The most-anticipated heavyweight showdown in nearly two decades will transfix the boxing world on Saturday when unbeaten WBC champion Deontay Wilder faces Tyson Fury in a long-awaited rematch.
In what is the biggest heavyweight collision since Lennox Lewis bludgeoned Mike Tyson into submission on the banks of the Mississippi River in 2002, Wilder and Fury go head-to-head 14 months after battling to a draw in Los Angeles.
Tickets for Saturday’s bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas have been changing hands for up to $11,000, while promoters predict the event could generate more than 2 million pay-per-view sales in the United States alone.
At the centre of the action are two of heavyweight boxing’s most charismatic and skilful protagonists, the hard-hitting “Bronze Bomber” Wilder and Fury, the eccentric, self-styled “Gypsy King” from northern England.
Both men will be taking unbeaten records into the 12-round contest, with the 34-year-old Wilder looking to add Fury’s name to a tally which reads 42-0 with one drawn and 41 knockouts.
The fight is a classic clash of styles, pitting Wilder’s devastating knockout power against the more elusive, mobile defensive style of Fury.
In their first fight in Los Angeles, Fury recovered from two juddering knockdowns to claim a draw, miraculously climbing off the canvas in the 12th round to hang on for a share of the spoils.
Until that final knockdown, Fury had been on course to snatch victory, outfoxing Wilder with a defensive masterclass which had the 6ft 7in (2m) American unleashing wild haymakers at thin air.
Fury, (29-0-1, 20 knockouts) however has spent the buildup to Saturday’s rematch promising to adopt a more aggressive approach, insisting he is targeting an early knockout.
– Fists of destiny –
“My own destiny lies within my own two fists,” the 31-year-old said.
“I’ll be letting them fly very aggressively. The mistake I made last time was not making him pay when he was hurt. This time when I get him hurt, I’ll throw everything but the kitchen sink at him and he won’t know what hit him.”
Fury’s assertion that he is targeting an explosive victory to make the judge’s scorecards an irrelevance should be taken with a large pinch of salt.
The British fighter is not renowned for raw knockout punching power, and his likeliest path to victory remains via the sort of elusiveness which has marked his most significant career performances.
There are also question marks over Fury’s build-up. He required more than 40 stitches to patch up a horrific cut over his right eye in a laboured victory over Otto Wallin in his last fight in September.
That was followed by a split with trainer Ben Davison, who had successfully guided Fury’s comeback in 2018 after a three-year hiatus spent battling depression, drink and drug problems.
Fury has since turned to Javan “Sugarhill” Steward, the nephew of the legendary late cornerman Emanuel Steward.
Wilder’s preparations for the rematch meanwhile have rolled along relatively smoothly.
He demolished Dominic Breazeale in one round last May and then scored a spectacular one-punch seventh-round knockout of Cuba’s Luis Ortiz in November.
Although Wilder and Fury shoved each other at a face-off in Las Vegas on Wednesday, the American champion has appeared the more composed of the two men this week.
A relaxed-sounding Wilder is sceptical of Fury’s vows to pursue a more aggressive gameplan, and in any case, doubts the Briton possesses the power to carry it out.
“I don’t believe nothing Fury says at this moment in time,” Wilder said.
“He’s just a tall big man that can move around the ring. And that’s about it. As far as power, there’s none there.
“I don’t believe he’ll be able to develop (power), no matter what trainer he brings in. You just don’t develop power in a couple of weeks. It’s impossible.”
Wilder also believes he has left a lasting psychological mark on Fury after the crushing knockdown in their first meeting.
“Deep down in his heart, I really feel that he’s nervous from the first time,” Wilder said. “When you knock a person out and get a concussion, you never forget that.
“When you’re going back in the ring with that person a second time it has to be stressful. He knows what the truth was.
“He can say he beat me by a wide margin but he honestly doesn’t believe that. If he believed he beat me, he wouldn’t have changed up so much.”