LAS VEGAS (AFP) – Tyson Fury defends his WBC heavyweight boxing crown on Saturday when he faces Deontay Wilder for the third — and probably final — installment of an acrimonious three-year ring rivalry.
A tortuous build-up marked by bitter legal wrangling, a Covid-19 outbreak and profanity-laced accusations of cheating comes to a head when Fury and Wilder clamber through the ropes at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
If Wednesday’s ill-tempered final press conference is any guide, the stage is set for another explosive contest between the undefeated Fury, the self-styled ”Gypsy King” from Britain, and Wilder, the hard-hitting ”Bronze Bomber” from Alabama.
The two heavyweights fought to a bruising draw in their first fight in Los Angeles in 2018, when Fury somehow survived a crushing 12th round knockdown after outboxing Wilder for much of the contest.
Fury (30-0-1, 21 knockouts) then dethroned Wilder in February last year, dishing out a one-sided beating en route to a seventh-round knockout that emphatically ended Wilder’s five-year reign as WBC champion.
Neither man has fought since that fight 20 months ago, and Fury was forced to scrap plans for a money-spinning bout with former WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua after an independent arbitrator in May ruled that Wilder was entitled to a rematch for a third fight.
An outbreak of Covid-19 in Fury’s camp, which affected the British champion and several members of his entourage, forced the fight to be delayed further from July to October.
Wilder, meanwhile, insists his defeat to Fury last time was an aberration, offering a series of outlandish and unproven explanations for the loss, ranging from glove-tampering to having his water spiked by his former trainer.
– ‘He knows he’s lying’ –
Fury pounced on those comments by Wilder (42-1-1, 41 knockouts) when the two men shared a stage at a press conference on Wednesday.
”He knows what he’s saying is lies,” Fury said of Wilder’s cheating claims. ”And deep down in his soul, he knows that he lost. He lost the first time, he lost the second time and he’s going to lose the third time.”
Wilder has replaced his trainer since last year’s loss to Fury, sacking Mark Breland — who he had accused of throwing in the towel too soon — and replacing him with Malik Scott, a 40-year-old former heavyweight who suffered a first round knockout to Wilder during his own career.
Scott says he has worked on expanding Wilder’s attacking arsenal, adding weapons to a thunderous right hand that is regarded as the most fearsome in heavyweight boxing.
”Deontay has good fundamentals, it’s just a lot of times he didn’t use them,” Scott said.
Wilder meanwhile says he has been ”reinvented.”
”I’ve dedicated myself and I’ve devoted my time and my body,” Wilder said. ”I’m ready to reintroduce myself to the world.”
Whether the reinvented version of Wilder is good enough to outfox Fury, whose superior size, movement and counter-punching skills proved too much for the American in their previous meetings, remains to be seen.
Fury has been unimpressed by talk of a new and improved version of Wilder.
”I don’t make much of it because a lot of people speak a lot of words,” Fury said. ”I hope he brings a better fight — because last time was disappointing, to say the least. I trained for a war and it was one-sided beatdown.”
– ‘Make-or-break’ –
Nevertheless, Fury maintains that Wilder now is a more dangerous opponent given what is at stake. A repeat of last year’s knockout would nudge Wilder towards the wilderness of the heavyweight division.
”This is his make-or-break fight,” Fury said. Everyone expects me to go in there and beat him down — which I will — but you can never write Deontay Wilder off because he’s at his most dangerous now.”
What might lie in store for Fury after Saturday is unclear.
The heavyweight division is still digesting the fallout from Joshua’s comprehensive defeat to Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk last month.
Joshua has vowed to pursue a rematch with Usyk in 2022, meaning a Joshua-Fury fight is unlikely anytime soon.
The fact there is no clear pathway towards a unified champion is a source of frustration for Fury’s US promoter, the legendary impresario Bob Arum.
While Fury insists he is not looking past this weekend, Arum said the long-range picture should be clearer.
”If people were sensible, then the solution would be obvious,” Bob Arum told the BBC this week. ”But this is boxing, so nobody is sensible.
”What should happen is that Tyson wins on Saturday. Everybody should agree that he fights Usyk next for the unified title, with a provision that the winner fights Joshua. If this was a sensible sport that’s what would happen – but it’s not.”