As the 12th round ended and the decision was announced, the reaction was both loud and swift: A draw? No! Tyson Fury deserved the win and he was cheated. Fans and media alike insisted that Fury dominated the matchup against Deontay Wilder even though CompuBox statistics reflected a more accurate picture of what took place in the ring, a close fight separated by 13 punches (Fury out landed Wilder 84-71 overall) and two knockdowns. In close fights knockdowns usually determine the winner, yet to many they were non-factors in the Wilder-Fury matchup. Watching the fight, this writer was astonished as landed punches by Wilder were often unacknowledged, while punches and combinations by Fury (some of which were blocked) overemphasized. Could the world have been seeing something different than what as taking place? How can this happen? In many ways, Wilder-Fury demonstrates how fan and media preference can influence what is seen in the ring.
Heavyweight title fights can often be greater than life events and their buildup more of a show than the actual fight. The show of “The Wild and the Fury” was unquestionably dominated by Tyson Fury. Fury had the story which resonated with both the media and fans, the comeback kid. The former champion and the lineal king who after battling mental health issues, substance abuse, and weight gain was returning to reclaim his throne. Confident, funny, and possessing a personality worthy of Hollywood, Tyson Fury quickly won over the fans and charmed the media. In contrast, Deontay Wilder’s amazing story, a father taking up boxing to support a special needs daughter, who came to the sport late and became WBC heavyweight champion, has largely failed to connect with fans. Often seen as loud, arrogant, brash, and crude; Wilder was a bully who needed to be taken down a peg. This was the perception as the 12 round ended and Fury avoided becoming Wilder’s 40th knockout victim by somehow beating the count after being nearly KO’d in the round.
In many ways, this fight is evidence of how fan and media favoritism can shape the perception of what is seen in a boxing ring. Coming into this fight, the boxing world knew Fury’s story. His story was even repeated during each round, he was the hero we were supposed to cheer for. The one boxing fans should support and when it comes to support, boxing fans are often a fickle bunch. Some fighters are loved unconditionally by boxing fans, who celebrate every win and excuse every loss. Other fighters are put under a microscope by boxing fans, who criticize each opponent and every performance (win and loss alike). The reason why some fighters are loved while others are loathed is subject to debate, but with each fight, it is clear Deontay Wilder has been placed in the 2nd category. Despite delivering brutal knockouts (what most desire in a heavyweight) and 8 defenses of his title, Wilder continues to be denied the respect of the boxing public. While this must be frustrating for the WBC heavyweight champion, he is actually in some pretty good company.
All these past greats ultimately had to resign themselves to the fact that all they could do is work on their craft and continue to win as their accomplishments in the ring spoke for them. This is the approach Deontay Wilder must also take. As the build-up to Wilder-Fury and its aftermath has proven, Deontay Wilder may never win a popularity contest over his two main rivals, Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury. However, he does not have to be the most popular heavyweight to accomplish his goal of becoming the undisputed and lineal heavyweight champion of the world. To accomplish that goal Wilder needs to continue to believe in himself, stay focused, and win. Fury won the show of their matchup, but by landing the harder punches and knocking his opponent down twice, it is this writer’s opinion that Wilder won the fight. Winning the fight and not the show should be Wilder’s focus in the rematch.
Some of the greatest fighters in boxing history fought for respect and acknowledgment for large portions of their careers. At heavyweight, Lennox Lewis spent a significant portion of his career searching for the respect of fans and the acknowledgment of his greatness by boxing media (Evander Holyfield faced a similar struggle as well). Larry Holmes often complained that he was underappreciated as a champion, with acknowledgment of his greatness coming only after he retired. While it may be hard to believe, even Muhammad Ali also struggled to get the respect of the boxing media in the 1960s. It was only during his comeback and 2nd stint as heavyweight champion in the 1970s that the boxing public agreed that he was “The Greatest”. Floyd Patterson was another champion who fought a losing battle for respect during his reign as heavyweight champion.