The question is posed to Tyson Fury and after the 6’9” and roughly 270-pound lineal heavyweight champion—physically imposing as ever even while sitting in a chair behind a table—answers thoughtfully, thoroughly, and with a big dose of his signature British wit, he wants the man half his size and about 2.5 times his age sitting off to the side to hammer home his point.
The Gypsy King has a retort for just about everything thrown at him—questions, criticisms, punches, or personal crises. But when the 88-year-old sitting off to the side is a legendary promoter who has seen just about everything during his 54 years in boxing, his perspective packs the heaviest punch.
Why, precisely, is Fury’s rematch with Deontay Wilder Saturday in Las Vegas (9 p.m. ET, ESPN+/FOX PPV) worthy of being called the biggest fight in boxing in almost 20 years?
“It goes back to Ali and Frazier the first time they fought,” says Arum, Top Rank CEO and Fury’s promoter. “Two undefeated guys fighting and the whole world watched. This is the same thing.”
That might sound like hyperbole to those who don’t pay close attention to boxing, but there are legitimate parallels between 1971’s “Fight of the Century” featuring Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier and Wilder-Fury II. Saturday’s showdown will grab the world’s attention and is the most consequential fight the sport has seen in 18 years, the last time boxing put on a heavyweight bout truly worthy of global intrigue. Back in 2002, it was the long-awaited showdown between the unified heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson.
Four belts were on the line when Lewis, the unified champion from the UK, finally met and then knocked-out the Brooklyn-born former champion Tyson in the eighth round of a bout broadcast on PPV and purchased by nearly 2 million people. It signified the end of Tyson’s run as a relevant heavyweight while Lewis was one fight away from retiring and ceding control of the division to the Klitschko brothers for over a decade.
The Klitschkos’ reign came to an end, of course, when Fury shockingly defeated Wladimir in 2015 to become the new unified champ. Personal demons soon derailed Fury’s career just as Wilder’s took off upon earning the WBC heavyweight title that same year. Five years later, Wilder and Fury have been searching for a signature victory to cement their status as the best heavyweight of their era. They collided in spectacular fashion in Los Angeles in December of 2018 at Staples Center. Their highly entertaining fight was ultimately unsatisfying thanks to the controversial split decision draw handed down by the judges. It did nothing to settle who is the division’s top dog.
Fury, the more fundamental boxer, believed he out-boxed Wilder. Demonstrating his stupefying power, Wilder knocked Fury down in the 9th round and again in the 12th with a vicious combination. Wilder thought that was enough to earn the win. The judges, of course, did not. This time around, the ramifications in the rematch are bigger than their superhero frames. And with both fighters believing they’re peaking professionally, the hype surrounding the second fight set for the MGM Grand Garden Arena is massive.
“You rarely see this, especially in the heavyweight division. Usually one guy is past his best,” Fury told us last month. “Just like when Tyson fought Lewis. Lewis was probably in the prime of his life and Mike Tyson was over the hill. [Wilder’s] 34, I’m 31, we’re both active, both winning. It’s a fantastic time. One British. One American. One WWE superstar. One big-mouth lunatic. Does it get any better than that? Both controversial characters, out-spoken. Do I need to continue?”
"It’s a fantastic time. One British. One American. One WWE superstar. One big-mouth lunatic. Does it get any better than that? Both controversial characters, out-spoken. Do I need to continue?" — Tyson Fury
The trash talking between two verbally gifted fighters was a subplot in the first fight and that’s continued in the build up toward the rematch. But the tone around this one, as both fighters will readily tell you, has been much more serious. Legacies and potentially nine figures in future earnings are on the line.
“When you get two fighters like this, scenery already makes for a great fight, but the way we approach certain things, the way we talk, we all know I don’t play around,” Wilder said. ”It can be fun and games here. But when the bell rings we’re both going to be in that killer mentality.”
At stake for the Bronze Bomber, the 6’7” and roughly 230-pound pugilist who hails from Alabama and possesses arguably the most powerful right hand in boxing history, is his best win to date and an 11th straight title defense. If he can hang onto his belt, Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KOs) would surpass the mark set by the great Muhammad Ali, who Arum promoted back in the day.
For Fury, an athletically gifted fighter despite his cartoonish frame from the UK who made appearances in the WWE last year, there’s a lot to lose. Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs) is defending his lineal title while fighting for Wilder’s belt and validation that the man whose father named him after “Iron” Mike is indeed one of the best heavyweights of this era. Soon after Fury reached the top of the sport by defeating Klitschko, he crashed hard and battled weight-gain, drug addiction, and mental illness that almost completely derailed his life. A victory over Wilder means his redemption story would practically be complete.
Boxing, too, has plenty at stake. The sport and its stakeholders hope the intrigue to see two of its most charismatic fighters square up again, behind an unprecedented tag-team promotional push from FOX and ESPN, translates to new fans. Truth be told, boxing is only as healthy as its most historic and glamorous division. And while the division has emerged from the dark days when the boring Klitshckos ruled for far too long, it continues to fight for the attention and respect of casual fans. Nothing generates desperately desired buzz like a heavyweight championship match between disparately skilled fighters who talk big games.
This fight also represents an incredibly important business partnership between the team of Arum’s Top Rank promotions and ESPN as they work cohesively with Premier Boxing Champions promotions (Wilder's backers) and FOX to pull it off. Normally adversaries, Top Rank and PBC have put politics aside to bring fans a fight they really want to see. Whether this bodes well for making matches between their fighters like an ultra-hyped showdown between two top 10 pound-for-pound fighters Terence Crawford (Top Rank) and Errol Spence (PBC) a reality, who knows? But it can't hurt.
So Saturday’s fight is a big one. Bigger than Canelo-GGG, bigger than Mayweather-Pacqiuao that happened five years past when it should have, and way bigger than the circus that was Mayweather-McGregor. And just like Lewis-Tyson, Wilder-Fury has an element Ali-Frazier never had.
“Ali and Frazier, as great as they were, were two Americans. Here we have an American against a Brit and that adds a lot of interest to it,” says Arum.
Unlike the US where boxing mostly resides on the fringes of the sports spectrum, the UK is crazy about it. Undoubtedly, there will be thousands of Fury supporters in the arena, likely outnumbering Wilder fans just as was the case in their first meeting. Fury will surely brag about it during fight week. Wilder will boast about how he baptized Fury the first time around and that he won’t get up off the canvas Undertaker style again.
“It’s unfinished business and it’s going to be amazing,” says Wilder.
At the very least, it’s going to be historic.