John A. MacDonald analyses Deontay Wilder’s keys to victory against nemesis and title holder Tyson Fury in Saturday’s huge WBC heavyweight title fight at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Evolution, Not Revolution.
It is unlikely that Deontay Wilder could ever be transformed in to a heavyweight Pernell Whitaker, it would be impossible to do so in one, albeit protracted, training camp. Replacing Jay Deas with Malik Scott as head trainer is an interesting decision. Scott was an awkward and, at times, elusive fighter who won fights through boxing ability and ring generalship. In many ways, Scott is the antithesis of Wilder. As such, many have speculated that we may see ‘The Bronze Bomber’ attempt to outbox Fury.
The Alabama native has employed this tactic once before, when he captured the WBC heavyweight title against Bermane Stiverne, with the jab being his primary weapon on that occasion. However, there is a big difference between besting Stiverne in a battle of lead hands and repeating the feat against Fury. If a reminder were needed of the magnitude of such task, Wilder need look no further than Anthony Joshua’s loss to Oleksander Usyk. AJ attempted to beat a grandmaster in a chess match and was found wanting. Both Usyk and Fury have been honing their skills since childhood, whereas Wilder and Joshua took up the sport later in life; the gap in technical ability can be shortened, but not closed.
Wilder’s best chance at winning comes by adding to his existing skillset, rather than reinventing it all together. His limitations are well-documented, but for all his flaws, he has won all bar two of his 44 fights. Much of his success has stemmed from his ability to find a home for his right hand. He may look ungainly, but the manner in which that shot was set up was often cleverer that he received credit for; his two stoppage victories over the technically superior Luis Ortiz are testament to that. Call him a one-trick pony, but it is one hell of trick. The problem he has encountered with Fury is that the Englishman is aware that if he avoids the right hand, he beats Wilder. The American needs more variety in his arsenal. His left hook is an underutilised punch, when he throws it, he often has success. This was the case in the final round of his first fight with Fury when that shot sent the ‘Gypsy King’ to the canvas.
In the videos from Wilder’s camp, it appears that he and Scott have been working on different punches such as the left hook and body shots. The right hand should remain the cornerstone of his offence, but by introducing other punches that the champion has to be warry of will increase Wilder’s chance of having his hand raised.
In every fight, with the exception of the first Stiverne bout, Wilder has had the same Plan A: knock the opponent out. Even when things were not going his way, the ‘Bronze Bomber’ never lost faith. It was not a question of if the stoppage would come, but when. There was no Plan B, as there was no need for one. Even in the first fight against Fury, having endured 11 frustrating rounds, he went out for the final stanza believing he would find the punch to finish the fight. When the left hook knocked Fury down, Wilder did not appear relieved, instead he had a little victory dance. Then came the look of shock as the Englishman rose from the canvas. In that moment, did certainty that he could knockout any man diminish?
Historically, When Wilder landed a punch of that calibre, the fight was over. Was the lacklustre performance in the rematch as a result of a crisis of confidence? If Wilder is to win on Saturday, he needs to know with every fibre of his being that he can end the fight with one shot. There will almost certainly be turbulent patches in this third bout; if Wilder is to weather the storm, that belief will be essential.
Much has been said about the plethora of bizarre reasons Wilder has offered as an explanation for his defeat last year, but perhaps that is the mindset he needs to have. If he believes he has been cheated rather than defeated, he may be able to maintain that air of invincibility in his mind. If the American doubts he can knock Fury out, there is the danger he may become reluctant to let his hands go, knowing that Fury has the ability to hurt him. The bookmakers are offering odds of 19/1 on Wilder to win by decision, which is fair as it is the most unlikely outcome. As such, the knockout is his most probable patch to victory, but he must keep the faith in Plan A.
Keep It Long.
If Wilder’s long limbs look uncoordinated when he is boxing on the outside, he looks even less in control of them when fighting at close quarters. Fury was able to exploit this fact in the rematch and drag Wilder into a fight where he was unable to generate maximum power on his punches or to adequately defend himself. There are a number of ways to prevent such a situation from happening again, all of which are easier said than done when facing a boxer as skilled and unconventional as Fury. The most preferable option for Wilder would be to deter the champion on his approach.
Of course, Fury can be hard to hit, but if Wilder were to alter the power on his shots, it would increase his likelihood of landing his punches. If he is unable to prevent Fury from closing the distance, the alternative is to tie him up on the inside. Wrestling with a man who weighs significantly more can be tiring, but is likely to be less damaging than fighting Fury on the inside.
Malik Scott possessed a good ring IQ as a boxer; if he has been able to instil a better sense of positioning into his charge, Wilder may be able to avoid getting backed into corners or up against the ropes. If Fury is able to walk Wilder down again, the outcome will likely be the same as the second fight.
Main image: Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions.