Wilder vs. Fury- A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery

Tyson Fury is very well versed in boxing history. His fight with Deontay Wilder tonight brings to mind several apposite historical parallels. To start with, it is 3 years from the day since he confounded expectations by beating Wladimir Klitschko in Germany. Equally prominent in his thoughts will be the great boxing comeback stories, one of which he mentioned himself recently, namely Ray Leonard’s triumph over Marvin Hagler. Like Fury, Leonard had dabbled with drugs during his absence from the ring and even disdained the idea of a warm up fight before ascending two weight classes to face the dominant middleweight champion of that era. This is not a flawless comparison, but it does at least demonstrate that the greats can get away with a lack of practice.

The first precedent I thought of when this fight was announced was Ali Frazier 1. The fact it was a heavyweight fight and that Fury so evidently models himself on Ali made this seem the more natural historical counterpoint. Ali was not outclassed but he lost that fight, despite going on to beat Frazier twice after that. This is a salutary lesson for Fury the boxing student.

The history lessons don’t end there either. It is a truth universally acknowledged in boxing that drastic weight gain followed by precipitous weight loss is not a recipe for durability or fitness. Roy Jones did this to a controlled extent but it was still detrimental. Ricky Hatton did it with reckless abandon and the consequences of that too well known to merit repetition. This and ‘Father Time’ are, as Steve Bannon might put it, like the Second Law of Thermodynamics in boxing. One violates neither with impunity. Fury has transgressed one of these to a spectacular extent.

And before we come to an analysis of styles, which must form the centrepiece of any fight forecast, we have to bear in mind other potent external factors. Fury is not surrounded by the same close circle that jointly masterminded his success in Dusseldorf. His uncle Peter is estranged, his father John, has been denied a visa, for the trifling issue of rendering a rival cycloptic. The role that both those figures played in beating Klitschko cannot be underestimated. They shrewdly exposed the Klitschko camp’s cynical manipulating of the ring set up and forced the then champion to re-rap his hands in their presence, after learning he’d done it by himself unsupervised. These are men of the world and good to have on your side in a tight scrape.

But how do the two fighters measure up, attribute for attribute? By anyone’s reckoning, Fury has a lot more depth to his game than Wilder. He is multifaceted. Wilder is known for his right hand and, to a lesser extent, his jab, the latter not really being a punch in its own right, but a prelude for the straight right. This is not to underrate it in any way. It is sharp and fast and everything a jab should be. I think it isn’t oversimplifying things to say that Fury needs to base his defensive strategy exclusively on that point.

Avoiding a right hand is something he showed himself eminently capable of in the Klitschko fight. Good head movement, superior reach and meticulous control of distance, make it difficult for an opponent to land a straight right. Apart from at the very end, when Klitschko caught Fury leaning to his right, the punch never reached its target. It’s also noteworthy that team Fury availed themselves of the services of the cruiserweight Lawrence Okolie, a tall man with a lightening straight right. Freddie Roach also revealed that he incorporated exercises designed to help Fury cope with the evasion or blocking of a fast straight right.

However, if you consider the fact that Wilder is a lot faster than Klitschko, has a longer reach than him and that Fury is heavier now than he was against Klitschko, the possibility of the right hand landing becomes more significant.

I would also expect Wilder to have introduced a few crinkles to his game in the form of feints and body work. The latter I think is very likely to feature in his attack, because of Fury’s upper mobility, and the fact this is the best way of exposing any effects of his fast living. Such an approach would pave the way for the right hand. I expect jabs to the body, and the straight right to the body as well. I know Wilder has never previously employed such methods, but I don’t think it would be flattering his team to credit them with possessing a modicum of intelligence. It is basic strategic thinking for anyone wishing to make their best asset count.

And when it does land Fury may not get the chance to rebound. This is not because Fury is chinny, as some seem to think. The Steve Cunningham knock down is so often trumpeted as evidence that Fury has poor punch resistance. This, as well as his knock down at the hands of Pajkic, were the result of his standing stock still with his hands down and his chin in the air. Any man could in such a position would also have hit the canvas. No one has come close to hitting him with such a punch for years. That is because Fury remodeled his approach in light of these micro crises. He’s not there to be hit cleanly any more. That is also why the knockouts have become a thing of the past as well. His feet are no longer rooted and stationary.

The reason he may not get the chance to recover is that Wilder doesn’t tend to afford his opponents that luxury. He jumps on them like a wild cat and unleashes a blizzard of punches from all angles, which they are usually too dazed to defend against. It is also possible that Fury’s punch resistance, though adequate before, may have been eroded by 2 years of alcohol and drug abuse.

In essence what I think gives Wilder a better prospect of landing his honey punch on Fury is the weight difference between the two men. Wilder will be that much faster. Fury in my opinion needed to be in similar or better shape than he was against Wladimir Klitschko in Germany. Fury’s usual speed and reach advantage will be much less than that which he accustomed to enjoying. In fact, he may be the one deficient in that department; I question whether with all that extra weight his body and head will be able to move as quickly as they will need to.

Before giving the verdict, there’s another dynamic that’s worth considering. The scenario of Fury getting hurt is often discussed, but what about Wilder? People point to the scarcity of stoppage victories in Fury’s recent performances and conclude that he is a powder puff puncher. This is I think as mythical as the belief that Fury has a fragile mandible. Those who have followed Fury from the outset of his career will know that he had deserved reputation for heavy hands, hurtful to both head and body. Since he abandoned the stand and trade approach, he started to have fewer knockouts. But anyone doubting whether he had power, even in the absence of knock outs, would do well to watch his rematch with Chisora. The other side to this coin is whether Wilder can be hurt, the answer to which is, yes, he can. He demonstrated that as a professional and as an amateur. If Wilder thinks he doesn’t have to be wary of Fury, he would be wrong.

And now, to salvage what has been a shameless exercise in equivocation, I’m going to state what on balance I think is most likely to happen. Before doing so, I want to point out that even the most authoritative boxing commentators have been uncharacteristically reluctant to prognosticate on this fight. To use the words of Churchill in reference to Russia, “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”. The uncertainty revolves around the fact that the current form of Fury is an unknown quantity. But, I would say any advantages Fury possesses in ring-craft are undermined by his less than optimal physical conditioning and the price he will inevitably have to pay for years of obesity and alcohol abuse. He has handicapped himself too much and desecrated too many sacred altars. If the past is any guide, the consequences of such actions are inescapable My personal hope is that on this occasion history proves to be an errant guide.