By Michael Rosenthal
LOS ANGELES – The noise before every high-profile fight – the bravado of the participants, the endless analysis, the chatter by fans, even the betting line – can cloud your judgment when it comes to predicting a winner.
The best approach to take, I always say, is to trust your gut the minute you hear the fight has been made.
My gut told me at that moment that Deontay Wilder will knock out Tyson Fury to retain his WBC title on Saturday night at Staples Center and I’m sticking to that even though the noise – and the facts on the ground – have raised doubts in mind.
I can easily make a case for Fury, a remarkable athlete for his height (6 feet, 9 inches) and a skillful, experienced boxer. His historic victory over Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 alone should be enough to raise concern in Wilder’s camp. Fury made the best heavyweight of his generation, a fighter who hadn’t lost in a decade, look foolish.
I can see Fury (27-0, 19 knockouts) doing the same to Wilder, who also is a good athlete for his height (6-7) with tremendous punching power but he’s no boxing wizard. Some have suggested that this fight will expose Wilder’s limitations, which would allow Fury to complete one of the great comebacks in recent years.
I just don’t think it’ll happen.
Klitschko certainly was a more accomplished fighter than Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs) is at this point but he was both mechanical and predictable, not to mention 39, which made it fairly easy for Fury to put together and execute an effective game plan.
For example, as Fury pointed out at the final news conference Wednesday, he noticed that Klitschko set his feet in a certain way before he threw a hard punch. Fury simply threw a jab at that moment, which forced Klitschko to reset and gave Fury time to step away or fire back.
Wilder, a less-polished boxer than Klitschko, is unpredictable. He throws punches at strange times and from unexpected angles, which will make it difficult for Fury to defuse him as he did Klitschko. Plus, Wilder is a better, quicker athlete than the nearly 40-year-old Klitschko was, which will work in his favor.
Fury probably will succeed for a while but eventually … BAM! … he’ll get caught and very likely hurt. That could be the beginning of the end for the lineal champion, whether that means an instant stoppage or a gradual beat down.
Fury pointed out that he has been down and gotten back up more than once. Still, he acknowledged on Wednesday that a momentary lapse in concentration could cost him dearly.
“You’ve got to keep mentally focused,” he said. “Sometimes fighters lose focus and get knocked out. If I could keep focused on Wilder, watch his every move for 36 minutes, I can go home with the WBC title.”
Rust could also be a problem for Fury, which is saying something given his apparent fitness level.
Fury never looked better than he did at the final news conference, going so far as to show off his physique in an on-stage scuffle with Wilder that was meant to promote pay-per-view sales. It’s hard to believe he weighed 300-plus-pounds a year ago.
He wouldn’t predict what the scale would say at the official weigh-in Friday but no one will have been surprised if he approaches the svelte 247 pounds he weighed when he fought Klitschko.
The problem is 2½ years away from the sport is 2½ years away from the sport regardless of how a fighter looks and feels. Fury has fought two second-tier (third-tier?) opponents since his return, which helps, but the fact is he hasn’t faced an elite opponent for three full years.
Logic says that will take some kind of toll on him on Saturday. After all, it’s a big step up from Francesco Pianeta to Deontay Wilder.
And, finally, I don’t think that Wilder is as bad a boxer as many people seem to believe he is.
The Alabaman turned pro at 20, which is late by boxing standards. He won a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics but reportedly did so with fewer than 40 amateur fights under his belt. He learned on the job as a pro under trainers Jay Deas, Mark Breland and Russ Anber, camp by camp, fight by fight.
Is he a 6-7 version of Floyd Mayeather? Certainly not. Is he mere brute who relies solely on his punching power to win fights? No. I believe he has developed a sharp boxing acumen.
Listen to heavyweight veteran Joe Hanks, who has sparred many times with Wilder the past several years.
“Deontay is a lot smarter … than people give him credit for,” said Hanks, who faces Joe Joyce on the undercard Saturday. “Everyone is wrapped around his big right hand but he has good timing, he’s aware of where he is at all times. His [boxing] IQ is a lot higher than people think. Even when he throws his big right hand he’s aware of when to let it go. He sets it up.
“… He’s not just out there whaling away with his right hand. He’s very smart.”
Again, a case can be made for either fighter, which is the main reason this showdown is so compelling. It’s a super-sized version of the classic boxer-versus-puncher matchup, punctuated with big personalities and a lot of pre-fight trash talk.
I won’t be shocked if Fury wins a decision or even scores a knockout; the latter can be a product of a big disparity in ability, if that’s what this is. And I won’t be surprised at how Wilder wins, if he does so.
He could stun us all by boxing carefully for 12 rounds and doing enough to get the nod against an opponent hampered by his inactivity. Much more likely, my gut tells me, this fight will turn in an instant.
Don’t look away.
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.