Tyson Fury’s phoenix from the ashes moment with the referee counting and the clock ticking in the 12th round of his first fight with Deontay Wilder was so seismic, so laced with meaning and so unprecedented that it is fair to wonder if it can happen again.
And that is, at the core of February 22’s rematch for the WBC heavyweight championship in Las Vegas, the burning question.
Can Fury avoid that bludgeoning punch that so nearly knocked him out?
Wilder vs Fury II is a colossal rematch to usher in a new decade, and let’s hope it kickstarts the big players fighting each other in their primes in every boxing division. This is a fight that both men could have easily avoided, have no doubt, but both have assuredly claimed it would happen for the past 13 months. They were right, they always intended to lock horns again.
There is too much doubt from the first fight to leave this question unanswered.
The general consensus is that Fury, who was two lethargic wins back from a two-and-a-half year lay-off, out-boxed Wilder for the majority of their original meeting in Los Angeles. But Wilder dropped him early, then again in the dwindling seconds so conclusively that the reigning champion began celebrating a KO victory. Fury, much like he had done when faced with his demons outside the ring, somehow clawed his way back. Both men were aggrieved by the judges’ verdict of a draw.
“I knocked that fool out,” growled Wilder, angry at the conspiracy of a slow referee’s count when Fury was getting up.
“Everybody in the world knows you lost to The Gypsy King,” Fury hit back. “A Gypsy King that had been out of the ring for three years. I still beat you, on 50 per cent.”
This is a mouth-watering fight between a KO puncher among the most destructive of all time, and a master whose skills belie his size. They are a combined 73 fights unbeaten.
But the variables have changed.
Wilder, who will celebrate five years as champion in January, enjoyed a brutal 2019 – he knocked out Dominic Breazeale inside a round then, more ominously for Fury, he lost six rounds on the scorecards to Luis Ortiz before landing one fight-ending punch.
The past 13 months have finally seen Wilder receive the recognition that his dangerousness was always due. He is now a fighter in his absolute pomp, uniquely able to ignore the judges’ totting up rounds in his opponent’s favour because is so cocksure of smashing them with his decisive blow.
“It only takes one,” he has grinned forebodingly and he is spot on. A boxing match against Deontay Wilder is like a 36-minute tight-rope walk at the circus – you’re completely in control… until you’re not…
But if Wilder has spent the past year solidifying his assault for the throne as the true heavyweight ruler, then Fury has spent it being typically maverick.
Most recently a stint wearing WWE spandex made us all chuckle, but that was a small part in his scheming to become even more well-known in America prior to facing Wilder again.
Inside the boxing ring he beat Tom Schwarz and Otto Wallin, opponents who Anthony Joshua raised an eyebrow at in criticism of Fury’s ambition. Wallin produced a terrible gash above Fury’s eye which threatened the result of that fight, and the scheduling of the Wilder rematch. He squeaked through, everybody can breathe a sigh of relief, and Fury can continue wondering what we were all so worried about.
The key change, however, was Fury’s surprise eschewing of Ben Davison – his former trainer – in favour of Sugarhill Steward.
Davison, a young man in a job known for sage old veterans, helped rescue Fury from obesity and mental health problems by slowly introducing him back into training. They struck a genuine friendship and, Fury being Fury, he entrusted Davison to become his new trainer.
Their separation was a shock because, a month prior, Davison had been ringside scouting Wilder in his fight with Luis Ortiz.
He witnessed Wilder’s power first-hand and said: “It’s something you have to try to negate. How do you do it? Definitely not how Ortiz just did. Fair play, he had a good go but he got complacent and walked straight into distance. That’s a recipe for disaster.”
Steward, the nephew of legendary trainer Emanuel, is the hired gun to put in a place a game-plan to make Fury a two-time heavyweight champion. He has already promised “the Kronk style” – so will Fury maximise his height and reach like Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko?
Wilder’s camp have kept their counsel on Fury’s change of trainer but they will smell fear and weakness. They might be mistaken.
The IBF, WBA and WBO belts are back around Joshua’s waist and he is the man that Wilder or Fury must defeat before the argument about the division’s No 1 is settled.
Joshua said about Fury: “He is going into the new year as a new man with a new team and a new mindset.
“He must feel something within him that is new, and he wants to be the new heavyweight champion.
“He can beat Wilder providing he follows his game-plan for the 12 rounds.
“Wilder has shown that you can’t blink for a second with him, because it only takes one punch.”