By Tris Dixon
There was a time when it felt like it was a joke on boxing fans, that Tyson Fury’s return to big-night boxing against Deontay Wilder was a fantasy, prematurely arranged to take attention away from what everyone thought was THE only heavyweight show in town – Anthony Joshua.
Now, Joshua against Saturday’s winner will be bigger should it happen, but make no mistake this is a huge night.
Talk about ticket sales, talk about pay-per-view numbers, it has got people talking regardless. And no other duo in the division without Joshua would have done what these two have.
Some believe the winner in the Staples Center becomes the world’s number one at the weight, others will maintain that Joshua’s trail of wreckage means top spot should be his.
But, of course, until the division unfolds in its entirety we can’t know.
Fury says he will be posed more questions by Wilder than Wladimir Klitschko asked him and we know that Fury is capable of pushing Wilder harder, maybe mentally if not physically, than Luis Ortiz did.
It’s a huge test, not just for the fighters but the men outside the ropes.
Trainer Ben Davison, who turns 26 two days before cornering Fury, has been launched onto the condemned heap as a novice. Some say he is not up to the job.
But without Davison we might not be here at all. And that is not a back-handed compliment to say he has simply got Tyson in shape because his job over the last 12 months has gone far beyond that. You can see the sacrifices he has made and while one may say he will be handsomely compensated, if it backfires then his arm will not be snapped off by boxers preparing for big contests. His own future is at stake.
Davison and Fury have a friendly relationship but most importantly Fury trusts him. Equally essential is that he listens. There are not many trainers, no matter how grand their reputations, Fury would have listened to or been lectured by when he decided he wanted to fight again. He has heeded Davison’s words and been brought down in weight safely and effectively while maintaining his desire to fight. If Fury had been told to lose eight stone and given time frames to do it at the start, it would never have happened. He had to return at a realistic pace, psychologically and physically.
Davison could not afford to burn him out or make sure the final destination ever felt an infinite distance away. They had to do it piecemeal.
Davison will be joined in the corner on the night by Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach and Team Fury have been wrapping up preparations at Roach’s Wild Card Gym. But don’t expect Roach to try to take over on fight night. It is a clever move, bringing in the bespectacled guru. The California commission is Roach’s hometown organisation. He will be a familiar face in the corner for the officials and judges and will be able to make things go seamlessly in fight week, opening doors, holding them open and assisting Team Fury with anything they need. It is a masterstroke because, of course, he can offer difference-making pearls of wisdom in the corner, too.
And there are similarities between Fury and Davison in the opposite corner.
While Jay Deas is Wilder’s main man, and he has an experienced team including Mark Breland to lean on, it is their relationship that has been the difference-maker in their progress.
Deas does not have Angelo Dundee’s resume but sometimes the job of a trainer is positive reinforcement, trust and commitment – more so than fulfilling technical or even tactical obligations. You cannot put a price on what it means if a boxer buys into what they are being told and taught. Without being ready to learn, there is no coaching, training or development. Without being able to open to your ears to the man you must listen to there is no progress.
And Davison is not one without his own opinions – on training, on Wilder and on Fury.
Around a month ago, Team Fury decided to head down to Los Angeles from Big Bear early, ahead of schedule. So after four weeks, and having conferred with experts, Davison brought the camp to the City.
Some said Fury struggled with the altitude, there was speculation that the camp was bored and restless, that some of them were having broken sleep patterns and then that he had his hands full in sparring with Joe Joyce.
Davison denied any troubles in Big Bear and simply said Joyce’s style was not similar enough to Wilder’s for what they needed.
And while everyone has been going round in speculative circles, the Fury ranks have drawn closer and they have answered the same questions with a repetitive acceptance. “Has it come too soon?” “Is Davison too inexperienced?” “Will the time out of the ring be a factor?”
And they’re questions that no one can definitively answer. That is where the intrigue lies on December 1. We don’t know, even if we think we might. There is only one place for definitive truth and that is in the ring.
Will Davison have the answers to searching questions? Will Fury’s body, one that has been put to a sword for three years, stand up to the Alabama bombs? Will Fury be able to depend upon his most important asset, timing?
The gut instinct among many when this heavyweight clash was first mooted was that Tyson needed two more tests, and certainly something more taxing and severe than he got from Sefer Seferi and Francesco Pianeta.
The questions surrounding Wilder do not concern his camp. He has prepared at home in Tuscaloosa in the Skyy Boxing Gym in familiar surrounds. Altitude has not been in any equation, just a couple of media stops to LA that he would have rather done without but are par for the course at this level.
The questions Wilder faces are, what happens if he finally meets someone he cannot land his vaunted power shots against? How hard will he find it coming to terms with a box-of-tricks who can seamlessly switch from orthodox to southpaw in the same stride pattern and who uses offensive and defensive movements the likes of which he has not seen before? Add that to the fact that he is facing a man who is significantly larger than him, even having lost more than 150lbs, and it is laced with intrigue.
Due to the bout being for the WBC title, both fighters have been subjected to VADA testing but it was late kicking off as WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman eventually ordered both boxers to enrol or face sanctions.
When I arrived to interview Fury for BT Sport in Big Bear, I did so behind an SUV with a USADA tester. It was, back then, Fury’s fourth test in camp and that was weeks ago.
Why there was extra testing has not been significantly explained. Everyone in boxing knows VADA is the gold standard and has a far higher success rate than USADA who, according to a study by Thomas Hauser in September had found one reported positive from 1,501 tests.
Andy Foster of the California State Athletic Commission said via email: “Both Mr. Wilder and Mr. Fury are enrolled in VADA as it relates to the WBC. In addition, the promoter, TGB promotions has contracted with VADA for additional random testing (at significant expense) to ensure that both athletes are drug free when they box in Los Angeles on December 1st. The results of the tests will be sent directly to the California State Athletic Commission. The Commission is pleased that TGB promotions went to this extent to ensure both fighters are on a level playing field.”
VADA is submitting the results directly to the CSAC, but USADA is also testing and have so far not shared their results with the CSAC, according to Foster.
However, Foster would be able to get results from the testing labs either at UCLA or in Salt Lake City, one would imagine.
Drug testing is a niche subject in boxing. The attitude of some journalists is as cavalier as some of the fighters. It is just accepted that it is another grey area in a sport full of them, and no matter what happens and who tests positive the sport is incapable of giving itself more black eyes than it’s accumulated in more than 130 years.
And with a fight like Wilder-Fury, that has captured mainstream attention, a niche subject in a niche sport is not of huge interest to the guys and girls writing the biggest checks.
And it will be the prize ring where all eyes will be staring on Saturday night in Los Angeles, not into empty plastic cups or testing laboratories.
There is also a large sweeping of encouraging public sentiment behind Fury, certainly in the UK. It reminds me of the groundswell of positive wishes Ricky Hatton received before he was toppled in his comeback fight against Vyacheslav Senchenko in 2012, three years after the Manchester idol had previously fought. Ironically, Hatton will be part of Fury’s entourage in LA. He, too, had abused his body in binges of food, drink and drugs, fuelled by depression and resulting in near death experiences at his own hand, like Fury. Hatton’s ravaged body ultimately saw him succumb to a taste of his own cruel medicine, a bodyshot defeat.
Wilder-Fury contest is fascinatingly poised. Of course, you have some who think Wilder will walk through the challenger and others who believe Fury will trick his way to a bamboozling decision, but that’s why we fight the fights.
Sure, after Saturday night the ball will be back in Joshua’s court and his April 13 date in Wembley will be the centrepiece in the next chapter of the heavyweight narrative, but let’s enjoy this while we have it.
It may have come sooner than we thought. Perhaps it has come too soon for Fury. But it’s here and in a sport in which the right amount of marinade is a strip of bacon under the grill for an hour, let’s enjoy what we have on our plate.