By John J. Raspanti
Pride and heart are paramount in boxing. It can lift a fighter up and lead to victory. Respect is another motivator, as well as feeling like there’s something to prove.
All these factors will be in play this Saturday night as WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder takes on former champion Tyson Fury at the Staples center in Los Angeles, CA.
Both fighters are undefeated. Wilder has starched 39 of 40 opponents. His most recent victory was against aging but talented Luis Ortiz. But there’s the rub. His victory, per say, didn’t gain him the love he was seeking. If anything, he was mocked.
Wilder has heard he’s overrated all his boxing life. Why?
Because sometimes he looks like an amateur. His punches are powerful, but delivered in an awkward way. When the lanky 6-foot-7-inch Wilder swings for the fences, which is often, he’s often off balance-like a praying mantis tripping over his own wing.
But he wins—most times in devastating fashion. Ortiz had him wobbly and seemingly out on his feet in round seven. Wilder dug deep and stunned Ortiz two rounds later. Wilder clubbed the exhausted Ortiz to the canvas in round 10. A wicked uppercut ended the fight.
Fury wasn’t there to witness the bout. Personal problems and a suspension had sent him into hiding. The silence was the most shocking. Part of Fury’s appeal has been his mouth. He seems to have a natural ability to promote—seeing himself as a modern-day Muhammad Ali. He can be entertaining.
Plus he can box. Three years ago, Fury, a few inches taller than Wilder, stunned the boxing world when he confused defending heavyweight champion Vladimir Klitschko over 12 less than exciting rounds. Fury won almost every minute of the fight, leaving Klitschko chasing shadows and scratching his head.
The big man from Manchester, England, is a clever boxer. He’s a good athlete, with fast hands and the ability to move around the ring like a middleweight. He’d pop a few shots at Klitschko, tie him up, move away, and pop him again. Klitschko tried to force the action at times, but couldn’t touch him. His corner had no answers.Klitschko looked like a middle-aged man stumbling around a store in search of a customer support.
Fury was the champion, but his life and career soon unraveled. A rematch with Klitschko was cancelled after a drug test uncovered the presence of a prohibited substance. Reportedly, Fury also tested positive for cocaine. He was drinking like a fish. He spoke of hating his chosen profession. He was also dealing with a deep-rooted depression.
"I woke up every day wishing I would not wake up any more," Fury told BBC Sport.
He vacated his world titles. Many figured he’d never fight again. After intense therapy and quitting drinking, last January he announced he was back. Fury returned to the ring in June, having lost over one hundred and fifty pounds. He beat blown-up cruiserweight Sefer Seferi, winning the fight by stoppage. Many were not impressed.
Two months later, he was back in the ring, outboxing one Francesco Pianeta.
Within weeks of his 27th consecutive victory, promoter Frank Warren announced that Fury would be fighting Wilder. Eyebrows went up. Fury had said that he needed one more tune-up fight before attempting to regain a world title.
He changed his mind and now looks forward to the challenge.
“Wilder is someone with dynamite power,” said Fury,30, two months ago at a press conference. “I don’t know about me being clever, but it’s going to be a heavyweight title fight and we are going to have to start hitting each other.”
Wilder,33, is anxious to meet Fury as well.
“This fight means everything to the heavyweight division. This division was once in a dark place. We’ve brought the sport back to life,” he said.
So there you have it. Pride, heart and respect, will be on display Dec.1.
But who wins?
Ultimately, boxing is about styles, and Fury has one that could drive Wilder nuts. He shucks and jives and punches guys in the mouth. His chin, though is suspect. Former cruiserweight Steve Cunningham knocked him on his butt five years ago in New York City. His inactivity is also an issue.
Wilder also has a chin that’s hardly made of cement. He’s been outboxed by lessor fighters than Fury. Top 20 opponent Artur Szpilka was hanging tough before being knocked out by one punch. Gerald Washington was ahead on the scorecards before Wilder caught him. The lanky champion from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, can put an opponent to sleep with one punch.
Fury obviously knows this. He’ll keep Wilder on the end of his jab, and do everything in his power to tie up and keep the champion from finding any kind of rhythm. I can see Fury winning the fight by decision, but I have a feeling that Wilder will either stop Fury late, or win by split decision in what could be a stinker of a fight.