Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder meet for the third time on Saturday night in Las Vegas. Will it be a case of repeat or revenge? Luke G. Williams previews the action…

When Tyson Fury demolished Deontay Wilder on February 22, 2020 by seventh-round TKO a contractually obligated third meeting between the duo held scant appeal.

Surely Fury – who many had also seen as the victor of their first drawn contest from December 2018 – had proven himself the better man? Furthermore, as Wilder disintegrated into a sea of conspiratorial ramblings about why and how he had lost some feared not only for the Alabaman’s sanity but also his pugilistic future.

As the pandemic unfolded and both men remained competitively inactive, the prospects of a third contest taking place appeared to recede.
Fury’s head was turned by talk of a £100million plus showdown with Anthony Joshua in Saudi Arabia, and – unwisely as it turned out – few took seriously Wilder and his social media cheerleaders’ insistence that arbitrational wrangling would inevitably result in a third fight between the duo being legally mandated.

Yet here we are. Fury vs Joshua has bit the dust, perhaps forever, and Wilder – after all his posturing, ranting and raving – finally gets his chance to avenge the humiliation of that WBC title defeat last year, when Fury sensationally upset all predictions by boxing aggressively and on the front foot from the opening bell.

By completing a trilogy of fights, Fury and Wilder are upholding a fine heavyweight tradition, following in the footsteps of the likes of Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, Ali and Ken Norton and, from more recent times, Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe. (Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles went as far as to fight four times – those were different times, of course).

Amid a rapidly developing and fluctuating heavyweight landscape – one in which Joshua has now been deprived of his WBA Super, IBF and WBO crowns by Oleksandr Usyk – Fury-Wilder III holds more interest and intrigue now than one would ever have thought possible in the immediate wake of their second fight.

Back then the prospect of Wilder ever beating Fury seemed an absurd concept. But the long lay-off since their last fight will undoubtedly have benefited Wilder more than Fury.

Time away from the ring will have allowed the American to regroup, both mentally and physically, as well as allowing him to bed in with a new head trainer, Malik Scott, who replaced Mark Breland – fired by Wilder for the perceived sin of disloyalty when he threw in the towel in the last contest.

Scott – himself KOd by Wilder in one round back in 2014 – has spoken about making Wilder a more patient fighter and getting him to use his jab more. He has also stressed the importance of him not becoming over-excited when seeking to finish off Fury, and of breaking him down to the body before looking to land big shots to the head. This is all sound and sage advice, but whether – in the heat of battle – Wilder has the temperament to execute such a game plan is another matter. A further question is whether Scott – an inexperienced trainer and cornerman – will rise to the challenge of dispensing advice to Wilder in between rounds.

Wilder also needs to be careful not be be too circumspect – excessive passivity could create a situation in which he is widely outboxed and outpointed if he doesn’t find the openings he needs – much like the first half of his second fight against Luis Ortiz when he was well behind on the scorecards before conjuring a seventh-round stoppage.

Scott has also indicated that Wilder may come in bigger and heavier for this fight, in a bid – it seems – to combat Fury’s bulk and size, which caused Wilder so many problems in the first two fights. In the last fight, however, Wilder weighed in at a career heaviest 231lbs, and I don’t expect him to be much bigger than that this time around. One also wonders whether this added weight was a factor last time in Wilder seeming to be drained of energy so quickly and in his punches seeming to lack their usual snap.

Much depends on how much the beating he sustained in the last fight has taken out of Wilder. At nearly 36, the sands of time are beginning to run out for him, and he has also had injury issues to contend with, having had surgery on his left bicep. If he is past his physical prime then Fury may be able to finish him even quicker than last time.

However, the mental effect of losing last time is an even more important factor. Wilder does not seem to accept that he did lose to Fury, or at least lose fairly. His litany of excuses for defeat have included the weight of his ring entrance costume, tampered gloves, spiked water, Breland’s disloyalty and subliminal messages from Fury’s choice of ring-walk song. Whether these excuses are a sign of mental strength – namely an inviolable sense of his indestructibility that will spur him on to victory – or a symptom of a worrying refusal to face reality we will discover on Saturday night.

Fury’s state of mind and physical health is also intriguing. Since the last fight the 33-year-old has battled Covid and seen his newborn daughter born prematurely and be taken into intensive care. He has also seen a potential career highest payday against Joshua bite the dust. Far from ideal mental preparation for a heavyweight championship contest.

Furthermore, having destroyed Wilder once, Fury might be forgiven for entering this fight over-confident or with some residual complacency. Fury’s trainer ‘SugarHill’ Steward has spoken of Fury weighing near to 300lbs for this contest, having weighed in at 273lbs last time around. If Fury is even bigger this time then that could prove a mistake and make him vulnerable to slowing down late and being caught. He looked sensational at 273 last time and – as the saying goes – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Despite the habitual doubts that will always surround a fighter and personality as pathologically unpredictable as Fury, the easy call, the rational call, for this fight is for the ‘Gypsy King’ to win and win with ease, probably inside the distance or widely on points. 

Certainly, the form line, size, boxing skill, and the psychological edge he has from the last two fights are all in his favour. 

Wilder always has a puncher’s chance, of course. Indeed, he might be the most murderous single-punch heavyweight of them all – or at least up there with the likes of Jack Dempsey, George Foreman and Mike Tyson.
And it is this ineffable and dramatic factor, coupled with the inherent unpredictability of the heavyweight division – particularly the wilful and perverse way that it has refused to stay on script during the last few years – that forces me to make a totally irrational final pick: Wilder to win, and win within the first six rounds by devastating and dramatic stoppage.

Main image: Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions.