LAS VEGAS — To listen to Deontay Wilder, the concussion-inducing, conspiracy-obsessed former heavyweight champion, there are conspirators around every corner who did their level best to insure that Tyson Fury would defeat him on Feb. 22, 2020, in their rematch at the MGM Grand Garden for the WBC and lineal heavyweight title.
Wilder's conspiracy, if you buy it, began on the inside. Mark Breland, his longtime trainer, spiked his water, Wilder has said. Breland was fired for not only allegedly spiking Wilder’s water but for mercifully throwing in the towel in the seventh round as the 6-foot-9, 273-pound Fury was whaling away at Wilder's head with clubbing punches.
It also involves the Nevada Athletic Commission, which according to Wilder’s account, allowed Fury to doctor his gloves, which allegedly created dents in Wilder's head from Fury’s punches.
The company that made the costume Wilder wore to the ring apparently had a role, because Wilder complained it was too heavy. He said that by the time he got into the ring for the fight, his legs felt dead.
The media, always a prime target, of course, would have to be involved. Wilder chided reporters Wednesday for not asking what he said were the hard questions. Boxing reporters, whose penchant for petty feuds and childish disagreements goes back decades, apparently all got together and agreed to stonewall any legitimate investigations into Wilder’s allegations against Fury, Breland, the commission and whoever doctored the gloves.
He offered zero proof of any of the allegations. Wilder is managed by Shelly Finkel, a shrewd and wise man who certainly would have screamed from the highest mountaintop and taken advantage of the court system if he’d seen a shred of evidence to support Wilder's allegations.
Finkel, it should be noted, managed Breland during his fighting career and remains close to him to this day.
Finkel is and always has been a zealous advocate for his clients, but he’s been conspicuous in his silence.
That’s the backdrop for the fight between arguably the two finest heavyweights in the world, who on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena will square off for the third time in less than three years.
Wilder, though, has the one thing that could make all the conspiracy theories, excuses and complaints moot: fight-ending, soul-crushing power.
Wilder stands with the likes of Mike Tyson, Earnie Shavers, “Big” George Foreman, Sonny Liston, Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano as one of the greatest punchers in the sport’s history.
Foreman won the title for a second time in 1994 when he knocked out Michael Moorer with a slow but crushing 1-2 combination that came when he was well behind after nine full rounds. Two judges had given Moorer seven of the nine rounds scored, while the third had given Moorer five of the nine.
Moorer was on his way to a decision win when that Foreman right hand landed on his chin and changed boxing history.
Fury knows that no matter how the fight is going, he can’t afford to play it fast and loose on Saturday or he’ll end up on his back again with referee Russell Mora counting over him.
“Whether it’s the smallest man in the room or the fattest man, I never take anyone for granted,” Fury said. “Deontay Wilder can [expletive] punch.”
Wilder has left a trail of bodies in his wake, including his current trainer, Malik Scott. They fought in Puerto Rico in 2014, and Wilder stopped him in the first round.
Former world champion Paulie Malignaggi, then announcing for Showtime, said on the broadcast, “The right hand looked like it didn’t land clean, but it just goes to show you the power of this guy.”
Wilder has had 19 rounds to figure out Fury’s tendencies. They’ve fought 18 complete rounds that were scored — 12 in the first fight and six in the second, before it was stopped in the seventh, which was not scored — and Fury has won 37 of the 54 scored rounds (considering three judges vote a round). And if you consider the seventh round — when Fury stopped Wilder — as a Fury round, that would bump the total to 38 of 55, or 69.1 percent of all the rounds between them.
That may not bode well for Wilder on the surface, but the fact he’s seen Fury so much means he should have a better read on him than he did in either of the other two fights.
And with Wilder’s power, all it takes is one and everyone will be going home with a new champion in charge.
Given how the first two ended, Wilder in some ways feels like he’s playing with house money as well as a fistful of dynamite.
“I have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Wilder said. “All the pressure’s on him. Your legacy only dies when the desire for the sport dies. I’m alive and well right now.”
So, too, is Fury. He’s 30-0-1 and largely unchallenged. But his trainer, Sugarhill Steward, vows he wouldn’t let Fury become content.
“I believe in what the Wilder camp has been working on,” Steward said. “I’ve looked at the clips [they’ve released of his training on the internet]. It gets me motivated to keep working with Tyson. We’re expecting nothing less than a knockout.”