By Michael Rosenthal
All the talk about a superfight between Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder before and after Joshua’s knockout of Alexander Povetkin last Saturday is understandable. It probably is the biggest possible matchup in the sport today.
We’re jumping the gun, though. Wilder has a significant challenge directly in front of him and it isn’t Joshua: The WBC heavyweight titleholder faces former champ Tyson Fury on September 1 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
That would be the same Tyson Fury who dominated then-undisputed champion Wladimir Klitschko en route to a one-sided decision that rocked the boxing world on November 28, 2015.
I’m not saying that the “Gypsy King” will beat Wilder. In fact, I predict the latter will win by knockout. That’s an educated guess, though. I also believe that Fury has a good chance of doing to Wilder what he did to Klitschko, which presumably would spoil a possible Joshua-Wilder showdown in April.
A great deal has happened since Fury’s monumental upset. He lost all his titles and was out of boxing for 2½ years, the result of a suspension while British authorities conducted a prolonged investigation into what they called “anti-doping and medical issues.”
Fury, who returned in June and has fought twice, is only 30 but there are no guarantees after such a long layoff that he’ll be the same fighter who stunned Klitschko. If he’s even close to that version of himself, Wilder’s perfect record and the potential Wilder-Joshua fight could be in jeopardy.
In retrospect, Klitschko was an ideal opponent for Fury. He hadn’t lost in 11 years but was 39 at the time. More important, he had a predictable fighting style – jab, right hand, jab, right hand, with a lot of clinching and leaning thrown into the mix.
Fury, a clever, athletic boxer even though he’s 6-foot-9, simply used constant lateral and upper body movement – as well as his reach advantage – to keep the Ukrainian at a distance and off balance the entire fight. Klitschko could never figure out how to find his target, which spelled his doom.
Fury didn’t do much offensively but he landed enough punches to win a clear decision – 115-112, 116-111 and 115-112 – and turn the division upside down.
Wilder is a different from Klitschko. The 6-foot-7 Alabaman is around Klitschko’s height but isn’t the same well-schooled, disciplined boxer. He is more unpredictable, more unconventional. Thus, it could be more difficult for Fury and his team to devise and execute an effective scheme against him.
Plus, Wilder is more athletic than Klitschko, certainly more so than a 39-year-old Klitschko. He can match Fury’s quickness and movement, which could make it more difficult for the challenger to stay out of harm’s way.
And, finally, Wilder has more punching power than Klitschko. Any heavyweight could stop any counterpart with the right punch but Wilder’s ability to discombobulate an opponent is unparalleled today, Joshua being the only possible exception among proven fighters.
All that is why I believe Wilder will win on December 1. I expect him to have trouble getting to his target – much as Klitschko did – but I believe he will ultimately catch up to Fury and hurt him badly, which will allow him to retain his belt and set up the showdown with Joshua.
Here’s another possible scenario.
I learned long ago that the more talented of two combatants usually wins. And Fury might be the more talented than Wilder, who remains a work in progress. Fury might be too skillful and clever for Wilder, which could more than compensate for whatever advantages Wilder might have.
It’s difficult to imagine that Fury will be able to avoid all of Wilder’s biggest shots but he might have the ability to do it, which could lead to a decision in his favor and one of the more remarkable comebacks in boxing history.
If that happens, Wilder and Fury would most likely do it again. It’s my understanding that the contract stipulates Fury must give Wilder a rematch if he scores an upset.
That would leave Joshua out in the cold, at least for now. The IBF, WBA and WBO titleholder would most likely defend against Dillian Whyte, who Joshua stopped in seven rounds a few weeks after Fury beat Klitschko.
On top of that, if Wilder wins on December 1, we don’t know whether he and Joshua can come to terms. They failed in one round of negotiations. And Wilder’s handlers still say they haven’t received a realistic offer from Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, who said he wants to reach an agreement with Wilder before December 1.
Bottom line: We don’t know how all this will play out.
Will the powerful Wilder simply overwhelm Fury, as many seem to expect? Will Fury reprise his performance against Klitschko and stun the world again? If Wilder wins, can he and Joshua reach an agreement? If Fury wins, will he fight Joshua again immediately? Or will some other scenario present itself?
Let’s take it a step at a time, the first step being Wilder vs. Fury.
Michael Rosenthal is the most recent winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism. He has covered boxing in Los Angeles and beyond for almost three decades.