One of the Great Performances in Heavyweight History

Last night, Britain’s Tyson Fury stopped Deontay Wilder of Alabama in the seventh round, taking Wilder’s WBC world heavyweight crown. Both fighters entered the bout undefeated. Wilder was 42-0-1, with 41 knockouts–the highest KO percentage in heavyweight history. Fury came in at 29-0-1. The only blemish on either fighter’s record was the draw they fought to in December 2018. Their 2018 encounter was a great, classic fight. Fury dominated, but Wilder knocked him down twice. In the 12th, Fury seemed to have been knocked out. To the amazement of all present, he got back on his feet and finished the round. Fury’s fans felt that he was robbed that night, but when you get knocked down twice, it is hard to complain about a draw.

Last night’s encounter wasn’t a great fight like the 2018 bout; it was too one-sided. But it was one of the greatest performances in the history of the heavyweight division, by Tyson Fury.

First, though, the back story. I wrote here that in my opinion, Fury, when at his best, is the best heavyweight in history:

I think Tyson Fury at his best could have beaten any modern heavyweight champion, and maybe any champion of the past, including Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano. A controversial view? No doubt. But Marciano was only 5′ 11″, 10 inches shorter than Fury. Louis at 6′ 2″ was seven inches shorter, while his 76″ reach was nine inches less than Fury’s. I think Fury’s skills are too formidable to overcome such disadvantages.

Fury is 6′ 9″ tall and weighed in for last night’s fight at 273 pounds. Despite his immense size, he is freakishly athletic, an excellent technical boxer and a sound defender. Think of a 6′ 9″ ballerina, or a much bigger version of Floyd Mayweather. (OK, he isn’t THAT good on defense, but you get the idea.) Deontay Wilder, at 6′ 7″ and over 230 pounds, isn’t used to being the little guy in the ring. But last night he was.

Fury is a gypsy; he calls himself the Gypsy King. [UPDATE: A reader points out that he is an Irish Traveller, which is similar but not actually Roma. Still, Fury claims the gypsy mantle.] His background is unorthodox to say the least. He beat Wladimir Klitschko–a great if somewhat boring champion–for the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight belts in 2015, but fell into a severe depression almost immediately afterward. He didn’t fight, took drugs, his weight ballooned to 400 pounds, he contemplated suicide. He was stripped of his titles. Somehow Fury regained his mental health and began the comeback that culminated last night.

Now to the fight itself. Fury put on a clinic. Wilder’s right hand is the most feared knockout punch in boxing, but he rarely had an opportunity to use it. It wasn’t for lack of trying: both fighters came out aggressively from the opening bell, and the fight was non-stop action until Wilder was eventually reduced to clutching and grabbing. But Fury dominated from the beginning and won every round, dropping Wilder in the 3rd and 5th rounds. The first knockdown was the first time Wilder had been on the canvas in 10 years.

The 3rd round knockdown punch may have broken Wilder’s ear drum. His equilibrium seemed off from that point on. His legs were unsteady, and he was basically trying to hang on for the last four rounds of the fight. Wilder’s performance was courageous, but he was outclassed. He never managed to hurt Fury, and was in trouble repeatedly from the 3rd round on. In the 7th, Fury had Wilder against the ropes and Wilder’s ability to defend himself was compromised. The referee stopped the bout at the same moment, it appeared to me, when Wilder’s corner threw in the towel.

Tyson Fury has long been controversial, but I like him. He is a genial sort with, among many other things, an ear for music. He made his entrance into the ring last night garbed as a king (the Gypsy King) carried on a throne. As he was carried down the aisle, his entrance music was “Crazy” by Patsy Cline. Beats the heck out of the rap that most boxers choose. When the fight was over, an undamaged and unmarked Fury, a good singer, led the 17,000 strong Las Vegas crowd in a chorus of “American Pie.”

Deontay Wilder has a contractual right, I believe, to a rematch. Does he want one? I suppose so, and who knows? Despite last night’s one-sided fight, Wilder has a puncher’s chance if he can land a big right hand. The other option for Fury is a fight with Anthony Joshua, who holds the remaining heavyweight belts. Personally, I hope that fight happens. Joshua is an excellent fighter who rather shockingly lost his belts to Andy Ruiz, but won them back in December when he beat Ruiz in the rematch. Joshua is a Briton like Tyson Fury; boxing is big in Britain and in Europe generally. For the foreseeable future, though, I don’t see anyone beating Fury as long as he can keep himself mentally strong.

This YouTube video shows the entire fight from last night:

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