by Michael Rosenthal
LOS ANGELES – Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury are enormous men with perfect records and personalities that match their size, which is helping to sell their December 1 fight. The more they talk, the more money they will make. And they’re talking a lot.
The fighters completed their three-city media tour to promote the event Wednesday afternoon in Los Angeles, where the mostly tongue-in-cheek back-and-forth trash talk – accented by some pushing and shoving – captivated the assembled media at The Novo theater near Staples Center.
Fury in particular is as comfortable on stage as he is in the ring. The giant Englishman works the room like a veteran comedian, pacing from side to side as he thinks up his next line. He was crude at times, as expected, but he was entertaining throughout. His promoter, Frank Warren, simply sat back and let his client do the work of promoting the fight.
“Who is a better promoter than me in the world? I’m the best self-promoter,” Fury said during a Q&A session with the media in L.A.
Indeed, all the elements for a compelling show seem to be in place – except one: boxing skill.
At least that’s the opinion of some aficionados who long for the days of Ali or Holmes or Tyson and bemoan a perpetually weak crop of heavyweights, including the principals in the December 1 fight.
A colleague in Los Angeles whose knowledge of boxing I respect is excited about the fight but can’t get past the fact that, in his opinion, the skill level of Wilder and Fury pales badly compared to the best heavyweights of our lifetimes. In other words, Wilder-Fury is not high-caliber boxing.
I thought during our conversation of the unforgettable three-fight series between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, two fighters with marginal skills who nonetheless gave the world three classic wars in the early 2000s.
I enjoyed those fights because of the self-sacrificing action but, for me, something was always missing. I understood enough about boxing by then to know that Gatti and Ward were somewhere between elite fighters and club brawlers, which detracted from their fights in my eyes.
I preferred the epic trilogy of Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera, in which two highly skilled boxers gave us wars similar to Gatti-Ward but at a more refined level. For me, that combination of skill and action was more compelling than the raw warfare of the Gatti-Ward series.
That brings me back to the December 1 fight.
Of course, Wilder and Fury have different styles from Gatti and Ward. Wilder has tremendous power but isn’t a brawler, per se, as he relies on his athleticism to set up his knockouts. And Fury, also a good athlete, is a pure boxer whose aim is to take away his opponents’ weapons. He did that to beat Wladimir Klitschko.
That said, many will insist that the skill level of Wilder and Fury probably doesn’t rise even to the level of Gatti and Ward, which raises two questions: One, is that accurate? And, two, if it IS accurate, does it matter?
I believe Wilder (40-0, 39 knockouts) is improving as a boxer (watch the Bermane Stiverne fight) but he remains mediocre relative to the better technicians in the world. He wins fights primarily because he’s a good athlete, he’s courageous (watch the Luis Ortiz fight) and he can remove your head from your body with one punch (watch almost all the rest of his fights).
I don’t believe the critics are accurate when it comes to Fury, at least not entirely. Is he a 6-foot-9-inch version of Vasyl Lomachenko or the next coming of Muhammad Ali? Of course not. Is he remarkably skillful and athletic for his size? Absolutely.
Wladimir Klitschko, 39 when he fought Fury, hadn’t lost in 11 years but was slowing down and ripe for a defeat when Fury easily outpointed him to win the undisputed heavyweight championship in 2015.
There’s more to the story than that, though. Klitschko had been stopped three times between 1998 and 2004 but not a soul during his two-decade career ever did to him what Fury did, which was to outbox him to the point of embarrassment. It was damned impressive. And Fury deserves credit.
Fury (27-0, 19 KOs) spoke about his doubters and his legacy during the Q&A session in L.A.
“It wasn’t until after [Muhammad Ali] was finished that people realized what they had witnessed with their eyes,” he said. “I think it will be the same with me, the same with all great champions form the past. … It’s not until they’re gone that people really appreciate their skill and boxing style.
“In 20 years people will look back and say, ‘You know what? He (Fury) could really box.’ … You look down the line and there have been many punchers but there hasn’t been many 6-9 counterpunching boxers like me. I don’t know one.”
If Fury does to Wilder what he did to Klitschko, the critics probably will attribute the result more to Wilder’s deficiencies than Fury’s ability. And if Wilder knocks out Fury, many will point to Fury’s long hiatus from boxing and his limitations. In other words, neither can win in the opinions of some fans and experts.
So do they’re perceived flaws matter as they apply to the upcoming fight?
Yes and no. Yes, for the same reasons stated above. I’d rather be watching the equivalent of Ali-Frazier. No, because they’re among the three best active heavyweights and each brings something special to the ring, Wilder his undeniable punching power and Fury his skills relative to his height.
Wilder and Fury both have perfect records, which is a great selling point. They both are generating a buzz with their antics, although the fight won’t do big pay-per-view numbers because Wilder has yet to become a crossover star. And it’s an interesting matchup – knockout artist vs. slick counterpuncher.
I, for one, can’t wait for December 1.
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.