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Future of heavyweight division rests on Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury

LOS ANGELES — The old saying is: As the heavyweight division goes, so goes boxing. If that is truly the case, the sport is in good shape, because there is a big-time heavyweight championship fight at hand.

The 6-foot-7 Deontay Wilder, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, will defend his world title on Saturday (Showtime PPV, 9 p.m. ET) at Staples Center against England’s 6-foot-9 Tyson Fury in a match of brash big men who talk as well as they fight.

It is the most significant heavyweight world title fight in the United States since Lennox Lewis stopped fellow Hall of Famer Vitali Klitschko in the sixth round of an epic slugfest to retain the title in 2003, coincidentally also at Staples Center.

“This is going to be an amazing fight and I’m looking forward to it. We worked our a– off in camp and hopefully he has done the same instead of just running his mouth,” Wilder said this week. “All the action is about come. We going to see who’s the best man in the heavyweight division whether it’s the ‘Gypsy King’ (Fury) or is it the ‘Bronze Bomber.'”

Said Fury: “This is an important fight for boxing, because it’s two undefeated champions facing off. There have been people not getting in the ring with top guys for whatever reason, but here you have two fighters stepping up and onto the line.”

Lou DiBella, Wilder’s promoter, summed up the stakes succinctly: “The winner can walk away saying, ‘I am the man until proven otherwise.’ The winner of this fight will be the best heavyweight on the planet. That’s what this is all about.”

This is your ESPN.com Ringside Seat for the fight:

Confident men

Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs), 33, is the best puncher in boxing, period. He has knocked out nearly every man he has faced and usually in extremely violent fashion with his right hand. The one man that went the distance with him, Bermane Stiverne — when Wilder relieved him of his title in 2015 — got destroyed in the first round in their rematch 13 months ago. Wilder fully expects to keep that knockout record intact.

“I’m showing you each and every time and I’m giving you a knockout. America has a mighty man in me. America has the baddest man on the planet,” he said. “I put in the hard work to make it here. I’ve grinded and worked. There’s no way I’m going to let a man come from another country and take what I’ve been building.

“I don’t believe Fury has the confidence to come and beat me. His last opponent hit Fury with any shot he wanted. If he’s going to knock me out, why didn’t he knock out his last opponent? He doesn’t believe he can knock me out. When I say it, I believe it. My numbers don’t lie. I’m going to prove it again. I’m going to show you domination. I’m going to show you my boxing skill. I’m going to beat him, then knock him out.”

Fury (27-0, 19 KOs), 30, is more of a skilled boxer who relies on quick hands than a big puncher and has insisted he will rumble with Wilder and then stop him.

“I hope the boxing fans around the world are going to enjoy this as much as I will. On Saturday night, I’m going to finally get my chance to punch him in the face,” Fury said. “Deontay Wilder is getting knocked out.

“You’ve got someone who’s got dynamite power and he’s going to be looking to land it, and you’ve got someone who’s got great boxing skill and he’s going to be trying to use that. But at the end of the day it’s a fight, and at some point or other, two men will have to punch each other and stand and fight. And when that moment comes, you’re going to see who’s the better fighter, who can take the punches, and who can’t.

“But make no mistake, I can box for 12 hours on my toes. At some point he’s going to rip me and I’m going to rip him. At some point we’re going to have to stand and when that point comes I’m very confident that I can withstand his power and knock him out.”

Wilder doesn’t buy that Fury has any intention of standing in front of him to trade.

“That’s not his game. I don’t believe that one bit,” he said. “That hype will not live up to the fight. That’s just something to promote. I don’t believe he’ll do that one bit. If he does get brave and do that it will be the biggest mistake of his life.”

play

2:27

Tyson Fury faces his biggest test in Deontay Wilder, but Steve Bunce explains how he can dethrone the champ.

Fury overcomes

Three years ago this week, Fury — who is named after Mike Tyson — traveled to Germany and scored a monumental upset when he outpointed longtime champion Wladimir Klitschko to win three heavyweight title belts and the lineal title. But Fury never defended the belts as his life went into a downward spiral because of drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues – including depression and suicidal thoughts — and enormous weight gain from around 260 pounds to 400.

Fury, who said he contemplated suicide, eventually got his life under control. He has become an outspoken advocate for mental health understanding and dramatically slimmed down. He finally returned to the ring in June after a 31-month layoff and won two low-level fights before agreeing to fight Wilder.

“I’m back to reclaim my throne. Even though I’ve had the tune-up fights, I feel like this is my true comeback fight,” Fury said.

What does the fight mean to him?

“Icing on the cake,” he said. “The first chapter of a new storybook, the beginning of a new life, a new era of Tyson Fury.”

Win or lose, that he is here in this fight is a testament to his will.

“It’s been a long, hard road. I had many obstacles in the way,” he said. “My absence from the ring has been well documented, but it’s made me stronger and more determined. I’ve never been as happy during a training camp as I was in this one.

“The fire in me has been lit again. Nothing in life was given to me. I’ve worked for everything I earned. I am the people’s champion and I am the man who gives the people hope. I’m not just fighting for myself. I’m fighting for the millions of people around the world who look to me for inspiration. I’ve come back against all odds.”

Wilder offered Fury support during his recovery through private messages and encouraged him to return to boxing. Now they’re fighting and despite the chippiness between them during fight week, Wilder respects Fury’s ability to overcome his problems.

“In his mind he already feels like he obtained victory with everything he’s had to overcome,” Wilder said. “I think he’s satisfied with that, that he’s overcome mental illness. He came back with his health, losing so much weight. That is victory in itself. So whatever happens Saturday night he has no reason to put his head down. He can go back to his country with a whole lot of money and smile on his face.”

Said DiBella: “I think he should be proud of himself for getting his life in order and being able to turn things around. What he’s done in the last six months has been remarkable. I’m still going to admire him after he gets knocked out.”

play

2:08

Deontay Wilder faces the big but slippery Tyson Fury, Steve bunce shares three ways the American can come out on top.

Joshua looms

Wilder and his team hoped to be fighting unified titleholder Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs) for the undisputed championship this fall. Wilder accepted the terms – a lowball offer of $15 million with no share of the profits to fight in the United Kingdom, Joshua’s home country, but Joshua elected to go in another direction.

If Wilder defeats Fury, the talk of that mega fight will heat up again, especially with Joshua scheduled to fight April 13 at London’s Wembley Stadium but with no set opponent. Wilder said he is willing to go back to the table to negotiate the fight after beating Fury.

“We’re always up for any discussion,” he said. “We’ve never shied away from a meeting or discussion about the fight. Those guys just gotta be real. They got to give the people what they want. Enough is enough. Everybody should be able to make some decent money and get this mega fight on. I really want to give the fans what they want.”

If Fury wins a fight between he and Joshua would go down as perhaps the biggest all-British heavyweight ever.

“The most important is that we all fight each other and give the boxing fans of our era something to talk about,” Fury said. “It would be a crying shame to not fight each other and all get in the mix. It’s going to be an exciting time. It’s an exciting time.”

The man who beat the man

Wilder will be making the eighth defense of his alphabet title belt, but with a win over Fury and he can truly be called the heavyweight champion of the world because he will become the lineal champion, meaning he will be the man who beat the man who beat the man.

When Fury beat long-reigning champion Klitschko he won three of the major belts as well as the lineal title. Though Fury was either stripped or forced to vacate the belts, a fighter loses the lineal title only in the ring (or by retirement or changing divisions). Therefore, Fury may not have a title belt but he will be defending the lineal title for the first time against Wilder and it’s a crown Wilder covets.

“It’s very important to me because that goes in line with unifying the division,” he said. “That’s just one step closer. One more thing to add to my title. So it’s a very big deal to add that to the things I’m trying to accomplish. … The winner of this fight will show the world who is ‘The Man’ in the heavyweight division.”

Fury is proud of his claim to the lineal title, but would also like to add Wilder’s belt since it’s the only one he has not won.

“I don’t need to beat Deontay Wilder to prove I’m the best. I’m the lineal champion,” he said. “If Deontay wins, he will be the best, but he’s not going to beat me. I’m the best heavyweight alive, and there’s only one way to get that title. You have to come take it from me. There’s never been a man who could better me in a fight. I’m showing up on Saturday night, beating Wilder up and becoming WBC champion.”

Pay-Per-View rookies

All pay-per-view stars have to start somewhere and Wilder-Fury marks the debuts for both on a major American PPV. Wilder cannot be more excited about it, hoping it’s just the start of what is to come.

“I’m excited to be headlining my first pay-per-view but I still feel like me,” he said. “I feel like this should have happened to me a long time ago. I just cant wait. I’m grateful to have this opportunity.”

Fury, who will be boxing in the United States for the second time, is pumped to be back in the America and on PPV.

“The location is fantastic. To be in America, boxing on U.S. PPV, boxing in Los Angeles — it’s a fantastic place. I’m happy to be a part of such a massive event,” Fury said. “I’m sure it’s going to go down in American boxing history. You’ve got two unbeaten world heavyweight champions — both giants, both have got big points to prove — fighting each other. I’m as excited as a boxing fan.”

Rafael’s prediction: Wilder by knockout.

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