You can still like somebody and talk a ton of shit.
That was evident watching and listening to Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury verbally spar leading up to their highly anticipated heavyweight title fight Saturday.
“I like him a little bit, just a little bit,” Wilder said during the Los Angeles leg of the fight’s promotional tour back in October.
“I don’t like him; I love him,” Fury said at the event. “But I just want to rip them pigtails out of his hair for some reason.”
Talking the talk is almost as important as walking the walk in boxing because if you can’t sell a fight, you’re not going to make much money. But there are few matchups that can pair two top-level talkers against each other, like Wilder and Fury, who happen to actually be relevant and interesting fighters. Predictably, the promotion leading up to the fight (Showtime PPV, 9 p.m. ET), the biggest of their respective careers, highlighted their lingual battles, which never veered into the realm of problematic repartee like Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor’s did.
“We’re probably the two most charismatic guys in the heavyweight division,” Wilder said.
Wilder, the Alabama native and WBC champion, can be just as heavy-handed with his trash talking as he is with his hammer of a right hand. Nobody possesses the raw power that Wilder has in the ring. But he has just as much charisma outside of it, and he’s never been shy about speaking his mind or calling out opponents. Meanwhile, Fury, the self-deprecating lineal champion nicknamed the Gypsy King who hails from the U.K., is full of hilarious taunts. Clever and always ready with a comeback, Fury is never at a loss for words. Even though the stakes are incredibly high for both, the run-up to the showdown in Los Angeles has been comedic.
“I very much enjoy it. I enjoy the confrontation that we have; I enjoy the rumbling with the mouth that we have,” said Wilder. “We try to see who has the bigger motor and the mouth. Call him a motormouth.”
The boxers claim there is real animosity between them, and their skirmishes in street clothes, like we saw Wednesday, were never contrived. But at times during the promotion, you could see both smiling and enjoying the other’s presence and unique personalities. Still, it didn’t stop them from lobbing verbal bombs at one another, and any affection will be long gone by the time they step into the Staples Center ring. We rounded up a few of our favorite trash-talking lines and moments leading up to what easily could be one of the most entertaining heavyweight bouts of the year.
Fury: "I'm living in Deontay Wilder's head. Rent free."
It’s a hilarious line, courtesy of ESPN, considering Fury (27-0, 19 KOs) has battled mental health issues. At one point depressed and massively overweight, Fury hasn’t been shy to talk about the demons he’s defeated over the past few years to get himself in shape to earn a shot at Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs). After defeating Wladimir Klitschko in a shocking upset to earn the biggest win of his career in 2015, Fury spiraled out of control, boozing and abusing his body—he says he ballooned to over 400 pounds—before he started his comeback earlier this year.
“One thing about Tyson is he’s mentally tough,” Wilder said on a recent conference call. “He’s the Gypsy King. If you know about gypsies, you know they’re traveling people and they’re fearless. So when I knock him out, I can say I knocked out someone that was fearless.”
Wilder: “Welcome to LA. It seems like he already visited one of the dispensaries because he don’t understand what I’m saying when I’mma knock him out.”
The trash talking ratcheted up as the promotion finished its third leg of the tour in Los Angeles in early October. After hitting London and New York, the two massive brawlers kept the barbs going just across the street from where the fight will go down.
“I don’t see anything about him that says he’s going to beat me,” Fury said. “He’s got little spaghetti legs. He smells. How is he going to beat me?”
Their styles are different and make for an interesting matchup. Fury is considered the better boxer, although he can look incredibly awkward with his long limbs. He’s a surprisingly nimble athlete despite his frame (6’9”, roughly 255 pounds for this fight). His body won’t look like your typical boxer’s, and his last two fights weren’t against championship competition, but there’s a reason he’s only a slight underdog.
For the first time in his career, Wilder (6’7”, roughly 225 pounds) will be the smaller fighter. While he’s the slight favorite (-160) since he’s the champ, fighting on his home soil, and has won all but one of his matches with a knockout, respected observers are torn over who to pick.
"Although Wilder's punch is strong, nothing can compare to the mental strength Fury has shown both in and out of the ring,” said former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson in a statement. “It'll be a close call, but I think Fury's got a true fighting chance."
"It's a great fight. Fury's got a lot of skills. He's awkward, and he has long arms. He has good reflexes and is a strong counter-puncher,” former heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield said in a statement. “Deontay needs to be first, and he can't wait on Tyson. Tyson's always been the bigger fighter. In fighting Deontay, it's the same case. If things get difficult, [Fury’s] got more experience and a lot of tricks. I think with Deontay's power, he might be able to end it early, but if Tyson can frustrate him and it goes the distance, then it could go his way."
Holyfield’s take is basically the consensus. Wilder should win it with a knockout well before it reaches the 12th round, or Fury could out-point him. Wilder, not surprisingly, doesn’t expect it to go the distance.
“I’ve got one question for you: When I lay your body on the canvas, which foot you want me to step over you with—the left or the right?” Wilder said.
“I’d like you to pick me back up and kiss me back to life,” Fury replied.
Fury: “How does a man come to somebody else’s country and have all the fans? That’s crazy. Deontay Wilder needs Tyson Fury. Tyson Fury doesn’t need Deontay Wilder.”
There will be a huge contingent of Fury fans in Staples Center because Fury’s 100 percent right—he has way more of a following than Wilder. Boxing’s a bigger deal in the U.K. than in the States, and Fury’s personality has a gravitational pull that Wilder can’t match.
“Outside of Alabama, nobody knows who Deontay Wilder is,” Fury said at the Los Angeles promotional press conference. “But every country in the world has heard of Tyson Fury and the Gypsy King for many reasons. I’m welcoming Deontay Wilder into big-time boxing on December the 1st. It might be his only taste.”
Fury will run his mouth all the way up until the opening bell, and while Wilder has enjoyed trading taunts, he’s also been taking notes.
“I love when people speak their piece because I want to know what's on your mind, what you're thinking at that time,” Wilder said on November conference call. “Whether it's false, or is it real? Like, I want to know what you're thinking. So when I get in the ring, whether I have mercy or not, I'm going to hold whatever you say towards me, against you. In the ring, I can be the judge. I can be the judge of what I'm going to do to you.”
Saturday is serious business. And it’s shaping up to be a good fight that will have huge ramifications on boxing’s most important and glamorous division. But after it’s over, don’t expect the bad blood to linger
“I think he’s a cool guy, and I’d like to take him out for a drink after I knock him out,” said Fury.