“Deontay Wilder needs Tyson Fury but Tyson Fury doesn’t need Deontay Wilder. I chose Deontay Wilder as an easy victim. This is going to be the easiest fight of my career.”
That was Tyson Fury being Tyson Fury, before his first bout with WBC champion Deontay Wilder in December 2018.
But this time around there’s a lot less tension in the air and trash talk has been replaced with much more humility and respect.
In the build-up to fight one, Fury was doing everything in his power to get under the skin of his opponent given he was the underdog heading into the bout.
Having lost nine stone heading into his American debut, Fury wanted to make a name for himself in the build-up and he certainly sold the fight to the public, attacking Wilder for all of his worth.
“You’ve got no bottle you big dosser!” he told the gathered media who, naturally, lapped it up.
“There isn’t a man born from his mother that Tyson Fury is afraid of, and especially not a man who wears pigtails every day. I don’t fear anything about him; I don’t fear anything he can do.”
There was the obligatory shove from Wilder on his British opponent at the London press conference combined with the war of worlds months in advance, meant the build-up to the contest at Maddison Square Gardens was essential viewing.
But time around both boxers appear to have given up on attempting to wind each other up.
And here’s the thing - the niceties have taken the sting out of the build-up to the fight that’s just under a month away. Their latest news conference on American television was remarkably civilised for two giants of the sport, who will attempt to knock ten bells out of each other on February 22.
After a face-off that turned into a staring competition, Wilder ended it laughing and joking, attempting to shake Fury’s hand, but he was blanked. After that initial ‘drama’, the pair sat, in two throne-like chairs as they answered questions before showering each other in praise. Fury told the gathered press:
“You’re looking at a man here who’s knocked out 43 opponents in a row, now even if I hate this guy, I’ve got to respect that – that’s awesome. I never met anybody before who knocked out everyone they ever fought...The statistics don’t lie, he is a much bigger puncher than me, (a) one-punch knockout artist.”
Wilder questioned Fury’s apparent strategy of going toe-to-toe with him in the centre of the ring but aside from that, he was also full of praise for the Brit’s boxing ability. Not every fight has to be between two fighters who ‘hate’ each other, but the fact of the matter is that a bit of needle and personal beef does help sell fights.
If Eddie Hearn was promoting this giant bout between two of the top three biggest names in the sport, would there be more needle? In fairness, after sharing the ring with each other it’s only normal for the levels of respect to go up, especially given what happened in the first fight.
Fury can no longer say this will be the easiest fight of his career, given Wilder floored him twice, nearly finishing him in the final round. On the other hand, the American can no longer critique Fury’s boxing technique, having been outboxed in almost every round, at least in the eyes of a neutral viewer.
The build-up for rematches often lacks the bite of the original bout. Take Carl Froch v George Groves for example. Groves wound his illustrious opponent up so much in the build-up to the first fight, it benefitted him massively in the ring and although he lost the fight, he had troubled Froch, flooring him early on.
For the second fight, the WBA and IBF super-middleweight champion simply refused to get involved with the underdog’s mind games, which had clearly rattled him in the first fight. The one flashpoint was the handshake during ‘The Gloves Are Off’ ended with Froch pulling Groves over the table, as he gained the upper hand in the build-up. Ultimately, Froch’s approach worked as he knocked his opponent out in front of 80,000 people at Wembley in his final fight.
With less than four weeks to go until this epic rematch between Wilder and Fury, the pair will be hoping their names and the quality of the first fight will be enough to convince the boxing public to buy the pay-per-view. In essence, the fight is big enough to sell itself.
They may not be producing the most entertaining press conferences, but the genuine respect between these two, in a sport full of faux feuds, is really rather refreshing. Bring on the 22nd.