The King of Las Vegas. The King of the Heavyweight division and the conquerer of demons seen and unseen, Tyson Fury finally convinced someone, anyone, to stop Deontay Wilder from trying in the 11th round. It was an astonishing battle between two men with a depth of resolve that cannot be taught, nor bought by the millions they’ve already accumulated.
Fury climbed from the canvas twice in the fourth, to eventually overwhelm and knockout Deontay Wilder following 11 of the most furious and wild rounds the division has seen in decades. They do not have the equivalence of Ali and Frazier or the technical brilliance of Bowe and Holyfield, but Fury and Wilder have provided entertainment and drama to match those illustrious predecessors.
There will be no fourth. But thank goodness for the contractual obligation that insisted on a third.
The preliminaries were less remarkable than the form book suggested. Wilder delayed his entrance, Fury merely danced through the extra minutes. Wilder compromised his garb, Fury appeared less enamoured by his ring walk. The showman keen to get on with the action. It isn’t hindsight to say Wilder appeared torn between a mindset of hope and dread as he waited for his nemesis.
Wilder began purposively enough, targeting Fury’s considerable mid-section with success and with the aim of encouraging the Champion to drop his guard and enable Wilder to launch the overhand right. His equaliser. Fury appeared untroubled by the shots to the gut and though recognising the strategy, did alter his positioning and took the round to assess any changes Wilder had implemented. Then, in the second round, Fury hit Wilder and the American’s strategy evaporated, along with any perceptible energy, with his 15 pound tank top of muscle, he had left. From there, Wilder settled, in the main, to his role as ‘single punch knockout artist’, Fury to marauding favourite conscious of the residual threat behind the gasping opponent before him.
In the third, Wilder was first to the floor. For this observer, the predicted surrender was surely imminent. The lasting instinct being that Wilder had been broken by the first and second fights with Fury and that all the excuses, scapegoats and stories of bench pressing were the words of a man who had lost his self-belief. Over the ensuing 30 minutes or so, Wilder would prove beyond all doubt that the has a fighter’s heart and that his all too callous words, cliched though they had seemed, about bodies on his record, hospitals et al, belied a fighting spirit and a stubborn mentality.
The fourth would be the end, it felt inevitable. And Wilder almost made it so, beaching the giant twice. Gasps, screams and disbelief grabbed at the air as Fury wrestled with his faculties and considered his options. On the second knockdown, the fortune of a low camera angle afforded a look into the eyes of a man with a choice to make. Momentarily, it appeared he may stay seated. But he rose, for the fourth time in the three fights and battled on. By the middle of the fifth, he had finally got feedback from his feet and the bounce on his soles became sturdier once more. Wilder had already burned the fuel his unnecessary poundage permitted him to box with and was running on willpower alone.
He was empty. Defiant? Yes. Stubborn? Yes, but also acutely aware of the hell he was now entering. Fury grew anew. Wilder depleted, battered and drained by punches, clinches, being leaned on wore his pain solemnly. His one punch arsenal remained, the only illumination in the despondent darkness he was slumping into. Wilder would be clubbed to the canvas again, and be perilously close to a referee’s intervention across many of the ensuing rounds. Raucous stuff. Science gave way to heft, power, arms, shoulders, hips. Fury became inescapable. A looming shadow Wilder couldn’t see beyond.
Wilder continued to launch bombs, none of which were set up for range or distraction by a jab. Just hurtful hooks and overhand rights, they brushed and clipped Fury. He was hurt again but never caught clean enough to drop him, one more may have finished the Gypsy King had Wilder managed it.
As the middle rounds gave way to the Championship rounds it became ever more enthralling. Wilder was flatlining. The doctor grabbing him at one point to ask questions directly before a round began, his paid corner instructed to show no such concern for his welfare. Care had cost Malik Scott’s predecessor, Mark Breland, his job. Wilder was permitted to continue. Eventually, perhaps belatedly, Fury found the fight ending punch. Wilder tumbled face first to the canvas, his night and perhaps career at an end. It was the conclusive finish he demanded.
Fury leapt on the ring ropes to celebrate with his adoring Vegas crowd. A reflex, it was but seconds before the exuberance became reflection and relief. Elite sport is a collection of small margins. Triumph and disaster often measured in millimetres. Fury is wise enough to know, for all his dominance, that Wilder came mightily close to victory.
For the victor, greatness is within his grasp.