For months Deontay Wilder, the former heavyweight champion, has dragged Tyson Fury’s name through the mud. He has accused Fury, without evidence, of loading his gloves for their February 2020 fight, a fight that ended with Fury stopping Wilder in the seventh round. He has accused Fury, without evidence, of manipulating his gloves. He has accused Fury—wait for it … without evidence—of intentionally scratching his inner ear, causing it to bleed.
On Tuesday, Wilder and Fury met in Los Angeles for a press conference to promote their July 24 heavyweight title fight. It was the first time the two had been in the same room since Fury’s shocking knockout win. It was Wilder’s chance to confront a man he has accused of some of the most serious cheating violations in boxing history.
And Wilder said … nothing.
Literally—nothing. Wilder made a brief opening statement, thanking God, his training staff and his legal team, the last of which played the biggest role in making a third fight with Fury happen, winning a protracted arbitration case and forcing Fury to take a fight he had little interest in. Wilder then sat down, slipped a pair of oversize headphones on his head and for the rest of the 25-minute press conference refused to answer questions.
Malik Scott, Wilder’s new head trainer, said plenty. A frequent sparring partner of Wilder’s, Scott has been elevated to head trainer for this fight. Jay Deas, who has been Wilder’s chief cornerman for his entire professional career, has been demoted. Mark Breland, Wilder’s longtime assistant trainer, has been fired. Scott, a journeyman heavyweight five years removed from his last professional fight, has taken over.
Scott described his relationship with Wilder as “a brotherhood.” He said the chemistry with Wilder is “firing on all cylinders.” He said Wilder turned his house into his training facility so he could “eat, sleep and s--- boxing.” He said the key to beating Fury was “about the mental adjustments he has made to the craft,” and that he was confident Wilder would complete the trilogy with a knockout.
Wilder, meanwhile, said … nothing.
It was bizarre, really. “It shows how weak of a mental person he is,” Fury said of Wilder’s silence. It’s not like Wilder has gone completely underground since the Fury fight. He has done interviews, with local radio stations and podcasts. In them he has gone down the conspiracy-theory rabbit hole, claiming Breland spiked his water bottle and referee Kenny Bayless was drunk. Even after the press conference, Wilder sat down with YouTube videographer Elie Seckbach in his hotel room.
Yet when given the chance to confront Fury, Wilder said … nothing?
Late Tuesday, I called Wilder’s longtime manager, Shelly Finkel, who has been in boxing for more than 40 years. He has worked with Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Pernell Whitaker, among others. And he has been with Wilder for most of his pro career.
I asked Finkel: What exactly was that?
“He didn’t want to get into it with Fury at the press conference,” Finkel told me. “What’s on his mind right now is just fighting Fury. He said, ‘If Fury wants to talk, let him talk.’ He just wants to fight.”
Does Finkel see a change in Wilder?
“I see someone who is really focused on this fight,” Finkel said. “He’s training like I wish he had earlier. He is training like he has never trained before for a fight. We thought we were going to get the fight months ago. We had to win [arbitration] to get it. All along he has been training.”
Full disclosure: I like Deontay Wilder. I’ve made several trips to Alabama. I’ve written a couple of magazine profiles. I’ve sat in a corner booth with him at a Tuscaloosa waffle house and watched the emotion flicker in his eyes as he recalled his journey to the heavyweight title. Of working as a server at IHOP and Red Lobster, of becoming a Budweiser truck driver, all to help pay the medical expenses of his daughter, Naieya, who was born with spina bifida, a congenital disorder of the spinal cord. Of wandering into Deas’s gym at age 20, just a big body with a bigger right hand. Of the journey to the Olympics to the pros to his first championship fight. Of all the skeptics that doubted him along the way.
Wilder is, unequivocally, a success story.
His legacy, though, has become complicated.
Make no mistake: Fury could be Wilder’s last fight. At 35, Wilder is too old to rebuild. He’s made a lot of money in his career—he may not want to. And after accusing Fury of every dirty tactic in the book, after pointing the finger at the people around him for conspiring against him, after blaming his ring walk attire—yup, that was a thing, too—for sapping his leg strength during the fight, Wilder has placed a metric ton of pressure on his shoulder.
If Wilder gets knocked out again—and early odds peg an early Fury finish as the most likely outcome—his legacy will come under review. He will likely finish his career with two quality wins, both against the same opponent, Luis Ortiz. He will be remembered as the fighter who turned down huge money to fight Anthony Joshua—a fact Wilder, in the aftermath of the Fury loss, admitted to. He will be called a product of a dismal heavyweight era.
Fury is Wilder’s last stand. Fury was his usual affable self on Tuesday, dismissing Scott’s impact on Wilder’s fighting style (“In a real fight … he’s going to revert straight back to type, 100%.") while pointing out that he has busted the eardrums of both Scott (in a sparring session, years earlier) and Wilder. “You can’t teach him to be some great fighter when you [weren’t],” Fury said. “Everyone has a game plan of what they are going to do against me. Until they get in there.”
Minutes later, Wilder and Fury stood face to face. The stare down—more awkward than intense—lasted more than five minutes.
As Fury ripped off a few parting shots, Wilder remained silent.
On July 24, we will see whether he is any different.
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