There’s a myth in boxing that one can be taught to fight. Sure, you can walk into any gym on earth and a nice man in a beret — most likely named “Chappie” or “The Colonel” — will teach you to jab, parry and skip rope for a nominal fee. But the desire to actually capital F Fight, to abandon all sense of safety and willingly put oneself in harm’s way, well, you’re either born with that or you aren’t. Skills and fundamentals can get you into a fight, but only your heart and a far more southerly organ can get you out of it. What good is owning a gun if you don’t have the stones to pull the trigger when you need to?
Put another way: What are you willing to risk when all the chips are down?
As fans we’re often insulated from the actual violence occurring in the ring. Whether it’s from a seat in the nosebleeds or by the impenetrable forcefield of our TV screens, the distance acts as a buffer from the lasting damage caused by each punch. When a guy chooses to jab from the outside instead of engaging in bloody combat we scream “STAND AND FIGHT YOU PIECE OF SHIT!” from the comfort of our sofas as if it’s that simple. As if it’s a matter of choice. As if risking their personal health to satisfy our bloodlust is a fair trade-off.
In the ring, every exchange is risk assessment. With every punch thrown, a cost-benefit analysis is made. Will the impact of my offense be worth what I receive in return? Guessing isn’t an option. You must be sure. Again, what are you willing to risk? Losing a round? A fight? Your life? Going to war before seeing your enemy’s arsenal is misguided at best, deadly at worst. It’s why so many “fights” end up being uneventful or, from a fan perspective, boring. Because fighters are human and most human beings have an innate predilection for self-preservation.
Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder are not most humans.
As heavyweights Fury (31-0-1, 22 KOs) and Wilder (42-2-1, 41 KOs) stepped into the ring on Saturday night at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on an ESPN/Fox pay-per-view card, the disdain the two men shared was palpable and, frankly, warranted. It spilled out from the fighter’s camps into online forums and eventually into the arena. Controversy and conspiracy theories threatened to overshadow the fight itself and the vitriol spilled between the two combatants during the fight week build-up seemed to point toward an inevitable anticlimax. There’s no way the fight could live up to the hype.
The controversial nature of the previous two fights made predicting an outcome nearly impossible but the narrative was actually quite simple; could a rejuvenated Wilder find a way to land his legendary power in an emphatic way on the man who had bested him for the majority of their nearly 20 shared rounds, and would a seemingly distracted Fury have enough to once again fend him off?
If you’re reading this I assume you already know the answer.
What proceeded over the next 10 and change rounds will be talked about in boxing circles for years and decades to come.
Wilder came out jabbing to the belly and looking every bit of the changed man that new trainer Malik Scott had been claiming for months that he would be. Fury looked befuddled and was slow to respond to a much more mobile Wilder than he’d seen in previous fights.
The fight evened up in round 2 as Fury made slight adjustments that allowed him to land his own looping rights while avoiding Wilder’s. A small storm appeared to be gathering and it would hit land in the following round for Wilder. A left-right combo along the ropes from Fury followed by a short uppercut on the inside put Wilder on the canvas and once again back into the dire straits he so often has visited against Fury.
Wilder came out for round 4 with the same hopeless, glossy look in his eye he had 20 months ago in a similar ring just up the street. Wilder, though, is no stranger to adversity, both in and out of the ring. Faced with mounting pressure and heavy artillery from outside forces, Wilder did what he’d always done: He fought. A thunderous right hand put Fury down midway through the round and cuffing blow returned him there moments later. He would survive the round but a fight that looked like it was Fury’s to lose just one round ago now appeared to be headed toward just that fate.
It was at this moment that any pretense of a boxing match left the building entirely. This was now a fight, and the kind that very few men have the stomach for.
For the next six rounds a completely exhausted Wilder would attempt to reload and fend off a reinvigorated Fury who only seemed to get more comfortable the nastier things got. No man is ever safe when across the ring from Wilder and all he needs is one second to prove it, as he would time and again throughout the prolonged onslaught.
Wilder would vacillate between death’s door and certain glory for the better part of the next five rounds, often multiple times in the same stanza. He would be forced to dig deeper and deeper into his reserve of strength and resolve as Fury fine-tuned his attack. Ironically, though, the closer Fury came to ending things, the more danger he would find himself in. Wilder is in every fight right up the moment he isn’t. He kept his weapon cocked and loaded and fired at all the right times, reminding Fury this thing wouldn’t end until he too had the balls to completely empty his weapon.
That moment would come at 1:10 of round 11. Having once again climbed off the canvas a round earlier, a completely spent Wilder finally succumbed to the damage he’d accumulated over the previous 31 minutes. Trapping his exhausted foe on the ropes, Fury landed a right hand that would end Wilder’s night and instantly catapult both men into the annals of heavyweight lore.
A trilogy as dramatic and enthralling as any in recent memory, Fury and Wilder, for all their animus toward one another, will find their names linked for eternity. In just over 30 rounds of winding action, the two fighters cemented their place in boxing history, their names permanently entwined.
This is normally the part where we discuss what’s next for both guys. But not now. Not this time.
Where they’re going isn’t important; they’re already here.
And with what they gave us on the night of Oct. 9, 2021, they always will be.
(Photo: Oct 9, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Deontay Wilder [red/black trunks] is knocked out by Tyson Fury [black/gold trunks] during their Lineal heavyweight championship boxing match at T-Mobile Arena. Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)