Fury vs. Wilder II already packs a punch

Hype and boxing go hand in hand, which is why Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury won’t step into the ring to face one another a second time until there has been a month or more of colorful invective flying between the pair.

The rematch, featuring the two heavyweight giants on Feb. 22 in Las Vegas, will possibly turn out to be the most important boxing contest of 2020. It’s a hotly-anticipated reboot of a classic draw 13 months ago, and a meeting that will go a long way towards shaping the immediate future of the heavyweight division.

The outcome of the fight itself won’t be known until the protagonists step into the ring at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, of course. What boxing hopes and prays for is something along the lines of their prior classic, which saw Fury dominate before surviving a late Wilder bomb that would have knocked out a comic book supervillain.

However, between now and then, fight fans and the general sporting public will be treated to a heavy dose of what is perhaps best described as personality-driven verbal warfare. As adept as they are at pugilism, both men know how to talk an outstanding game, and that hype train is a huge part of combat sports in the 21st century.

Wilder and Fury kicked off their media tour with an event in Los Angeles this week, and as expected, pulled no punches. There was something for everyone, as both men remain unmatched in providing the perfect soundbite.

“Deontay Wilder hasn’t been returning my calls or messages since last time,” Fury said. “He’s trying to keep his distance. He didn’t want to be around me so I can get in his head.

“He’s going to try to (end it with) the right hand. If I’m stupid enough to get hit with it, I deserve to lose. I hit the floor twice in the first fight, but it’s all about how you respond. I’m a fighting man. If he can’t finish me, I’m going to eat him up.”

It’s always brash, occasionally provocative, and is not always easy listening, but it is the kind of thing that is hard to tear yourself away from.

Fury had intelligent words for the boxing purists, a delve into the thought process behind his decision to ditch former trainer Ben Davison and appoint Javan “SugarHill” Steward, nephew of the legendary Emmanuel Steward, in his corner.

For the clickbait crew, there was a smattering of the bizarre, as the British fighter provided altogether too much information about his intimacy habits, which inevitably led to a burst of online headlines.

Wilder’s chat is like his punches: big, loud and unforgiving. He knows his words won’t rattle Fury like they have other opponents, but they are part of his preparation by now — and of course, part of his brand.

“I knocked him out the first time we fought,” he said, referencing the 12th round Staples Center knockdown that seemed to have finished Fury before he beat the count. “I told him two years ago I was going to baptize him. Rising up is part of the baptism. This is unfinished business. Because he’s in WWE, I’m going to make sure he gets knocked out of the ring, I might even come down with a flying elbow from the top rope.

“I’m going to do exactly what I said I would do. I’m going to knock him out. I’m the lion. I’m the king of the jungle. I’m going to rip his head off his body.”

It is only going to get louder. Pay-per-view sales are what drives a fighter’s bank balance, so there will be several more appearances around the country as the fight date draws closer.

It is a bit of a guilty pleasure at times, but it’s hard to stop watching when either one of them gets into full flow. Something about human nature draws us to the characters who are unashamedly loud and forthright and utterly unafraid to extol their own virtues to the world.

Muhammad Ali perfected the craft in boxing and the sport has largely followed the blueprint ever since. Modern fighters have found that a social media audience is the perfect target zone for the snappiest of soundbites, and that essentially nothing is off limits.

The bigger the personality, the bigger the interest … and the greater the spoils. In the case of Fury, who ballooned to 400 pounds and battled mental illness at the height of his career, his storyline has proved to be lucrative, and a highly-paid future in the WWE likely beckons.

The truth is, however, that if a superfight amounts to a lot of bombast on the microphone, the bout itself doesn’t stack up. With this one, there is a lot behind it. Anthony Joshua may dispute the theory that these are the top two heavyweights, but following his upset defeat to Andy Ruiz (later avenged) last year, he will have to wait his turn to prove it.

Wilder and Fury are in charge of the division right now and whoever prevails in Vegas will have bragging rights as top dog. It is a tremendous clash of styles, as was seen the first time around.

Wilder has a monstrously fierce punch; big, heavy and violent enough to snuff the hopes of any opponent in a split second. However far behind he gets in a fight, it is always there as a looming threat, the ultimate equalizer.

Fury has what seems to be the antidote: exceptional defensive skills, superior head movement and boxing ability more in tune with a fighter from the lower, speedier weight classes.

It is a classic boxing matchup with a modern promotional face painted onto the front. When Wilder and Fury spout their verbal haymakers, the whole prelude sometimes seems set to descend into madness — until you remember that there is a lingering method behind it. The show before the show.