested (and I’m being kind) Andy Ruiz was indefensible. And his recent defeat at the hands of the fine, but undersized, former cruiserweight champion, Oleksandr Usyk, revealed that Joshua is either incapable or unwilling to reach his full potential.
In the meantime, while Joshua and Usyk contemplate a rematch that will mean much more for the former than the latter, we are left with Wilder and Fury. On one level, Deontay Wilder is a fun fighter to watch. That massive right hand of his is probably the best punch in the whole division.
Trouble is, that’s pretty much all he has. The fact that he has gotten away with being a one-trick pony for so long speaks to the lack of quality depth in the division. It should also be said that Wilder has recently morphed from a fairly likable character into someone who takes no responsibility for his shortcomings – laying the blame for his TKO loss to Fury last year at the feet of everyone from his former trainer, Mark Breland, to the seamstress who sewed his trunks and robe. To put it mildly, his behavior has not been endearing.
Then there’s Fury. A ghastly fighter to watch and listen to (pray to your gods he doesn’t decide to sing during the post-match interview this Saturday). While I respect Fury’s openness about his battles with mental illness, and find his gypsy background fascinating, he has consistently said some of the most heinous things I’ve heard from any athlete this side of Curt Schilling. He has taken shots at the LGBTQ community, made a series of racist-y statements, denounced the right of a woman to choose, and even suggested he would “hang” his sister if he found out she was promiscuous.
Fury has since broadly apologized for many of his comments, and therefore, perhaps you are inclined to give him some rhythm (although it would have to be a lot of rhythm if you sat through that grotesque press conference on Wednesday). Or, maybe you file his often vile verbosity under the category of “That’s Entertainment!” It’s just that it doesn’t end there. He was also charged with anti-doping violations, which, if you think about it, in a sport that will sanction a 58-year-old Evander Holyfield to get back in the ring, is kind of amazing. Let’s face it, boxing isn’t the sport where you see a great level of moral courage on the part of the many organizations that run it. Typically, anything goes. On top of that, when Fury tested positive for COVID earlier this year – resulting in Fury/Wilder 3’s postponement – he was spotted less than a week later maskless at a luxury car rental site. He says dumb things and he does dumb things…relentlessly.
And maybe you read that last paragraph thinking, “boxers are rough and tumble types, we shouldn’t expect them to be paragons of good behavior.” Alright, fine. Let’s dismiss the fact that Fury has often been, if you are feeling charitable, ridiculous (contemptible, if you are not). He’s also an absolutely brutal fighter to watch, and I don’t mean in the Mike Tyson sense. In many ways, Fury is a spiritual descendent of the Klitschkos, only worse. While you have to hand it to him, his “hit and hug” method of boxing has garnered him great success in the heavyweight division, it’s an absolute misery to sit through. The fact that this guy might just be the best heavyweight in the world right now makes me want to run to the bathroom and ask someone to hold my hair (I’m bald, but you get the idea) while I unload the contents of my stomach into my porcelain throne.
What I’m getting at here is that while this fight may matter to a sizable number of fight fans (and it certainly matters to Fury, Wilder, and their respective crews), I don’t think it matters a damn when we are thinking about the sport and this division on a grander, historical scale.
Fury and Wilder are footnotes in the annals of heavyweight champions. Nothing more. They are not great.
They are simply good enough for the times in which they compete. And all the pre-fight publicity and fight night spectacle in the world isn’t going to change that.