Tyson Fury was so dominant when he dismantled and then knocked out Deontay Wilder the last time they stepped into the ring, in February 2020, that all logical thinking points to another decisive victory for the WBC world heavyweight champion when they meet for a third time on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
But logic and heavyweight boxing are often barely on nodding terms and a Wilder victory, with a brutal stoppage offering his best hope, cannot be dismissed. Yet it would be a shock and offer proof that there is little sense and rational thinking left in boxing’s strangest division.
Fury's absolute authority last year, and his bold strategy of taking the fight to Wilder to show that he could beat up rather than just outbox the previously undefeated American, seemed to have settled a long and simmering rivalry. Their first world title bout, in Los Angeles in December 2018, had been a riveting affair. Fury was the far superior boxer and he built a clear advantage on points despite being dropped twice by Wilder.
The second knockdown was actually a fleeting knockout, because Fury was clearly unconscious for a few seconds, but the self-proclaimed Gypsy King showed almost unparalleled powers of recovery to drag himself back to his feet before the count reached 10.
Wilder had to end his premature celebrations and turn back to the centre of the ring, with a look of incredulity spread across his face, as Fury, like a zombie raised from the dead, walked towards him. Fury ended that 12th and last round on top as he threw far more punches than Wilder. He seemed to have clinched the decision but the fight was scored as a draw by the three judges.
There was genuine intrigue and uncertainty before the rematch last year. Even if the first fight had been lit up by Fury’s superior skills and ringcraft, Wilder’s devastating punching power hung over the second contest like a brooding warning. But Fury had promised that he would be in far better shape than he had been in late 2018 when he was still recovering from his mental health problems. He was as good as his word and his utter supremacy over Wilder was plain.
The only people who really believed there was any need for a third fight were Wilder's camp and his lawyers. They insisted on taking Fury to court to honour a contractual clause that opened the way for the completion of this lopsided trilogy. It meant that the heavily hyped all-British world title unification fight between Fury and Anthony Joshua had to be scrapped.
Hopes for that showdown, which had been described as a £200m extravaganza, were shattered last month when Joshua was outboxed by the brilliant Oleksandr Usyk in London. It was only the third heavyweight fight of the Ukrainian’s career but his victory was not a real surprise.
His calibre in the ring, both as an Olympic gold medal winner and as the former undisputed world cruiserweight champion, was long-established. He just needed to show he could absorb the punches of a much bigger man in Joshua. Usyk’s face was cut and bruised after 12 rounds but there was no disputing his comprehensive victory as he took Joshua’s IBF, WBA and WBO belts.
It would be typical of the lunacy of heavyweight boxing if Wilder now joined him as the WBC champion – leaving Joshua and Fury, temporarily, outside the title picture.
But there is a big difference this weekend. Wilder, for all his concussive power, is a relatively crude technician. He cannot match Fury’s natural aptitude for boxing. But he can still punch like a demon and if Fury loses concentration, or has cut corners in training, there might yet be another seismic twist.
There is also a further degree of uncertainty as neither man has fought since Covid brought the world to a shuddering halt soon after Fury’s clear victory 19 months ago.
It is clear that Wilder is motivated and burning for vengeance. Fury’s own state of mind is always complex. He is not in the same shape he was last time they fought, being much heavier, and his attention had been fixed on Joshua for months. Wilder has to hope that Fury has underestimated him and allowed his attention to drift from the ominous threat the American’s fists always bring to the ring.
Fury said this week that Wilder had won no more than two of the 19 rounds they have fought so far. At a push it could be argued that Wilder actually won five of them – but Fury’s superiority was clear in all the other 14.
He should win again on Saturday night but this is still heavyweight boxing. Anything can happen even if the Gypsy King and, for once, logic should prevail. Guardian