I don't have a phone. It was one of those times where I longed for a payphone of old, Agent Smith in a Mack Truck to smash me down be damned, to just unravel a roll of quarters and deposit them one at a time with an operator's voice now remembered as friendly, just to have what's always a videogame conversation with WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder (42-0-1, 41KOs). It's been a while.
JG: Nice coat Deontay. You look like the heavyweight champion of the world.
DW: Thanks! (Almost blushing in an exotic Chinchilla where both he and the animal offer sheepish appreciation)
JG: You're the most charismatic heavyweight champion we've had since Muhammad Ali that no one knows… Does a part of you want to fight Anthony Joshua in front of his 90,000 fans in London and make them your own?
He did, he does and he would. Just so you know AJ.
That was November 2017 at Barclays Center, following an electrifying demolition of Don King's Bermane Stiverne, an 80's remake of Tony Tubbs.
It's amazing how that probably rings nostalgic for the well traveled Wilder and a time no more, for on this Valentine's Day 2020 I'm feeling retro still tinged with sadness. Revisiting Kobe Bryant in YouTube videos that spill over into a classic game between Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls vs an upstart Orlando Magic team starring Shaquille O'Neal, I've just seen images of Gal Gadot from “Wonder Woman 1984” during a commercial break. Right away, I'm conjuring and recalling Wilder, bringing to mind an ultra-chiseled and powerful Shaq The Pugilist in New York Knicks gear over the soundtrack of Naughty By Nature. Later, I'm dipping strawberries in chocolate as Aaliyah, the 90's hip-hop version of Whitney Houston, blares “Back N Forth” over a remix to R-Kelly's “Bump N Grind”.
What's so riveting about Wilder vs Fury II (Saturday, February 22 from MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Pay Per View) is we have what can be regarded as a modern throwback about to face a contemporary nemesis from The Great Depression era in colorful Lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury (29-0-1, 21KOs), as the two run back their epic black and white reel-like December 2018 encounter to win the Heavyweight Sweepstakes.
Fury has the way of a 1930's Max Baer with more flare — which is hard to do considering all that the ostentatious Baer was. Still the “Gypsy King,” Top Rank and Bob Arum found a way to morph Fury into an English version of Apollo Creed…
..a traveling circus of sorts in America, where the pomp and pageantry of Tyson's rhetorical showmanship naturally augments the urban bravado of a “Bronze Bomber” nothing like a plain old brown bomber in Joe Louis. If “Smokin” Joe Frazier was sure to unleash a left hook from the pits of Philadelphia's Hell, then “Bomb Squad!” has an overhand right Birmingham's Butcher Shop. Singularly, it may very well be the most lethal shot in boxing history. A shot now so loudly iconic in a ground shaking way, that it made its way to Rome.
“This appears to me, to be the biggest fight since the first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in 1971. It the same type of battle; people around the world are really interested in the outcome of this fight.”
—Bob Arum, Founder and CEO of Top Rank
I don't know if “The Bobfather” is right, but it's difficult to say he's wrong. There was the recent specter of a black hooded Deontay Wilder in front of the Church of Gesu in Vatican City, placing a gold chain around the neck of a toddler before facing a proud Pope Francis, who honored him the very rare distinction of 2020 Ambassador for Peace through Sports.
Wilder joined the likes of Muhammad Ali and Riddick Bowe as the only American Heavyweight Champions to ever receive this honor. When you fight as often as Wilder does as a heavyweight (as noted during Wednesday's conference call, next Saturday's rematch with Fury will mark his fourth title defense in 14 months) with the kind of finish the public wants which is a knockout (anyone who wants a decision in boxing prefers watching PBA championship bowling on a Saturday night FFS. Please…..), it's bound to generate a hit with the public.
Around the time that I had fun with Wilder at the post fight press conference in November 2017, he was still, incredibly, a man in search of a vision and an identity. In the tight circle of fight media, we all saw Lou DiBella as the silver lining for Wilder, who was a wildly dull “Bronze Bomber” under a Golden Boy that treated him like copper coin. Both sensing and seizing the moment without a slice of ham or pretension, who can forget Wilder jumping into the microphone and in the face of Radio Rahim with an impassioned rage over 400 years of racial oppression as a result of White Supremacy.
For his part, Fury has never been shy about societal taboos under the most of circumstances, including scathing condemnations of Israel and issues with the LBGT community. (PUBLISHER NOTE: Fury admitted 2018 that during the period he was making provocative statements, he was battling depression and indeed, suicidal ideation.) A fight of this magnitude usually tips the Richter Scale of the public because of controversy that belies physical confrontation. In the case of Wilder Vs Fury II, this isn't really the case, for they arrive at boxing's summit strictly based on previous performance. For perspective, Mayweather vs Pacquiao II could not have done this.
“The first fight was an amazing fight. It was a very controversial fight. We left people confused about what happened or who won. This is where we come and settle everything. This is judgment day.”
It will be. This isn't Jack Johnson vs Jess Willard and nobody's about to hit a brash Wilder with The Mann Act or call the often outrageous Fury a “Great White Hope”. Each is their own man with a defined sense of competitive class that surpasses and subdues race. It's refreshing.
“I don't play around at all and especially with this fight right here. So I'm looking forward to this fight, this is everything to me, this is the breaking the tie of consecutive title defenses with me and Muhammad Ali, my all-time great idol. I'm looking forward to setting history with that.”
You wouldn't know it, but he's on the cusp of history with “The Greatest.” The problem is, however, two-fold: Wilder isn't the type to demand justice for, say, Palestine and hasn't been seen eating Bean Pies or reading Final Calls as I understand.
He's also arrived at this rather pristine distinction due to an era that can arguably be considered “The Weakest” outside of the era Joe Louis competed in during the wildly mob-controlled 1930's. A resounding KO of the talented Tyson Fury will help. Just a little bit.
“Deep down in his heart, I really feel that he's nervous. I really feel that he's very, very nervous from the first time of what happened. When you knock a person down and give him a concussion, you never forget that. You never forget who did it to you and how they did it.”
I don't know about that Deontay. When it matters, Fury has the makeup and composition of a “Gypsy King” music performer on a 4th of July at Venice Beach. Good luck looking for a fearful performance. What's so admirable about him — when it matters — is how much he cares. Go back and look at his ring walk before the first fight… he was visibly nervous. I'm an 80's kid and remember the WWE in simpler times, when major stars would wrestle every Saturday night against ho-hum competition. They were always in optimal condition, but the actual performance was more often than not desultory. They would win, but it would sort of accompany “Meh.” Sometimes they'd even struggle and leave worse for wear. But put Andre The Giant in there with Hulk Hogan and things got real for him and every Hulkamaniac. There's a switch with some guys; and with Fury — a man of profound intellect, charisma and a real desire for greatness, he understands the moment even if his body won't. Without overstating a few understated performances, he's that WWE wrestler that understands the difference between a glorified Club Show affair and The Big Show extravaganza, but he didn't need what happened to him against Otto Wallin. Some of that makes me believe it's the reason he wants to go Tom Schwarz on Deontay Wilder. We'll see.
Who wins? I think it's a very different fight fought at a more deliberate pace with annihilation on every shot. Deontay's gone Deuces Wild in his last two outings: needing one punch and one round to flatline Dominic Breazeale, and one punch in eight rounds to cancel out Luiz Ortiz. Recent pedigree matters more than a collective one in this case. Every fight is preceded by an arduous training camp, which can only exacerbate a grinding attrition on a uniquely special athlete like Tyson Fury; one that needed special nutrition just to climb the scales of descent on the scales to get back to championship heights. That's a lot, and it says here that catches up with him on February 22. After a while, even the wildest bohemian wants to see the grove.