By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It’s all in the voice.
Well… sometimes, at least.
Given the nature of boxing as a sport, it’s not terribly surprising that fighters express confidence during interviews. In fact, it’s probably far better for an athlete’s health – given the violent means by which victory is secured – that he or she enter the ring thinking success is not only imminent, but guaranteed.
Still, it’s particularly noticeable in some instances.
I recall chatting with Bernard Hopkins a few weeks before his September 2001 title match with Felix Trinidad, a fight, some might recall, that the Puerto Rican was widely expected to win.
I’ll concede I was in the consensus that saw Bernard’s demise coming, but a phone conversation with him changed my mind. Not because he was cocky or arrogant or particularly poetic in charting his course to an upset, but instead because he was so completely matter of fact about what he was about to do.
I’ve got a similar memory, too, from a chat with one of my favorite all-time interviews, Nate Campbell.
The “Galaxxy Warrior” was a few days out from a triple-title bid against then-unbeaten lightweight kingpin Juan Diaz, again, a fight that nearly everyone considered to be a walkover for the 24-year-old.
But, just as with Hopkins, I hung up the phone with zero hesitation believing the wily veteran would stymie the youngster – thanks again to how straight and confident he played his role as the spoiler.
Ladies and gentlemen, it seems it’s happening again.
This time with Deontay Wilder.
Granted the circumstances are a bit different this time, given that Wilder is an unbeaten champion making his eighth title defense and Fury is a former title-holder whose “lineal” claim stretches tenuously back to a curiously bamboozled Wlad Klitschko three years ago in Dusseldorf.
Wilder is a legitimate, if not prohibitive favorite, and I picked him from the moment the fight was signed.
But after a 15-minute chat during which the “Bronze Bomber’s” voice rarely raised beyond a hush, my inkling transformed to a full-on no-doubter.
“He’ll have some trouble sleeping, I can promise you that,” Wilder said. “The closer we get to fight night and the closer he gets to realizing I’m going to be touching him – putting these hands on him – the worse he’ll feel about it and the more trouble he’ll know he’s in.”
Fight night, for those not paying attention, is Saturday night.
The Englishman went off the personal and professional rails soon after his career-definer against Klitschko, and has only recently returned for two decisive – if not exactly devastating – wins against lesser lights Francesco Pianeta and Sefer Seferi.
Wilder and Fury are listed second and fifth by the Independent World Boxing Rankings, behind Joshua and separated by Alexander Povetkin and Dillian Whyte. Meanwhile, Fury is considered the No. 3 challenger to Wilder’s throne by the WBC.
Ring Magazine, which finally stripped Fury of its heavyweight title in February after better than two years of inactivity, now has Joshua and Wilder at Nos. 1 and 2 and Fury at No. 7.
“(Fury’s) tall and he can move. He’s got a lot of ability,” Wilder said. “But he can’t punch. He punches like he’s got pillows in his gloves. That’s one advantage I definitely have – the extreme power.”
Extreme power, he said, that’ll lead to the aforementioned insomnia.
“He doesn’t like to get touched, especially to the body, and he knows that I’m going to touch him,” Wilder said. “I’m going to touch him like no one before has ever touched him. It’s reality now, man. It’s something he can’t get away from. He knows I’m the baddest man on the planet.
“I’m agile, mobile and hostile, and I’m coming for him.”
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
WBA mini flyweight title – Chonburi, Thailand
Thammanoon Niyomtrong (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Byron Rojas (No. 1 WBA/No. 3 IWBR)
Niyomtrong (18-0, 7 KO): Sixth title defense; Defeated Rojas (UD 12) to win title in 2016
Rojas (25-3-3, 11 KO): Third title fight (1-1); Eight straight wins since title loss in 2016 (8-0, 3 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The Thai fighter won a close one at home when these two met two years ago, and Rojas hasn’t done anything since to suggest he’ll flip the script this time. Niyomtrong by decision (70/30)
IBF/IBO/WBA super welterweight/junior middleweight titles – Los Angeles, California
Jarrett Hurd (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Jason Welborn (No. 11 WBA/Unranked IWBR)
Hurd (22-0, 15 KO): Third IBF title defense; Two TKO wins in three scheduled 12-rounders (3-0, 2 KO)
Welborn (24-6, 7 KO): First title fight; First fight outside of the United Kingdom
Fitzbitz says: Hurd has issues aplenty with his technique and defense, but he’s handled far better foes than he’s seeing here. No way he loses unless something ridiculous occurs. Hurd in 5 (99/1)
Vacant IBF mini flyweight title – Los Angeles, California
Mark Barriga (No. 1 IBF/No. 26 IWBR) vs. Carlos Licona (No. 3 IBF/No. 35 IWBR)
Barriga (9-0, 1 KO): First title fight; First fight in the United States
Licona (13-0, 2 KO): First title fight; One fight scheduled beyond eight rounds (1-0, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Let’s face it, neither guy is a world-beater at 105. But when it comes to the head-to-head match, Barriga has beaten a better grade of foe and seems more skilled. Barriga by decision (60/40)
WBC heavyweight title – Los Angeles, California
Deontay Wilder (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Tyson Fury (No. 3 WBC/No. 5 IWBR)
Wilder (40-0, 39 KO): Eighth title defense; KO/TKO wins in all seven previous defenses (53 total rounds)
Fury (27-0, 19 KO): Second title fight (1-0); First scheduled 12-rounder since 2015
Fitzbitz says: It’s intriguing thanks to Fury’s success against Klitschko. But Wilder won’t be quite as passive as Wlad was. He’ll press the fight and it’ll make Tyson uncomfortable. Wilder in 8 (85/15)
WBC light heavyweight title – Quebec City, Quebec
Adonis Stevenson (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Oleksandr Gvozdyk (Unranked WBC/No. 6 IWBR)
Stevenson (29-1-1, 24 KO): Tenth title defense; Fifth fight in Quebec City (4-0, 3 KO)
Gvozdyk (15-0, 12 KO): First title defense; First fight outside of the United States
Fitzbitz says: People have been waiting on Stevenson’s exit for years, and the draw with Jack made him look vulnerable. Says here that a bigger, younger foe finally gets it done. Gvozdyk by decision (60/40)
IBO minimumweight title – East London, South Africa
Simphiwe Khonco (champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Joey Canoy (No. 3 IBO/No. 17 IWBR)
Khonco (19-5, 7 KO): Fourth title defense; Sixth fight at Orient Theatre venue (3-2, 2 KO)
Canoy (14-3-1, 7 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Lost by TKO in try for IBO title at 108 pounds in 2017
Fitzbitz says: Again, neither guy is all-world at 105, but the champ is home and on a roll. Canoy fell short to a better, heavier foe in his previous title try, so this should be closer. Khonco by decision (55/45)
Last week’s picks: 2-0 (WIN: Bivol, Yafai)
2018 picks record: 81-32 (71.6 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,001-336 (74.8 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body’s full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.