- 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism
- ESPN.com boxing writer since 2005
- Five years at USA Today
LAS VEGAS — In what may go down as the biggest heavyweight fight of the past 20 years, Tyson Fury thoroughly dominated Deontay Wilder for seven rounds Saturday night and earned a TKO victory once Wilder’s corner threw in the towel.
Wilder, who suffered the first defeat of his career, has the right to call for a third fight against Fury, but the world appears to be clamoring for a heavyweight unification bout between Fury and Anthony Joshua.
What’s next for each fighter and the heavyweight division as a whole remains to be seen, but there’s a lot to unpack after Saturday’s historic bout. ESPN’s resident boxing experts Dan Rafael and Steve Kim are here to break it all down.
What was the difference in the rematch?
Rafael: Fury fought entirely differently than he did the first time, just as he said he would. He used his boxing skills and hand speed in the first fight to outbox Wilder for much of the fight, but when he got only a draw out of it, he said he needed to change things up. He did just that. He and his new trainer, SugarHill Steward, decided to go right after Wilder. Bully the bully, if you will. So instead of relying on his skills, Fury attacked Wilder from the outset and never stopped firing shots and coming forward. It worked, because he hurt Wilder several times, dropped him twice and ultimately won by technical knockout.
Kim: Fury understood that by being more aggressive — stepping to Wilder and backing him up — that he took the play away from Wilder. Then, as he started to beat Wilder to the punch, the fight became incredibly easy for him. Not only was Fury the superior boxer, but on this particular evening, he was the more potent puncher. Tonight his offensive attack had a real purpose to it.
There was a variety of right hands (both of the straight and the overhand variety), and in this fight, as he got close, he mixed in some body shots — one of which sent Wilder down to the canvas. Ahead of this fight, Fury insisted that the version of him that Wilder fought in 2018 was still suffering from some ring rust and therefore wasn’t nearly as confident as he needed to be in terms of being assertive and taking advantage of offensive opportunities. This time around, he was the bully, as he didn’t just box Wilder — he backed him up and then hurt him on multiple occasions. From the time Wilder hit the canvas in the third, you got the sense that it was Fury’s night.
In their first encounter, Fury made Wilder miss but didn’t make him pay enough. In the rematch, he stepped to Wilder and dominated from both a technical and physical perspective.
How did the trainer change impact Fury?
Rafael: It obviously helped a lot, because he won. Had Fury lost, everyone would say it was a terrible move. SugarHill is a more offensive-minded trainer than Ben Davison, whom Fury parted ways with heading into this fight, and he had Fury fight a far more offense-oriented bout. As it turned out, Fury’s decision to make the change worked out very well.
Kim: There is that old axiom that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Well, in this case, it was improved, as Fury put forth a career-best outing. SugarHill certainly has to be given credit for the role he played in preparing Fury for this rematch. This was an effort that the late, great trainer Emanuel Steward would be proud of, because not only did Fury win, he won with a certain mentality, by stepping right into the eye of the storm and shooting a hard 1-2 down the middle to back up Wilder.
After the fight, Andy Lee, who was a Kronk protege and assisted Hill throughout this camp, said that they absolutely worked on being the aggressive fighter for this bout. If Fury sensed a right hand from Wilder, he was instructed to just step out of range. But for the most part, he was supposed to make sure he was pushing back Wilder. If you go back and look at Wilder’s highlights, they are exclusively of him stepping forward, creating momentum for his preferred weapon.
Sometimes the best defense is a really good offense. Fury fought like a classic Kronk boxer. He was bold, brave and technically sound. The only thing missing were the gold trunks.
What happened to Wilder?
And then there is this: He lost to the better man on the night. It happens.
Kim: Very simply, Fury happened to him. Sometimes the guy across from you is simply superior. It’s crystal clear that Fury is just the better all-around prizefighter. From the third round on, after Wilder hit the canvas twice, you got the sense that on this particular evening, there wasn’t going to be the proverbial grand slam from Wilder that would bail him out.
In the past, when Wilder got hurt, he found ways to recover relatively quickly and found a way to win the fight. In this rematch, he was put down and then simply pushed around the ring, even manhandled at times. Without his legs underneath him, there was simply no way Wilder could muster up the type of right hands that are his trademark.
Also, while much was made of Fury coming in significantly heavier for the rematch (from 256.6 pounds to 273), perhaps not enough attention was paid to how Wilder came in nearly 19 pounds bigger (212.5 to 231) than their initial matchup. Wilder is a fast, twitchy, sinewy athlete. Perhaps that extra bulk just weighed him down.
Whom do you want to see Fury and Wilder fight next?
Rafael: I, like probably every boxing fan, want to see Fury fight Anthony Joshua next for the undisputed heavyweight title. That is the most obvious big fight, but in boxing, we rarely get exactly what we want. Wilder and Fury are bound to a third fight unless Wilder decides to pass on the option for an immediate rematch. But even if Wilder does pass, a fight with Joshua next is unlikely because Joshua has two mandatory defenses on deck — one in June against Kubrat Pulev and then one later in the year against former undisputed cruiserweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk.
Kim: While there might yet be a trilogy between Fury and Wilder, the heavyweight clash I’d like to see moving forward is an all-British battle between Fury (who is now the WBC titlist, along with being the linear champion) facing the man who has the WBA, IBF and WBO belts around his waist, Anthony Joshua.
It’s time to crown an undisputed heavyweight champion.
Say what you want about Joshua. But for whatever flaws he might have, he is still the only current heavyweight to have gone out there and unified titles. That has to be given respect. And outside of one bad (OK, disastrous) night last year at Madison Square Garden against Andy Ruiz Jr., Joshua has as solid an overall resume as anyone in the division.
A Fury-Joshua fight would be the biggest fight — literally and financially — in British boxing history, and probably its most important one ever. There has never been an instance of two heavyweights from the United Kingdom vying for all the marbles in boxing’s glamour division.
There isn’t a stadium big enough to keep up with the demand from boxing-crazed fans in England.
Can Fury beat Anthony Joshua?
Kim: Yes. Regardless of what took place Saturday night, Joshua has shown himself to be vulnerable and has already suffered a stoppage loss at the hands of Ruiz. Styles make fights. Fury’s foot speed and mobility would pose a lot of problems for any big heavyweight, including Joshua. When he is focused fully on the sport, there is no other heavyweight on the planet who possesses the boxing IQ that he has. “The Gypsy King” is the rare blend of size, mobility and ring smarts. If Joshua is insistent on becoming a much more safety-first boxer (as he was this past December in his rematch against Ruiz in Saudi Arabia), chances are that he will never be able to outbox the purest boxer in the division.
Fury also has the best radar in the division. Not only does he see punches coming well, Fury has an innate anticipation of what is coming his way, and he can evade punches in a manner that is rare for modern-day heavyweights.
The other pressing issue is confidence. Even though he gained revenge on Ruiz, you still wonder if he is psychologically scarred from that knockout loss at Madison Square Garden. If there’s one thing that Fury doesn’t lack, it’s confidence, and you wonder if Joshua’s handlers really want to deal with everything that will be brought to the table before, during and after the fight.
The version of Fury that we saw on Saturday night is bar none the best big man on the planet.
Rafael: He absolutely can. The Fury who just demolished Wilder can beat any heavyweight in the world, and he would give problems to most heavyweights in boxing’s storied history. Fury-Joshua is a gargantuan fight, especially in the United Kingdom, where they are both from. It would not surprise me if Fury was favored to beat Joshua if the fight happens in the near future because he looked so good against Wilder. And although Joshua regained his belts in December in a rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr., he seemed a bit gun-shy in the fight after having been knocked out in their first fight. If Joshua was gun shy against Ruiz, imagine what he might be like against the much bigger Fury, who is light-years better than Ruiz.
Rank your top four heavyweights at this moment
Kim and Rafael agree on their top four fighters in the heavyweight division. The following are Kim’s thoughts on each of them.
1. Fury: This isn’t even a question at the moment. He didn’t just defeat Wilder, but he even beat him at his own game. He is an incredible blend of boxing skills, bravado and size. Just how many fighters at 6-foot-9, 273 pounds have the body control and dexterity that he routinely displays? He has shown that he can outbox opponents, and now we know he can punch them out if he so chooses.
2. Anthony Joshua: Some might disagree with this, but he is still the only current heavyweight who has participated in unification bouts involving multiple world titles, and he still has three of the four major belts and a solid resume. Sure, he had that one terrible night versus Ruiz, but to his credit, he did even up the score in the rematch.
3. Wilder: Some might still have him second, but the nature of his defeat on Saturday has you wondering if this will have any long-term effects. He didn’t just lose — he got assaulted, and for much of the night he looked to be on unsteady legs. His flaws were always evident, but he was able to mask them with his devastating right hand. Saturday night felt like more than just a loss, but something that could permanently alter a fighter. Whatever mystique or cloak of invincibility he had coming into Feb. 22 is now gone.
4. Dillian Whyte: This is a tough one, because there are a few guys who can make a claim for this spot. But Whyte has just one loss on his record (to Joshua), and while he’s not great at any one particular aspect, he’s a good, solid all-around fighter. He has been in some exciting bouts and has a solid set of victories to his credit. I know some will stump for Ruiz, but you wonder if he just caught lightning in a bottle last year. Throughout his career, Whyte has simply been the more reliable guy. That has to count for something.
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