Playing with Fire…

Nikolay Tsenkov
7 min readJun 12, 2021

A couple of weeks ago, Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua had agreed to fight each-other twice this year, in Saudi Arabia. Contracts were signed. Money guarantees were in an escrow. And we were looking forward to crowning an undisputed heavyweight champion of the world in, potentially, one of the biggest fights ever.

All of a sudden, the news broke out that Deontay Wilder, the former WBC heavyweight champ whom Tyson stripped off his belt in their previous fight, has won an arbitration case for a 3rd match between them.

Less than 24h later, Tyson Fury has pulled out of the AJ fight and had already signed a contract to face Deontay Wilder, in under 10 weeks time (later announced to be July 24th).

The rumours are that Wilder requested $20 million to step aside and allow the Fury-Joshua 2-fight deal to go forward, but team Fury declined the offer.

Should’ve Tyson Fury paid Wilder to step aside? Or was $20 million too high of a price? Is Tyson right to be so confident in a 2nd win?

Let’s assess the situation, starting from the last question.

Is Tyson Fury right to be so confident on beating Deontay Wilder again?

In the 1st fight, Tyson won (almost) every round aside from the 2 knockdowns he suffered. Tyson, and probably the majority of the Boxing world, believe he won that fight.

In the 2nd fight — there was no dispute. As the first bell rang, Tyson ran across the ring and until the fight was over — he was constantly on the front foot, attacking Wilder round after round. Tyson even managed to knock Deontay down and put him on the canvas for the first time in Wilder’s pro career. The fight ended with Wilder’s corner throwing-in the towel.

Tyson has every right to feel confident in himself. If a man has done it twice, 2nd time even more convincingly than the 1st — that man can do it again! That’s the common sense and 9/10 times — that’s exactly what happens.

Here is the problem, though: Wilder has a great equaliser — his tremendous punching power. He is considered to be the biggest puncher in Boxing right now, potentially — ever. He is so powerful that he’s capable of concussing the best boxers out there, landing a straight shot on their forehead. Just look at the 2nd Luis Ortiz fight — he landed a cross on Ortiz’s forehead and his legs buckled… That’s almost a super-human power. The human skull is evolved in a way that the forehead is the worst place you can hit someone — you have a better chance of hurting yourself than the guy who’s being hit. In fact in sports where the hands are not as protected (like bare knuckle boxing, or even MMA) — fighters know not to hit the forehead or they run the risk of breaking their hands. And in Boxing, many fighters don’t even protect their forehead at all. You aren’t getting kicked by a donkey — it’s another fighter in front of you and humans can’t produce that sort of force to be able to hurt you. Well, regular humans can’t, but Deontay Wilder‘s power is something special.

Isn’t Fury taking a too dangerous fight on a short notice?

While Deontay Wilder’s focus has been on Tyson Fury for over a year — Tyson’s attention was on Joshua up until, literally, days ago. That is a big shift and it may be a bit of a gamble. Also there were some reports of Tyson getting slightly bored (of waiting for a fight) and out of shape, not so long ago.

But confidence is no small factor and Tyson obviously have plenty of it when it comes to facing Wilder again. The other good thing is that he stayed close with his head coach Sugar Hill Steward, who helped devise the offensive plan to defeat Wilder the last time, so he may not need too much more than a fitness camp to rinse and repeat the last performance.

Another 36 minutes worth of puncher’s chances…

That’s how long a full 12-round fight lasts (less the rests in between rounds).

Every time a higher-level boxer steps in the ring with Deontay Wilder, they are essentially giving him 36 minutes worth of puncher’s chances. That’s a lot of chances and it only takes 1!

Seeing how Wilder put Fury on the ground 2 times in the first fight, we know Tyson is not untouchable. He showed courage getting up, but you have to remember — he was a heavy underdog in that fight and that hunger is hard to replicate when you are the A-side.

Wilder was totally caught off guard when Fury did exactly what he said he would do in the 2nd fight — he didn’t believe Fury would dare attack and as Mark Breland, Wilder’s long-time coach whom he fired for throwing-in the towel in the 2nd Fury fight, has revealed — Wilder hasn’t prepared for that at all in training camp. He just didn’t believe that Tyson would change his style so much.

Now he knows for sure Tyson could actually be coming for a knockout — if he is smart, he would perfect a game plan fighting defensively. He’s not going to forget all of his experience prior to fighting Tyson, and doesn’t really need to change too much his offence. But it will be a mistake if he doesn’t have a good plan for fighting on the back foot.

What doesn’t bend — breaks!

Throughout the history of Boxing there were many fighters who wholeheartedly believed they are unbeatable → they suffered a defeat → never came back from it. When your whole image of yourself is built around this idea of indestructible greatness and all of a sudden someone disproves your beliefs — you break down.

From the way Wilder has handled his defeat — it’s quite obvious that’s exactly what has happened to him.

This is Tyson’s biggest advantage coming into this 3rd fight. He really, as he likes to say, “got this man’s mojo” in his pocket.

Tyson often talks about his connection to God, his gratefulness for his life, talent and family, but I think he is not as blind to the possibility of getting beat as Wilder was before he faced him.

Confidence is a HUGE factor in Wilder’s performances so far. But after that 2nd Fury fight, even after the many (I have to say — ridiculous) excuses he came up with, looking to blame everyone else in that arena but himself — on some level, Wilder knows. He lost.

Should Fury have paid Wilder to step aside?

Well, let’s look at how much money is Tyson guaranteed to get this year in both scenarios:

  1. If he goes ahead with the Wilder fight, the reports are for a guarantee of $30 million + undisclosed share of the PPV sales.
    Worst case: he loses the fight. There is no 4th fight in the contract. This effectively means Tyson Fury is now not even a mandatory under any governing body and he has to have at least 2 fights before he challenges for a title. Even if he has a 2nd fight this year — it will likely not be for more than $10 million and that’s not guaranteed.
    — Provided the worst happens - next fight is: UNKNOWN
    — Total guaranteed for the year: $30 million
  2. If he pays Wilder $20 million to go and have a 2-fight deal with AJ (both fights were planned for this year)
    Worst case: he loses both fights with AJ. Eddie Hearn produces better paydays for AJ and his opponents than any other promoter on the planet. That has been proven over and over again. Before the fight fell apart, the publicly discussed expected earning for each fighter was £100 million (~$140 million), in total for both fights.
    Provided the worst happens — next fight is: Wilder (this is a speculation of course, but I imagine the contract works bi-directionally, so Tyson should be able to invoke the mandatory 3rd fight if he wants to)
    Total guaranteed for the year: $140 million — $20 million = $120 million

If Tyson Fury had the opportunity to pay Wilder $20 million to step aside — he should’ve taken it! The risk:reward ratio just isn’t optimal at the path he has now taken.

Was this an actual option? We don’t know. But seeing John Fury, Tyson’s father, saying he is mad that Tyson didn’t pay Wilder up to step aside — tells me that, likely, Tyson and/or his team really made a mistake.

People who are not raised with a silver spoon in their mouth (me, being a part of this group), have a very hard time coming to terms with strategic losses. Especially if it’s money that has to be given up. But sometimes it’s the right move. I think that’s what’s failed Fury in this situation.

What’s going to happen in this fight?

Coming back from such a bad loss (in the 2nd fight) will be very tough for Wilder, mentally. There was an interview with him in which he demonstrates he believes the many excuses he has made for the 2 fights prior. While his ability to distort reality and keep a high confidence is pretty incredible, if he thinks he didn’t lose —the chance of adjusting for the 3rd fight becomes even smaller. After their 1st bout I told many people they can’t expect a puncher to get better for the 2nd fight — it’s always the technician who adjusts. And that’s exactly what happened.

Having said all of that, statistically speaking, it will not be a crazy-unlikely eventuality if Wilder catches Fury clean — pop, Fury goes down, and doesn’t get up this time. Wilder’s power is incredible and can bring an upset to any odds. That’s why I think this is a high-risk, low-reward fight for Tyson and he is quite literally playing with fire. He should’ve postponed it (if he could) to get the AJ fights done, first.

Provided that both fighters are physically-healthy, well-trained, and Fury doesn’t get complacent during the fight — I pick him [Fury] to win the fight. It can come in any form including decision, TKO, KO or corner stoppage.

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