In Tyson Fury’s mind, he has always been the top dog at heavyweight, even during his two-and-a-half year break from the ring when his life spiralled out of control. Now there are no arguments, although in boxing, things can change very quickly.
The world heavyweight picture has changed a lot in the past fortnight after Anthony Joshua’s defeat to Oleksandr Usyk. Much of this year was spent in anticipation of a Fury-Joshua fight for the undisputed world heavyweight title, now that is all dead as Fury goes through with a third fight against Deontay Wilder in Las Vegas on Saturday (Sunday morning UAE time) that he had long tried to get out of.
The pair first met in December 2018, when Fury got off the floor twice to claim a draw for Wilder’s WBC title. The rematch, in February 2020, was one-sided, with Fury abandoning his safety-free approach to batter Wilder to defeat in seven rounds.
After the pandemic ruled out two dates for the contracted rematch, Fury’s team claimed that rematch clause had expired and began negotiations for a fight with Joshua, until an American judge ruled that Wilder was still owed a fight.
Any thought that this was just a fight to get out of the way before the main event were changed by Joshua’s defeat, which has allowed the promoters to sell this as a meeting of the world’s top two heavyweights - an opinion that is harsh on Usyk, as those behind Fury seek to trash Joshua’s achievements.
“I’m the last man standing between me, Deontay and Anthony Joshua,” Fury said. “I’m the last one undefeated. I’m the two-time heavyweight champion and I’ve never lost a fight. That’s history.
“All these fights are exactly the same to me. Some guy is trying to take my head off. No matter who it may be, they don’t matter to me. It’s the Tyson Fury road show and it has continued for 13 years.
“Wilder is a weak person mentally and I’m going to knock him out on Saturday night. I obliterated him in the rematch and I see much more of the same in the third fight.”
Wilder’s reputation has been much-maligned since his defeat last year, largely because of his unwillingness to accept the loss. Various conspiracy theories have been voiced for the reason Wilder was beaten. First there was the excuse that his elaborate ringwalk outfit was too heavy, then there was a claim that his water had been spiked, plus one theory that Fury’s gloves had been doctored.
Mark Breland, his trainer who threw in the towel in the seventh round, has been jettisoned, derided as “a weak individual”. Fury suggested that Breland had “saved his life”. “You ought to give him a pay rise,” Fury said.
But Breland has been replaced by Malik Scott, a one-time opponent turned sparring partner and now trainer. Wilder’s camp is now made up of just true believers.
“I don’t have anything to prove,” Wilder said. “I’m in a great place and in a great state of mind. I have a lot of great people around me. This fight is about redemption, retaliation and retribution.
“It’s only made me better as a man and as a fighter to see certain things that happened in the second fight. It’s made me even hungrier than before. I needed everything that happened in that fight. It was really a blessing in disguise.
“I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Your legacy only dies when the desire for the sport dies. I’m well alive right now.”
Fury likes to talk and it was perhaps his mischievous sense of often spouting nonsense that allowed him to give away his gameplan for the last fight, fresh in the knowledge that no one would believe him.
The British heavyweight said he would change his style, abandoning his usual cautious, backfoot slippery style to attack Wilder from the opening bell. He had said the same in previous bouts, so no one took him seriously, notably Wilder. It turned out to be a masterstroke, as Wilder was taken out of his stride and then handed a beating.
And while the American may be better prepared for an aggressive Fury this time, there are no guarantees that is what he will face. So Wilder, whose hopes largely depend on being able to land his power shots, has no real idea whether the 6ft 9in Fury will be coming at him, or if he will have to chase him.
Remarkably, though, despite Fury first becoming a world champion in 2015, this will be the first time he has ever made a world title defence. After beating Wladimir Klitschko for the WBA, WBO and IBF titles, he twice pulled out of the rematch before descending into a mire of drink and drugs, coupled with a backdated ban for a failed doping test.
It took him four and a half years to become a world champion again and another 20 months to defend it. Fury is top of the pile right now, but nothing is guaranteed.