“This is the career-defining fight. This is the fight to cement who is the best heavyweight of this generation right now.”
That’s what Tyson Fury told ESPN’s Max Kellerman earlier this week as he prepares for his rematch with fellow undefeated heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder. There’s often hyperbole attached to promoting fights, however The Gypsy King is bang on with that assessment.
Their first meeting was an instant classic chock full of action, momentum swings and a splash of controversy with the fight ending in a befuddling split draw.
Part two takes place at the famed MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday and it’s perhaps the most consequential heavyweight title fight boxing has seen in two decades, if not longer.
A massive co-promotion guaranteed to be a global hit from a financial perspective.
A fight deserving of the prestige that used to be reserved for when Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Joe Frazier were the kings of the sport, or when Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield ruled boxing’s box office.
Ali and Frazier met as undefeated champions in 1971 with Frazier earning a unanimous decision. Two years later, Foreman dismantled Frazier in less than two rounds in their “someone’s 0 has to go” tilt. Ali avenged his loss to Frazier and famously took down Foreman in Zaire in 1974 and to truly earn The Greatest moniker.
Larry Holmes, one of the more under appreciated heavyweight champions, took the torch from Ali in the late 1970s and carried it until he met Michael Spinks in 1985, the same year a kid from Brooklyn named Mike Tyson made his pro debut. It took Tyson 91 seconds to send Spinks into retirement in 1988.
Tyson was the most feared puncher since Foreman and considered the dominant heavyweight until the mid-1990s – his upset loss to James “Buster” Douglas and time spent in prison notwithstanding.
With Tyson incarcerated, Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield emerged as elite heavyweights. Michael Moorer briefly had a claim to being the No. 1 heavyweight at the time before Foreman’s unforgettable comeback when he made history by becoming the sport’s oldest world champion at age 45, some 20 years after falling to Ali.
When Tyson was out of prison, he eventually returned to championship form and it led to an epic showdown with Holyfield in 1996. The ear-bite heard round the world occurred in the 1997 rematch. Both meetings set pay-per-view buy records at the time.
Holyfield was then supplanted by Lennox Lewis in 1999 as boxing’s best big man. In Lewis’s penultimate fight, he TKO’d Tyson in what was arguably the last great heavyweight title fight that had the full attention of the sports world.
Once Lewis stopped competing in 2003 we effectively entered the Klitschko era starring brothers Vitali and Wladimir of Ukraine. The Klitschko era, relative to past years when heavyweights ruled the sport, was lacklustre as the smaller weight classes – welterweight in particular – generated the sport’s most high-profile matchups.
Wladimir Klitschko won 22 consecutive fights from 2004 to 2015 until he lost his WBA, IBF, WBO, IBO belts and the lineal heavyweight title to a 26-year-old Irish Traveller from Manchester whose father named him after Mike Tyson.
After beating Klitschko, the six-foot-nine Fury had a tumultuous nearly three-year layoff where he turned to alcohol, drugs, ballooned to more than 400 pounds and contemplated suicide.
With Fury out of the picture, Wilder’s list of victims grew and grew.
All the while, Olympic gold medallist Anthony Joshua racked up a 22-0 pro record, including a far more dramatic and memorable win over Klitschko than the one Fury earned.
However, Joshua was felled from the ranks of the unbeaten when he was finished by Andy Ruiz this past June. Joshua avenged that loss, outpointing an out-of-shape Ruiz in December, however his loss set Joshua back and effectively disqualified him from the debate over who is the best heavyweight of the era.
Fury returned to the sport less than two years ago and after a couple glorified sparring sessions billed as warmup fights he and Wilder were paired together.
Since their draw in December 2018, both Wilder and Fury have fought and won twice.
Wilder added two ferocious knockouts to his resume, dusting Dominic Breazeale and Luis Ortiz with his fabled right hand.
Fury, meanwhile, made easy work of Tom Schwarz to add a new title belt to his collection before a unanimous decision over Otto Wallin that was not without some drama. Fury sustained a nasty gash over his right eye against Wallin that resulted in 47 stitches and nearly cost him the bout. The last thing Fury wants is for that cut to open up and impair his vision against Wilder, arguably the most devastating one-punch knockout artist in boxing history.
The cut Fury incurred against Wallin led to him hiring legendary cut man Jacob “Stitch” Duran to be in his corner for the Wilder rematch. Fury will also have a different trainer than he did 14 months ago with Javan Steward, the son of late legend Emanuel Steward, in his corner. Fury is pulling out all the stops as he once again attempts to become the first to dispel the man and myth known as The Bronze Bomber.
“I get excited when I hear certain strategies that’s supposed to be performed in the ring because no one knows how to defeat me,” Wilder, who believes he’s the most powerful heavyweight in boxing history, told ESPN’s Mark Kriegel in a recent sit-down interview. “I’m so awkward. I’m so powerful that they don’t know how to beat me. … Twelve years I’ve been mesmerizing people with knockouts.”
Two of Wilder’s most mesmerizing KO finishes – and there are 41 to choose from – occurred during his two previous rematches. What he did to Bermane Stiverne was legal assault.
In Wilder’s most recent outing, Luis Ortiz was out-boxing him through six rounds in their November rematch. That was until Wilder sent Ortiz into another dimension with his patented right hand that curled Ortiz stiff.
Does this give Wilder the edge in the rematch? Fury certainly out-boxed Wilder but it wasn’t enough to win. What can he do differently this time to get his hand raised?
The dramatic Round 12 of their first scrap was the cherry on top of an instant classic.
The bell for Round 13 rings Saturday night in Las Vegas and the sports world will be watching with bated breath.