There really is nothing quite like a heavyweight title fight.
More than just a sporting contest, big time heavyweight boxing matches are more akin to cultural events. That’s exactly what this championship rematch between WBC title holder Deontay Wilder and lineal king Tyson Fury is shaping up to be.
However, to really understand the significance of the Wilder vs. Fury 2 fight, which goes down live at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and on Pay Per View on February 22, it’s important to backtrack, oh, maybe 20 years, to the last time heavyweights ruled the boxing landscape.
Back before Wilder and Fury, along with Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz, resurrected heavyweight boxing, the sport’s premier division was ruled by names like Louis, Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Holmes, Tyson, and Holyfield. Heavyweight boxing carried clout and cache, it was full of glamour and headlines. These champions were international icons, pioneers, activists, legends.
And then the Klitschkos happened …
It’s not fair to just fault the Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali, who ruled over the division for the better part of 15 years, for ruining heavyweight boxing on account of their dominance. It just kind of happened. A better scapegoat would be Lennox Lewis, who retired without offering Vitali a rematch after winning their 2003 fight via doctor stoppage.
Lewis is pivotal to this quick history lesson in heavyweight boxing because not only did he opt to walk away from the ring rather than grant a rematch to a challenger who was clearly up on the scorecards, but he was also half of the biggest heavyweight bout of the millennium, fighting opposite “Iron” Mike Tyson in June 2002. This was really the last time a heavyweight fight felt as big as the buildup to Wilder vs. Fury 2.
The Lewis vs. Tyson fight was an event. It was thee contest of the summer, and I can clearly recall hanging in my buddy’s Rutgers University frat house standing around the TV as Lewis worked Tyson before landing the knockout in the eighth round. We were one of more than 1.9-million American homes and venues to order the bout on Pay Per View, and there were at least two dozen college kids in that room. Imagine the actual viewership figures when factoring in numerous packed bars around the country, not to mention another 750,000 sales in the UK. The actual figure was both unquantifiable and astronomical, and the next day, everyone was talking about Lewis vs. Tyson.
In the 18 years since, no heavyweight fight has come close to those sorts of numbers.
Sure, boxing has seen other big stars in the last two decades: Mayweather, Pacquiao, De La Hoya, Jones, Hopkins. All of these fighters are legends and hall of famers, but the lighter weight classes just don’t carry the same cache as the heavyweights, and it’s taken close to two decades for the division to return to glory.
Enter Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury.
Wilder and Fury represent the best stylistic aspects of boxing. There’s the big power puncher, Wilder, and the skilled and technical boxer, Fury.
Pitting strength versus skill, the Wilder vs. Fury rematch is notable for so many reasons, not in the least because both fighters are undefeated. That’s right, ever since Wilder and Fury turned pro in late 2008, 71 men have entered the ring with “The Bronze Bomber” and “The Gypsy King,” and all 71 have failed to defeat the two best heavyweights on the planet.
In addition to their undefeated records and contrasting skill sets, there’s also the sheer size of the 6’7” Wilder and the 6’9” Fury. With the champion weighing in at 235 pounds, and the challenger hitting the scale at 273 pounds, the highest weights of both of their careers, there’s a strong feeling that this fight will end in a knockout, after Wilder and Fury went the distance in their 2018 split draw.
I, for one, agree with this assessment. The added weight, along with a coaching change by Wilder, enlisting Javan “Sugarhill” Steward to come up with a new game plan predicated on power and in fighting, assures that both the champion and challenger will swing for the fences from the opening bell.
Then, of course, there’s the bad blood angle …
Unlike their first bout, both Wilder and Fury seem to have built up a significant amount of resentment towards each other. In Wilder’s case, he disdains the notion that the challenger claims to be the more popular fighter, while Fury is, quite frankly, still pissed off that he was robbed on the judges’ scorecards in the first bout.
With Fury using his gift of gab to throw a constant barrage of verbal jabs in Wilder’s direction, the PPV rematch hit a critical peak earlier this week at the final press conference. In fact, so heated and enraged did Wilder and Fury become, shoving each other on the stage, that the Nevada Athletic Commission ultimately barred the pair from having a final staredown at the weigh in. As if they were really going to fight at the weigh in when they each stand to make $28-million in the ring, plus additional revenue from Pay Per View.
But bad blood always sells fights, and the perception that Wilder and Fury could not be near each other gives the general public the idea that what we’re about to watch on February 22 is two men who actually despise each other. And if you listen to Tyson Fury, that perception seems about right.
Need another compelling statistic before making the decision to order the Wilder vs. Fury 2 PPV? Well, this really is anyone’s fight.
With just hours to go before the heavyweight championship bout, sportsbooks around the world have Wilder and Fury neck in neck, with some book makers listing both the champion and challenger at an even -110, while other sites have Wilder as a slight favorite at -125 to Fury’s +105.
The truth is, this fight is anyone’s guess, and ultimately that’s what makes it so interesting. Well, that and the whole historical angle about this bout being the heavyweight division’s return to prominence.
So, get on it and order the fight on PPV because literally everyone’s going to be talking about it come Monday.
Deontay Wilder fight Tyson Fury live on Pay Per view on Saturday, February 22. The main card starts at 6 p.m. PST / 9 p.m. EST.
Wilder vs. Fury 2 Main Card
- Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury (WBC Heavyweight title fight)
- Charles Martin vs. Gerald Washington (Heavyweight)
- Emanuel Navarrete (c) vs. Jeo Tupas Santisima (WBO super bantamweight title fight)
- Sebastian Fundora vs. Daniel Lewis (Junior middleweight)
Wilder vs. Fury Preliminary Card
- Amir Imam vs. Javier Molina (Junior welterweight)
- Subriel Matias vs. Petros Ananyan (Junior welterweight)
Dan Shapiro is a writer, editor, musician, and producer currently based in Los Angeles. In addition to covering some of the biggest fights in combat sports history, he’s also hunted down the world’s best sushi, skied the northern hemisphere in July, and chronicled Chinese underground music for publications like CNN, the New York Daily News, VICE, and Time Out. Dan also conjured up a ghost at the Chateau Marmont while out on assignment for RoadTrippers. Follow him on Twitter here.
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