Wilder Vs Fury I! The seven moments that defined their gripping first fights

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Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury will climb through the ropes at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday night in a rematch of their epic split draw 15 months ago.

That first encounter is mostly remembered for a white-knuckle final round where Fury, after outboxing the heavy-handed Alabaman for nearly the whole evening, went down in a heap under a slashing right hand-left hook combination that left him motionless on the canvas. But as the referee counted him out and Wilder celebrated in a neutral corner, Fury jolted to life, made it to his feet and finished the fight coming forward, giving it better than he was getting.

It was an extraordinary moment of unscripted drama that will endure as long as this exhilarating, demented trade carries on. Yet there was so much more to their December 2018 installment than its Hollywood ending. Let’s look back at the seven most important moments and sequences from Wilder-Fury I and how they could inform Saturday’s return meeting.

Round one: the Gypsy King sets the tone

Fury had taken only two warm-up bouts against a pair of virtually unknown opponents since returning from a 31-month layoff, during which he’d surrendered all the belts he won from Wladimir Klitschko and swelled to 400lb amid public bouts with mental illness and addiction. Now he wouldn’t merely be facing live fire against an elite opponent for the first time in three years, but the sport’s most devastating puncher. Given Wilder’s taste for early finishes, the sense at ringside was there was no guarantee that Fury would make it through the early rounds, which made for a positively electric atmosphere at the Staples Center as the bell finally rang.

Wilder springs his first attack early on, lunging in with a wild left-right combination only to be wrapped up by his mountainous opponent. A few moments after, Fury does an Ali shuffle, lands a crisp jab and makes Wilder miss before dropping his hands to his side and sticking out his tongue. He would continue to provocatively bait Wilder similarly in subsequent rounds, which served to both unsettle the champion and underscore his inaccuracy for the judges.

Fury gets a bit careless with about a minute to go and Wilder detonates a check left hook square on his chin – probably one of the three or four biggest shots of the whole fight – but the challenger eats it well before backing off and resuming the plan of scoring from the outside. Wilder takes another big swing with a lunging combination in the final 10 seconds, only this time Fury doesn’t clinch when they miss, cracking the champ with a flush counter right followed by a combination.

When the bell sounds, Fury throws his arms skyward as Wilder ambles back to his corner. It’s only been three minutes, but Fury has tasted the bogeyman’s power and demonstrated for Wilder the specific problems his unique mix of size, movement and improvisational flair present. It could be a long night.

Tyson Fury baits Deontay Wilder during their 2018 fight in Los Angeles. Photograph: Lionel Hahn/PA

Round four: Wilder starts to press

“I know you see opportunities, but they will only present themselves more and more,” Fury’s corner man Ben Davison tells him before the fourth round. “Don’t get greedy.” The tactics are clear. Fury has as much to gain by making the champion miss as landing blows himself. The more Wilder swings at empty air, the more he will overextend himself trying for the knockout and find himself off the balance he requires to land the money shot. That’s exactly what happens in the fourth, with Wilder overshooting his show-stopping right with such force and eagerness that afterward he will tell reporters he hyperextended it.

Much has been made of Wilder’s low work rate in the first fight, that he allowed Fury to be comfortable for too long and gain confidence. The thing is, Wilder is going for it in the fourth, but Fury’s blend of foot speed and deft upper-body movement make him a maddeningly elusive target. (“It felt like he had baby oil on him,” Wilder later confesses. “He was slippery.”)

When Wilder does connect, like the stinging left jab that draws a trickle of blood from Fury’s nose, the punches make an impact. But it’s Fury’s ability to use his own jab as an offensive weapon, as a rangefinder and as a buttress, often doubling and tripling it up, that have built him an early lead on the scorecards.

Round seven: Fury stops Wilder in his tracks

The sense of menace continues to hang over the proceedings at the midpoint of the scheduled 12 rounds, but Fury is still bouncing on his toes, moving around the ring and firing off shots in unpredictable rhythms. With 1:35 left in the seventh, Fury beats Wilder to the punch with a right cross to the chin. Then seconds later, he lands a crunching left-right combination to the head that rocks the American backward. It’s Fury’s best combination of the fight and Wilder responds with a wild flurry of looping punches that all miss by miles. Fury follows it up with another big right with 34 seconds to go.

The sequence comes as Fury is bleeding from the nose and perhaps in danger of letting Wilder wrest the momentum. If it doesn’t quite reverse the run of play, it firmly re-establishes his footing in the action.

Round nine: Fury goes down, but comes back stronger

“You’ll beat him with your left hand alone,” Davison tells Fury before the ninth. And he’s right. Wilder has been out of fresh ideas since round two and it’s becoming clear his only plan is to hope Fury walks into a right hand. The bell rings and Fury continues his erratic movements, switching from orthodox to southpaw and back in the first 20 seconds. The champion narrowly misses with a right hand and Fury gestures to his chin, pirouetting toward his corner. But this time Wilder guesses Fury’s destination correctly and cuts off the ring, pinning the challenger into his own corner. Wilder opens up with four hooks in quick succession. Only the third of them connects, a right hand to the temple, but it’s enough to send Fury crumpled to the canvas and set off pandemonium in the Staples Center.

Fury looks more annoyed than hurt, rising to a knee by five and easily beating the count. Wilder is poised for the finish and charges in with a wild combination, but Fury wraps him up. They’re separated before Wilder darts in with another flurry of punches, but Fury slips them and connects with three hard blows. With a minute left in the ninth, Wilder appears gassed. Fury senses it and mocks his opponent, spreading his arms and sticking out his tongue again.

Everyone talks about the other knockdown and rightfully so, but Fury’s fightback in the ninth, to win nearly every second after going down amid the white-hot wall of sound from 17,698 spectators in full throat, nearly matches it for drama. Two minutes after the fight seemed done and dusted, the Gypsy King is back in command.

Tyson Fury makes it to his feet after going down in the ninth round. Photograph: Lionel Hahn/PA

Round 10: A champion in retreat

Watching a Deontay Wilder fight is an exercise in lean-forward suspense, knowing he’s capable of ending a match at any moment with his shocking one-punch knockout power. But that familiar sense of foreboding has never felt less present than in the 10th. Wilder is out of bullets after nearly punching himself out in the ninth and Fury has been emboldened after tasting Wilder’s power, surviving a knockdown and swerving the American’s best finishing salvo. Now Fury is walking his man down and snapping Wilder’s back with the jab, which lays bare how the champion’s biggest weapon is negated when he’s fighting off the back foot and can’t step forward and plant. Should Fury’s logic-defying prediction of a knockout in Saturday’s rematch come through, the specific tenor of this 10th round will likely precede it.


Bryan Armen Graham
(@BryanAGraham)
The CSAC’s corrected scorecard for #WilderFury.
December 2, 2018

Round 12: ‘A holy hand’

Boxing’s most famous sequence in a generation begins with Fury landing yet another crisp right hand, but Wilder, reborn from his 10th-round wilt, bursts into the pocket almost immediately and launches a right followed by a C4-packed left hook that abruptly separates Fury from his senses. The challenger appears unconscious on the way down and his head violently bounces off the canvas. Game over. The broadcast cuts to an overhead shot of Fury supine on the floor, a still form with arms outstretched and right knee tilted upward in the shape of a crucifix. Most referees would have waved it off on the spot and would not be questioned for it, but Jack Reiss shows why he’s one of the sport’s best by going through the formality and giving the count. At six, Fury’s power is restored and moves to get up. At nine, he makes it to his feet and convinces Reiss to allow him to continue, but only after he responds to the referee’s command to jog a few steps to his left then back. It was out of a damn Rocky movie. “I had a holy hand upon me tonight,” Fury will say afterward. “And it brought me back.”

There are 121 seconds till the final bell when the fight resumes. When it does the badly wounded challenger, implausibly, picks back up where he left off: jabbing and feinting, slipping and countering. Even he will say in the months that follow that he didn’t feel the punch: it was just lights out … and then back on. The next two minutes, as Fury again fends off Wilder’s finishing efforts and gets the better of the exchanges, represent an indelible moment in modern sports history. Reiss’s sangfroid made it possible.

Epilogue: Two champions embrace

After the final bell, Mexico’s Alejandro Rochin will score the fight 115-111 to Wilder, Canada’s Robert Tapper will have it 114-112 for Fury and Phil Edwards of the United Kingdom will call it even at 113-113. (The Guardian scored it 115-111 to Fury.)

Before the result is announced and the fighters discover they will be bound in time by more than a single night in Los Angeles, they wrestle through the security separating them and embrace for nearly a minute near Wilder’s corner. “He was just telling me great fight, he loves me and thank you for the opportunity. We’re the best in the world. The respect was mutual,” Wilder said. “I think with the two knockdowns I definitely won the fight. We poured our hearts out tonight.”

Don’t let Wednesday’s made-for-TV theatrics in the service of salesmanship fool you. These are two elite athletes with loads of heartfelt respect for one another. And on Saturday night, they’ll pour it all out again.