How different the heavyweight picture would look today if a then 40-0 (39 KOs) Deontay Wilder had let sleeping dogs lie. It wasn't long after an early March night in 2018 when Wilder had just disposed of an undefeated Luis Ortiz that he was seeking his next challenge. A superfight with Anthony Joshua, who himself at the time was undefeated, was being negotiated and going nowhere.
There are many different versions of the story as to why that blockbuster fight never transpired depending on who is telling the tale but that's neither here nor there. The match was dead in the water and “The Bronze Bomber” Deontay Wilder needed a big name opponent to keep momentum going and public demand in a Joshua fight alive.
At this time an undefeated former heavyweight champion by the name of Tyson Fury was sitting on the sidelines two and a half years removed from his last fight and defining career victory over Wladimir Klitschko. After that November 2015 upset win, the pair were set to have a rematch when an overweight Tyson Fury showed up to the press conference to promote the fight looking like anything but a heavyweight champion.
Not long after that, Fury would pull out of the rematch all together and vacate his titles, seemingly finished with the sport.
When Fury dethroned Klitschko in November of 2015 he weighed 247 pounds. Fast forward to early 2018 and the inactive Fury had ballooned to 400 pounds.
Along the way substance abuse in the forms of alcohol and cocaine took over Fury's life as clinical depression had set in. He was in a bad place.
With the likeliness of a Joshua fight looking scarce, Wilder and Fury began discussing a potential fight privately.
For the man known as “The Gypsy King,” the lure of a fight with Wilder would provide the self motivation to get his life back in order. In turn, Wilder would have an undefeated challenger with claim to the lineal heavyweight championship who brought name recognition to the table. All Fury had to do was win a couple of tune-up fights in which he would knock off the two and a half years of ring rust while hopefully fueling public interest.
Fury would return to the ring on June 9th of 2018 weighing in at 276 pounds against a 23-1 Albanian named Sefer Seferi. After three rounds of more showboating than fighting Fury decided to let his hands go and stepped on the gas in round four. That would be all he needed. An exhausted Seferi quit on his stool and Fury won via fourth round TKO.
Two months later The Gypsy King was right back in the ring and down another 18 pounds coming in at 256 pounds, easily outpointing Francesco Pianeta over ten one sided yet, uneventful rounds.
No sooner had the decision been announced did Wilder enter the ring for a faceoff and back and forth verbal sparring session with Fury to help promote the fight which would be taking place in December.
Conventional wisdom amongst boxing fans as well as just about all pundits involved in the sport was that Tyson Fury was cashing out. He would receive a big payday and in turn his name and undefeated record would end up on Wilder's victory column while the champion headlined his first Pay Per View.
Surely a man that had been dealing with severe alcohol, drug, depression and weight issues only to come back and get a couple of easy wins over nondescript opponents back home in the U.K was nowhere near ready for the active knockout artist. How wrong the majority would turn out to be.
On December 1, 2018 the two undefeated fighters would meet at the Staples Center in Los Angeles California. Early on it was evident that stylistically Fury was a puzzle that Wilder would have a difficult time solving. Ceaseless perpetual motion coupled with constant feints and a busy jab had The Bronze Bomber handcuffed early and often. Fury was not landing a ton of significant shots but he was clearly the busier fighter dictating the pace. When Wilder would swing, he would touch nothing but air as Fury was in rhythm and feeling good. But could he sustain this pace? This is a man who had tortured his body over a 2 and a half year period and had not been hit by a hard punch in even longer as his two previous tuneup opponents never laid a glove on him.
Round after round the same scenario would play out with Fury evading the big punches of Wilder while touching his opponent just enough to win the round. Heading into round number 9 it seemed as if Fury was well ahead on the scorecards and with Wilder never landing any substantial punches to deplete and slow down the former champ it seemed like the sand was running out of the hour glass of Wilder's title reign.
A hitter like Wilder is never out of a fight, though…and he finally landed a couple of clean bombs which sent Fury to the canvas. Now Fury would have to survive the remainder of the round against the best finisher in the business. And he managed to do just that. Wilder came out for round ten looking a bit fatigued as he expended a lot of energy trying to finish Fury the previous round. Fury took advantage of this to steady the ship with a busy round of jabs and occasional crosses behind it which found a home.
Round 11 was more of the same as The Gypsy King avoided the big shots of a desperate Wilder while seemingly putting another round in the bank. The only question going into round 12 was whether Fury could make it to the finish line in a fight he was seemingly well ahead in. Only 40 seconds into the 12th and final round Wilder would land a vicious right hand followed by a left hook which caught an already falling Fury cleanly on the side of the head. It looked for all the world like the fight was over.
As referee Jack Reiss reached the count of six, Fury was still flat on his back staring at the Staples Center ceiling. Then, miraculously, Fury rolled over and managed to beat the count of ten by a hair as he rose to his feet.
Wilder himself had a look of disbelief on his face.
With two minutes and 20 seconds left in the round Fury had a long way to go. The Bronze Bombers’ follow up attack was telegraphed and wild but a couple of those punches found a home as the crowd went wild cheering the dramatics. Rather than grab, hold and try and run out the clock..Fury began to press Wilder, backing him up and getting his attention via a violent straight right hand.
As the seconds clicked away it was Fury, the man who was seemingly knocked out just a minute earlier, who was on the attack until the final bell rang ending the fight.
Somehow, someway, Tyson Fury, who had already overcome so much just to get to this stage had overcome yet again as the fighters awaited the judges score cards.
Astonishingly—or maybe not, we are regularly surprised and appalled by whacky decisions judges render— were split. A 113 -113 even scorecard was turned in followed by a more accurate 115-111 for Fury and finally a 114-112 for Wilder. Official result- a draw.
No sooner than those scores were announced were both combatants talking about a rematch. It was a dramatic ending to a fight in which Fury apparently played the punching matador to Wilder's bull in almost every round with the exception of rounds 9 and 12 only to not have his hand raised in victory.
Before a rematch was to take place both fighters engaged in a pair of interim fights which checked off the 2019 calendar year.
Wilder would first fight Dominic Breazeale in May, blitzing him with a single overhand right hand in the first round. He would then be back to the ring having a rematch with Luis Ortiz in November. In a fight in which Wilder was far behind on the scorecards after being badly outboxed through the first 6 frames he landed a short right cross depositing Ortiz flat on his back.
As Ortiz struggled to get to his feet, the referee reached the count of ten. And writers more so started talking about Wilders’ punching power as being in GOAT territory.
Fury for his part fought the undefeated but little known Tom Schwarz in June making quick work of him in two rounds. Following that victory Fury would fight another undefeated fighter in Otto Wallin, decisioning the Swedish fighter over 12 rounds but the winner suffered a terrible cut in the process, which would require 47 stitches after the fight to close. With both men victorious in their meantime bouts… the stage was set for the rematch.
END PART 1