LAS VEGAS – Inside the press center at the MGM Grand on Saturday, Ben Davison addressed a handful of reporters. The trainer for Tyson Fury was ringside for Deontay Wilder’s knockout win over Luis Ortiz, in a scouting role for Fury’s anticipated rematch with Wilder, penciled in for early next year. Not surprisingly, everyone wanted to know what he thought.
“Ortiz is a fantastic fighter,” Davison said, smiling. “But he’s not Tyson Fury.”
It’s been nearly a year since Fury and Wilder battled to a draw in a thrilling heavyweight showdown. Last December, Fury stunned most observers by peppering Wilder with punches for 12 rounds and outright shocked the boxing world when he got off the mat after absorbing a punishing Wilder combination. The two appeared headed for an immediate rematch until Fury pivoted away at the last minute, signing a co-promotional deal in February with Top Rank, which went on to feature him in two low-level fights. Wilder, too, took a pair of fights in 2019, knocking out Dominic Breazeale in the first round and finishing off Ortiz in the seventh.
The wait, both sides say, is over.
“Tyson Fury,” Wilder said. “Is next.”
Was the wait worth it? Financially, yes. The first fight, aired on Showtime pay per view, reportedly generated 325,000 pay per view buys. The rematch will have significantly more promotional muscle. ESPN is backstopping Fury now, offering NBA basketball and popular studio shows as promotional vehicle. While Showtime had hoped to stay in the Wilder business—the network aired Wilder’s win over Breazeale, and Showtime Sports top exec Stephen Espinoza was in attendance on Saturday—an official with direct knowledge of the contracts confirmed to SI.com that Fox would be Wilder’s television partner for the Fury rematch. And with good reason: Fox can promote the fight during the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl, an audience likely to draw in excess of 100 million viewers.
Will either fighters look different? You can argue that another year of conditioning will benefit Fury, who was just two extremely low level fights removed from a two and one-half year layoff when he faced Wilder. But Fury suffered a nasty cut over his right eye in his win over Otto Wallin in September, a gash that required 47 stitches to close. It may need more than the five months it will get to heal fully.
Wilder looked sharp in wiping out Breazeale, but he was down on the scorecards against Ortiz before connecting with a right-handed eraser. Wilder has not been in many wars, but he’s 34 and a veteran of 42 training camps. If the fight happens on February 22nd—the target date—it will be the quickest turnaround Wilder has had in years, a fact he acknowledged on Saturday.
“I haven’t done this since the beginning of my career,” Wilder said.
For Wilder, Fury means one thing. “I’m looking for legacy,” Wilder said. “When I end my career, and people think about boxing, I want them to think first about Deontay Wilder.” Indeed, despite a flamboyant personality and perhaps the biggest right hand in boxing history, Wilder is still struggling to gain the kind of mainstream traction American big men like Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield had before him. “Give me my due respect right now,” Wilder said. “I’m here, and I’m not going [anywhere].”
Pinpointing why Wilder isn’t a bigger star is fairly easy. In boxing, you are defined by your success against top opponents. Manny Pacquiao was Manny Pacquiao because of Juan Manuel Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto, among others. Floyd Mayweather established himself as elite against the likes of Genaro Hernandez, Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo and became a megastar after outpointing De La Hoya.
Wilder’s résumé is thin. He was a raw talent when he turned pro in 2008, fighting mid-level opponents until 2015, when he took a title from Bermane Stiverne, one of the least accomplished heavyweight champions in boxing history. Wilder continued to fight relatively modest competition until 2018, when he faced Ortiz. His stoppage of Ortiz—during which he was badly hurt—is easily the biggest win of his career.
Wilder, of course, sees his résumé differently. He argues that no other top heavyweight wanted to fight Ortiz, though the reason Ortiz was granted the rematch with Wilder was because Anthony Joshua offered Ortiz $7 million to fight him last June. He criticizes Fury’s résumé, though Fury’s win over Wladimir Klitschko—then the unquestioned heavyweight kingpin—is the best win of any current heavyweight.
“I’m the one fighting the best of the best in the division,” Wilder said.” I don’t see any other fighters risking any fights. Last time I checked, Fury didn’t have more than two big fights on his résumé, and that’s a win against Klitschko and a (draw) against me. Look at me. I’m putting my title on the line each and every time. And I’m only getting better.”
Some of this isn’t Wilder’s fault, of course. In 2016, Wilder agreed to travel to Russia to face Alexander Povetkin, a dangerous heavyweight. That fight was scrapped after Povetkin tested positive for a banned substance. But Wilder has shown little interest in facing Dillian Whyte, a top challenger who has been clamoring for a shot at Wilder for more than a year. Fights with Joseph Parker and Dereck Chisora, two veteran contenders, have not materialized either.
Then there is Joshua, Wilder’s overseas rival, who will try to reclaim his titles when he faces Andy Ruiz in a rematch of Ruiz’s stunning knockout win last June. Before losing to Ruiz, anticipation for a Joshua-Wilder fight had peaked. Wilder will say he offered Joshua $50 million for a fight. Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn will say that offer was not real, that it came from Wilder, via his Hotmail account. Earlier this year, DAZN, the fledgling streaming service, publicly offered Wilder a multi-fight deal that would have included two fights with Joshua and been worth at least $100 million. Wilder rejected the deal, later saying DAZN officials were not being honest in the negotiations.
Few, if any, believe Wilder can’t become a mainstream star, which is what makes 2020 so critical. Beginning with Fury, Wilder could have a string of high profile fights. If Ruiz beats Joshua, a unification fight with Ruiz is easy to make. And the deal with Fury is reportedly for two fights, setting up what could be a star-making year-plus stretch for Wilder.
It begins with Fury. Davison was complimentary of Wilder. He raved about his punching power, calling Wilder the biggest puncher in boxing history. But Davison believes Fury is mentally tougher than Wilder, and that Fury’s inevitable pre-fight antics will shake Wilder, again.
“Every time a person fights, you see different holes, you see different things,” Wilder said. “You’re not going to be perfect. No one is. I hope he took notes back to his camp because I’m going to knock Fury out like I (almost) did the first time. Point blank, period. I’m not worried about what anyone says. I’m proven. If they were so sure about certain things, he would have taken the rematch immediately. I’m not running around doing 100,000 things. I’m the one who demanded the rematch as soon as possible. Especially when it was a controversial decision … come February, I hope they are ready.”
Wilder will be. With Mike Tyson in attendance on Saturday, Wilder again showed the type of power not seen since Iron Mike’s heyday. Ortiz felt it again, for the second time, for the last time. Fury is next, and after that Wilder is clear—anyone can get it.