By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Tyson Fury understands that the most memorable boxers are also talented promoters, and he has sold his heavyweight trilogy finale against Deontay Wilder with a showman’s flair.
The unbeaten British champion has taunted and tweaked Wilder throughout the buildup to their climactic showdown for the WBC title Saturday night in Las Vegas, usually doing it while shirtless in a bespoke suit jacket. Fury’s confidence and charisma in the fighters’ public meetings throughout the protracted process of getting to this weekend have convinced much of the boxing world they’re about to see another crowning — and one more violent mauling.
“He’s in denial and he’s getting knocked out,” Fury said. “His legacy is in bits. I knocked him out, and now I’m going to retire him.”
Beneath Fury’s promotional theatrics is an undercurrent of frustration, however.
Fury is weary of Wilder’s bizarre antics and a bit annoyed by the boxing machinations that forced him into a third edition of a fight he feels he already won twice. Although Fury is confident in his superior skills, he realizes Wilder’s one-punch power is formidable, leaving him vulnerable to all of his hard work being erased in an instant.
And though Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs) will make millions from this pay-per-view show at T-Mobile Arena on the south end of the Las Vegas Strip, Wilder’s insistence on holding the rematch prevented Fury from getting the fight he really wanted against fellow British champion Anthony Joshua.
Fury also feels a certain amount of empathy because he believes Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) is going through some of the same mental health battles Fury fights every day, problems that threatened to derail his entire career heading into the first fight of this trilogy.
This highly entertaining matchup has already featured two dramatic endings, but Fury is determined to finish the whole thing with an authority that will stamp him as the most accomplished heavyweight of this era.
“We’re expecting nothing less than a knockout,” said Sugarhill Steward, Fury’s trainer.
The rivalry began in late 2018 when Fury met Wilder at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The matchup was intriguing because of the contrast between Wilder’s ferocious power and Fury’s all-around skills, but Fury outboxed Wilder for long stretches and would have won by decision except for two knockdowns, including a 12th-round stunner that left Fury motionless on his back while Wilder celebrated an impossibly dramatic turn of events.
Fury somehow got up and reached the bell, and the judges’ scorecards came back in a draw. Both fighters immediately looked toward a rematch, but boxing politics delayed it until early 2020.
Fury then utterly dominated the second bout, battering Wilder with his superior skill set until Wilder’s corner threw in the towel in the seventh round in Las Vegas. It was only Fury’s second stoppage victory since 2014, and it served as a culmination of Fury’s evolution from a 6-foot-9 hulk into one of the most technically skilled heavyweights in recent memory.
Fury thought that beating settled the score, and while he doesn’t mind the massive payday of this trilogy finale, the 33-year-old is wisely thinking about his legacy and the bouts he needs to secure it.
“I hope he brings a better fight, because the last fight was disappointing, to say the least,” Fury said. “I trained for an absolute war, and it was a one-sided beatdown, so hopefully he can give me a challenge.”
Wilder claims he has “nothing to prove” in the bout, even though he stubbornly exercised his rematch clause after his loss and persisted through an arbitration process that forced Fury to call off an already-announced showdown with Joshua in Saudi Arabia during the summer. The fight was initially scheduled for July before a COVID-19 outbreak in Fury’s camp forced a three-month postponement into the heart of the busy fall combat sports schedule.
Wilder has more to gain than Fury from this third meeting. The American’s loss to Fury was his first defeat since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and his petulant, occasionally deranged reaction to the loss has left all but his firmest supporters scratching their heads at his attitude.
But when the heavyweights meet again Saturday night, Wilder will be one punch away from once again altering the course of two careers that will be forever linked by the type of fight series that rarely happens in the modern sport.
“I have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Wilder said. “Your legacy only dies when the desire for the sport dies. I’m well alive right now.”