What to Watch in the Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder Heavyweight Fight

Tyson Fury won the most recent boxing contest, stopping Deontay Wilder in seven rounds to claim the World Boxing Council heavyweight title in February 2020. But Wilder won the latest fight, prevailing in court to enforce the rematch clause in his contract and set up their trilogy fight, which will take place Saturday night in Las Vegas.

The court order forced Fury, the undefeated champion from Manchester, England, to skip a planned title unification bout with Anthony Joshua and instead schedule the bout with Wilder, a 34-year-old from Tuscaloosa, Ala. Fury and Wilder were supposed to meet in July, but a coronavirus outbreak in Fury’s camp postponed the fight until Saturday, when it will headline a card that will air on both Fox Sports’ and ESPN’s pay-per-view platforms in the United States, with a price of $79.99. The pay-per-view card begins at 9 p.m. Eastern on Saturday.

Fury is promoted by Top Rank, which has a media deal with ESPN, and Wilder fights under the banner of Premier Boxing Champions, which broadcasts its fights with Fox Sports and Showtime. That rival promoters and broadcast platforms have cooperated to stage the last two Fury-Wilder matchups hints at how significant these events are in the boxing world.

Their third meeting could vault their rivalry into an exalted place in heavyweight history, alongside Muhammad Ali’s three fights with Joe Frazier and Riddick Bowe’s trilogy with Evander Holyfield.

Wilder has been winless in two fights against Fury; their first bout ended in a draw. And Fury is expected to enter Saturday as the betting favorite. Here are some things to look out for as they box for a third time.

Wilder has been gaining weight, but for what?

Fury (30-0-1, 21 knockouts) will never moonlight as a bodybuilder, but he hit the weights before his previous bout with Wilder and weighed in at 273 solid, if not chiseled, pounds. Wilder weighed a sculpted 231 pounds, but promised his punching power would negate the weight disadvantage.

He was wrong, and their bout devolved into a one-sided drubbing. Ahead of the third fight, Wilder (42-1-1, 41 knockouts) has sprinkled the internet with his own weight-training highlights. One clip shows him bench pressing progressively heavier weight, until he maxes out at 350 pounds.

On Friday, Wilder weighed in at 238 pounds, while Fury weighed 277 pounds. Unlike in other divisions where strategic weight cutting has become the norm, fans can expect the fighters to weigh about the same on Saturday night.

From a functional standpoint, Wilder’s trainer, Malik Scott, said the added muscle mass would help Wilder withstand Fury’s clinching and mauling, which helped drain Wilder’s energy during their last bout.

“It will help Deontay be a lot more physical if it comes to clinches,” said Scott, who lost to Wilder in 2015. “It’ll help him be a lot more dynamic.”

But the fighter himself says functional strength is merely a helpful byproduct. His real motivation to add muscle mass in training camp?

“Mostly just for the looks of it,” Wilder said.

Heavyweights have become heavier in recent years.

Just how heavy are these heavyweights?

Sonny Liston weighed 215½ pounds when he successfully defended his heavyweight title against the 195½-pound Floyd Patterson in 1963. The next year, Liston, considered a large heavyweight, weighed 218 pounds when he lost the championship to the 206-pound Muhammad Ali.

Since then, heavyweights in general have grown. Anthony Joshua, dethroned last month by Oleksandr Usyk, stands 6-foot-6 and weighed 240 pounds for his last fight. Fury first won the heavyweight title in 2015 from the 6-foot-6, 247-pound Wladimir Klitschko.

The elite fighters in the division have grown so large that the World Boxing Council created a new class — bridgerweight, which has a limit of at 224 pounds — aimed at fighters heavier than the 200-pound cruiserweight limit, but too small to compete with the 6-foot-7 Wilder and the 6-foot-9 Fury.

Scott, Wilder’s trainer, said Fury’s size would work against him if Wilder followed through on their game plan.

“Fury was blessed by God with a lot of body — for Deontay Wilder to beat up,” said Scott, who briefly served as Fury’s sparring partner in 2012.

Of course, size alone doesn’t guarantee success for a heavyweight. Otherwise the 7-foot-tall Nikolai Valuev and the 7-foot-1 Julius Long would rank among the all-time greats. But for a skilled, versatile fighter like Fury, outlier size adds a dimension that he thinks opponents cannot handle.

“I’m setting a landmark here,” Fury told reporters last week. “Two hundred and 70-plus, 6-foot-9. Stop me if you can. Like a steamroller, coming towards you.”

Wilder promises that he’s new and improved.

Both Wilder and Fury have promised to win by knockout. They can’t both be right.

In their first bout, Fury employed the cautious, counterpunching style that carried him to a world title, and the hard-hitting Wilder still clipped him. A thunderous right hand and left hook dropped Fury in the 12th round, and, in a bout Wilder was losing on the scorecards, scored Wilder enough points to earn a draw.

Before the rematch, Fury promised aggression, and Wilder’s one-punch power couldn’t save him from wilting under Fury’s pressure.

This time, Scott says Wilder can’t depend on power at the expense of other tactics.

“For the past 10, 12 years I’ve watched a guy have a toolbox and only use one tool,” Scott said. “That toolbox has at least 100 tools, and he would always go in the fight and use one, maybe two. We have to go in this toolbox and drill everything, because it’s been collecting dust from sitting so long. That’s what we did. We started from the foundation on up.”

One training camp, Wilder says, didn’t convert him from a power puncher to a chess player. Instead, he says Scott has awakened the latent boxer inside him. He says he will diversify his attack, but he is still is aiming for a spectacular finish.

“People always talk about skills when they don’t have the power, but any fighter, they would love to have power, because we don’t get paid for overtime,” Wilder said. “It’s all good and dandy to show a couple of skills, but at the end of the day or end of the night, especially with heavyweights, people come to see the knockout.”

Expect roughly the same game plan from Tyson Fury.

Sometimes, Fury says the change in his fighting style happened in the training camp before his second fight with Deontay Wilder, when the trainer Javan Hill (nicknamed Sugar) remade him in the mold of the boxer-punchers Hill had coached at the famed Kronk Gym in Detroit.

“It only took me six weeks to go from a slick-boxing counterpuncher to an aggressive knockout puncher,” Fury said.

Other times, Fury says the new game plan occurred to him after rising from the knockdown in the last round of the first Wilder fight. Fury spent the second half of that round moving forward, and blunted Wilder’s offense in the process. He carried that strategy into the rematch and won by a technical knockout in the seventh round.

But before this fight, Fury says his tactics won’t change. He aims to trade punches with Wilder and force the former champion to deal with it.

“I’m gonna go all guns blazing, full-out attack,” Fury said. “All infantry, straight out the door, from Round 1.”

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