The first fight in 2018, one of the best heavyweight bouts of the modern era, ended in a draw after Fury remarkably climbed off the canvas following a 12th round knockdown. He appeared to be out cold on his descent to the floor yet managed to get up and continue throwing hands at an incredulous Wilder.
“Finally got him. I’m celebrating, kisses to the wife …” Wilder said later. “And then I turn around and there’s the Gypsy King, rising from the dead!”
In the second fight in February last year, Fury clearly outboxed Wilder, dropping him in the third and fifth rounds before the fight was stopped in the seventh.
Wilder later accused Fury of using “loaded gloves” and has continued to make those claims in pre-fight press conferences in Las Vegas this week. On Thursday the traditional face-off had to be abandoned after a fiery press conference.
“You don’t know nothing about knocking anyone out. You don’t have knockout power,” Wilder said of Fury.
Fury responded: “Your legacy is in bits. All the excuses, you’ve been destroyed. No one has believed you. They’re all laughing at you like a weak piece of s***.”
Most experts agree that Fury is the far superior boxer and, as he showed by getting up off the canvas, can take a punch. Wilder is more of a chaos agent, bringing mayhem and raw power, if not a lot of technical prowess, to his bouts. He is, as he’ll happily tell you, a knockout artist and has been called the most destructive puncher in the history of heavyweight boxing. Yeah, that includes a bloke who wore black trunks. To win, Wilder needs to land one of his signature teeth rattlers.
While the antipathy between the two men is real rather than one of the manufactured beefs that have characterised the ‘exhibition era’ of modern boxing, they perhaps share more in common than they’d care to admit, with both having battled serious mental health issues.
Wilder, who is the father of eight children in Alabama, was a relative latecomer to the sweet science after suffering from depression brought on by the hardship of caring for a daughter with spina bifuda. Before the second fight he said: “In 2005 it became very rocky for me to the point where I lost my family and I had a gun in my lap. I was ready to commit suicide. But boxing led me out of that wilderness. It is a dark and heavy business but boxing is also a place of dreams and hope. It saved me. I put the gun away for good. And here I am today … heavyweight champion of the world.”
Fury, meanwhile, spent three years out of the ring due to mental health issues after beating Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 to claim the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight titles. His weight ballooned to over 180kg as he battled depression, addiction and suicidal thoughts, almost driving his Ferrari off a bridge at over 300km/h. He said in these dark times that he “prayed for death on a daily basis”.
This week he spoke about his comeback, telling The Guardian, “To go from the weight I was at, where I was at in my life, being 400lb (180kg), couldn’t sleep with the light off, scared to death of everything, anxiety killing me. I’ve come a long, long, long way. My anxiety was terrible. I believe anxiety is one of the worst things that anybody could have. It’s the fear of the unknown. It’s crazy.”
Fury has been praised for using his platform to speak out about mental health issues and encourages others who are struggling to do the same.
“One of the best things I ever did was come out and speak about it, because with communication you can get over any hurdle. But keeping it all to yourself and not communicating with others, you’re a bottle of champagne being shaken and shaken, waiting for the top to explode. And you’ll have a mental breakdown and won’t recover – or you seek help and try and get better.”
It promises to be a hell of a fight with Fury the favourite to defend his crown. Yet somehow, you can’t help feeling that there’s more at stake this weekend than just the heavyweight title.
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