“The mental illness thing is dying out...The only thing he really has to go off of is beating a dead horse with the mental illness thing, that’s it.”
Deontay Wilder readied a new round of artillery fire in July 2019 at Tyson Fury and the 'Bronze Bomber' unabashedly accused the British boxer of using his personal struggles as a tool of promotion on the comeback trail.
A little over half a year later and Wilder is not only preparing to face the 'Gypsy King' once again but is prepared to concede the presence of his own demons as the boxing community continues to embrace the openness and transparency of its stars.
Perpetually perceived as superheroes, with superhero strength and superhero athleticism, this humanistic and fallible element has arguably elevated their stature even further. The message continues to be promulgated that you don’t just fight with your fists. Wilder's story is now revealed to be eerily relatable to the man who he will soon share a ring with once again.
Importantly, away from the fervent rivalry that has helped to fuel interest in the sport over the past several years another common bond has been illuminated. Outside of battling in the ring they've both revealed their own individual struggles with mental health over the years.
“We all have our past story, we all came from somewhere to make us what we are now," said 34-year-old Wilder in a recent interview with Yahoo Sports, in a remarkably different tone to the one that had tried to expunge Fury’s own comments.
"At 19 and 20, I had a lot of hardship going on in my life - I had a daughter (Naieya) born with spina bifida (a birth defect that about 2,000 children are born within the U.S. every year) as well - and just trying to make it as a young man living in the real world.
"I always had big goals and big dreams, my mindset is always of a king but sometimes life can bring you down.
I did have a gun in my lap and I did think about committing suicide, if you do this you ain't got to worry about anything else, and the things in your life that are occurring.
"You don't think about what effect it would cause for your family, your daughter, your kids and so forth and so on.”
Fury’s renaissance, after a well-publicized break from boxing between defeating Wladimir Klitschko in November 2015 and facing Sefer Seferi in June 2018, brought considerable attention to mental health awareness, and the fact that it doesn’t exclude figures and athletes of prominence. Fury had had to vacate his WBA, WBO, and IBO heavyweight titles won from Klitschko amid doping accusations, having already lost his IBF belt after failing to accept a fight against their mandatory challenger Vyacheslav Glazkov. Fury’s boxing licence soon followed.
Controversy continued to envelop, certain comments which almost exiled the 'Gypsy King' from the sport and public life entirely. He failed a test for cocaine in September 2016 and admitted using the recreational drug to deal with depression related to injury and accusations as to his doping, and his weight gain was startling.
Ahead of facing Wilder in their first bout, Fury, in the best shape of his life after dropping an incredible 10 stone from a high of 28, provided an impassioned message to The Sportsman as to what it took to get him back and fighting fit, with strong statements of intent.
“The world is behind me, this isn’t a small space thing. I’m a global phenomenon. I get messages of support from all over the world, I'm inspiring people and giving them hope.
"Everybody who's been suffering for long periods of time, lifetimes of suffering with no help, no one to give them passion, no one to give them determination or drive. Well look no further cos I’m that man.
I've been so dark where it was pitch black. Where I was taking drugs and drinking on a daily basis.
“You can’t go any lower than that."
On February 22, 2020, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury will once again come face to face inside the boxing ring. The MGM Grand in Las Vegas provides the backdrop for the eagerly anticipated rematch at which the WBC heavyweight title, held by Wilder since 2015, is once again on the line.
Both pugilists share an unblemished record of having never suffered defeat on the canvas. The last meeting between the two in December 2018 ended in a controversial draw which ultimately favoured the American, a bout in which Fury memorably, and incredibly, picked himself off the canvas in the last round after receiving a devastating blow from the 'Bronze Bomber', a man regarded as one of the best punchers in heavyweight history
Deontay Wilder now possesses an incredible 42-0-1 record in a professional career that has stemmed nearly 12 years, those dark days a distant but prevailing memory. The similarity between the two accounts of the two heavyweights, Wilder and Fury, the Yank and the Brit, is welcome.
The world may watch two ferocious fighters go the distance, cheer on the two beating every colour of the rainbow out of each other and may well applaud the victor, whoever that may be. Away from the show the fireworks, and the flamboyancy, it is the discussion the two have provoked and espoused that must be lauded loudest.
They may be hard, they may be hitters, but they’re human.