The resurrection is complete. Tyson Fury started winning against Deontay Wilder from the moment he rose from the floor in the 12th round in Los Angeles and he kept on winning all night in Las Vegas.
“Were you not entertained?” Fury cried in his ‘Gypsy King’ suit before heading off to a nightclub to celebrate. ‘Entertained’ was only part of it. ‘Stunned’ featured heavily too. The British fighter, whom Wilder derided for his drug use and his weight gain, was irresistible from the second he opened his eyes on the deck in the first fight. He had the champion in trouble at the end of that 12th round in California and resumed the demolition in Nevada.
Bernie Sanders, who won the Democrat party Nevada caucus on the same day, must have thought all the headlines from Vegas were going to be his. Then along came Fury with a new gameplan and renewed ambition to record surely the greatest win by a British fighter overseas. “I’m an old feather duster who can’t crack an egg,” he said, mixing his metaphors as well as he switched between piston jab and follow-up right to reduce Wilder to tatters. “Not bad for old ‘pillow-hands’” Fury bragged.
Calling Fury “pillow hands” was about the last serious blow Wilder landed, though he did his best to land his trademark shots even as his legs were turning to jelly. An important footnote to this changing of the heavyweight guard is that it will be remembered for the duty of care shown by Mark Breland, a former world and Olympic champion, who threw in the towel when his man was stranded and being pummelled against a ring post. Wilder and his ‘head coach’ Jay Deas both disagreed with the surrender but Breland was correct and will be remembered fondly for prioritising a fighter’s health.
To race ahead to a colossal all-British heavyweight unification bout between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua would not do justice to an astonishingly dominant performance. We should pause long enough to acknowledge Fury’s audacity, ring-craft, skill and of course spirit, which holds the story together.
British boxing has not seen a crown grabbed in America — in Las Vegas — so authoritatively. Fury reduced an unbeaten champion to shreds. The towel only flies in from the corner of a fighter with 41 knock-outs from 42 wins when his body and soul are broken. Breland at least could see the danger Wilder was in and saved him from it before the coup de grace.
Three times already Fury had put Wilder down. Here was the brilliant execution of a plan conceived in a gym and enacted in front of three American judges in a city where points victories are notoriously hard to come by. In their first bout, in Los Angeles, Fury had used his jab as a ‘flicker’ to discourage Wilder’s attacks. This time he employed it as a weapon — clean, hard, straight — and followed it up with big right hands that left Wilder clinging on from the early rounds. Everyone in his camp said this was what would happen but few thought he could impose it on Wilder so brutally.
Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson all watched this virtuoso display from ringside. Along with Riddick Bowe, they formed heavyweight boxing’s last golden age. The Wilder-Fury-Joshua triangle is already broken. Wilder is deposed and damaged. Fury is the stone-cold world No 1. It falls to Joshua, who has a suspect chin, to marshal his resources sufficiently to stand in front of Fury longer than Wilder could.
Things move fast in boxing. Who is to say Fury will be in this form when he and Joshua meet? Will Joshua, who holds the IBF, WBA and WBO belts, even want to part the ropes with someone of such size, power and intent? Tens of millions of pounds would fall his way for risking his chin against Fury in his prime. Joshua however is bound to feel trepidation. In the meantime Wilder has 30 days to demand a rematch but may instead retreat to build his reputation back up.
But for now the story is Fury’s triumph 15 months after he felt he was “robbed” when out-boxing Wilder on the west coast. “This is unfinished business, and I’m going to finish what I started,” Wilder said before the ring-walks. Instead he was pulverised.
Fury’s clowning in the dressing room gave no hint of the intense concentration he would bring to the task.
No did his ring entrance, which he made in king’s robes on a gilded throne, to the soothing and plaintive tones of Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy,’ suggest much beyond a mainstream Las Vegas family show.
“Crazy, I’m crazy for feeling so lonely,” is not your typical boxing war cry. The mood dropped. It felt as if we were in a 1950s downtown cabaret. Was this Fury’s way of telling us the whole spectacle was hollow, a parody of life on stage?
His fans were more assertive, chanting “you big dosser” at Wilder from the first round, where the reigning champion was immediately disconcerted by Fury’s directness and belligerence. Round after round fell to the challenger — ‘the lineal champion’ from Morecambe — as Wilder picked himself off the canvas and staggered back into the storm.
By the end of the sixth Wilder was spitting out streams of blood and more was seeping from his ear. His corner could see the mess he was in. When it was over, and a Fury-Joshua showdown was the consuming issue, Wilder was taken to hospital for checks.
Some of the vibes around Fury in the build-up to this fight had not been good. He had changed his team and his strategy and added more weight than expected. But the tactical change made by SugarHill Steward and Andy Lee was a masterstroke. It freed all Fury’s natural talent and negated Wilder’s more one-dimensional approach. A fight that was supposedly too hard to call finished up one-sided. As the promoter Bob Arum said: “The best way to beat Deontay Wilder was to jump on him, hurt him early and keep hurting him. That was the strategy and it worked.”
Fury is an unusual character: a contrarian who still feels like an outsider, from a travelling community wider society knows little about. The whole country, though, will look at what he achieved in this Las Vegas bear pit and see a rise from the depths of mental illness, a triumph of the will. All the outlandish statements he made about beating Wilder were not Vegas chutzpah after all. The vision he has of himself is one we can all now share.
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