Their first bout was an unexpected showstopper; their second is the most anticipated boxing match of the year. The rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury promises to be a true clash of the titans.
There has always been speculation about how either would do in MMA; Fury previously released a training video with ranked UFC Middleweight Darren Till, while many are curious as to how Wilder’s famous power would look in an 8-ounce glove. With women’s boxing champ Claressa Shields having announced her own eventual move to MMA, the question has been asked – how would these two heavyweight greats operate in the cage instead of the ring? What tools would they have to manage the wrestling and kicking game they might face from elite MMA opposition? And which of the two would fare better than the other?
The Gypsy King: Tyson Fury
Tyson Fury’s return to the boxing limelight has been nothing short of shocking. Mired in controversy over a parade of shady remarks and seemingly vanishing from the elite ranks after a failed drug test and ballooning weight, Fury found himself on his return cast as an oversized David to Wilder’s Goliath. Yet in one of the most stunning comebacks in the long rich history of boxing, it was Tyson Fury who found his stock soaring after many scored the controversial draw in his favour.
Fury has two very strong defences against an inevitable grappling attack. Firstly, at 6’ 9’’ he is 7 inches taller than the average MMA heavyweight. This size advantage would give him leverage in the clinch. Boxers are deceptively skilled in the clinch already. More importantly, his excellent footwork can work to defuse wrestling attacks altogether. Ronda Rousey was undefeated on the merits of her Olympic level Judo, but Holly Holm was able to use sharp footwork to deny opportunities for clinching while picking her apart with strikes.
In addition, Fury’s preferred method for winning boxing matches is by winning rounds rather than seeking a finish. Since MMA fights are always shorter than boxing matches this means Fury doesn’t need to put himself in danger as long as he does in his boxing matches to get a victory.
However, we also have to look at the possible vulnerability in Tyson Fury’s greatest strength. His technical defence is superb, especially his head movement. But in MMA head movement often works slightly differently; look no further than Conor McGregor’s recent win over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. McGregor feinted a left straight and while Cerrone tried to slip it, McGregorlaunched a left head kick instead. Because of that slip Cowboy’s head collided into the kick, increasing the damage; and this is someone who has fought at an elite level in one of the toughest MMA divisions for years at a very high work rate. It’s easy to see someone new to MMA getting caught out by this “southpaw double attack” and similar manuvers.
The Bronze Bomber: Deontay Wilder
It’s easy to mistake Deontay Wilder for a man who gets by on his power alone. His marketing doesn’t help. Wilder intentionally plays up how much of a disadvantage his opponents are because of his power. But you don’t defend a heavyweight belt nine times just by having a big right hand.
It is important to differentiate a boxer who merely relies on his power and a boxer who is adept at exploiting it. Wilder is the latter. He is comfortable losing rounds to more active opponents, slowly coming to grips with their defences, their habits and flaws. Once he has found a chink in their armour he launches an attack that homes in on an opponent like a Tomohawk missile. As the common refrain goes: “his opponent has to be perfect for twelve rounds; Wilder only needs to be perfect for a single moment.” Wilder is absolutely superb at finding that moment and then making the other man pay.
To see this in action, look at the trouble Wilder had with Luis Ortiz in their first match and how, with Wilder already having the data from that first bout, he was able to take him out much quicker in the second. In a way, Wilder can’t be truly defeated. He only runs out of time.
However, this could be to Wilder’s detriment; those shorter rounds mean that his opponent does not have to be perfect for 36 minutes, only 15 or 25. This in turn would be offset by the smaller gloves and the much weaker level of striking defence in MMA compared to the elite boxers Wilder specialises in knocking out. It’s hard to see a single elite MMA heavyweight going the distance with Wilder without meeting his right hand. It’s also difficult to see any of those fighters being able to avoid being knocked out by that very hand, especially with MMA’s smaller gloves.
But Wilder has his own weaknesses. Boxers coming into MMA would always struggle mightily with low kicks. Wilder’s preference for coming in light with small legs would render him extremely vulnerable to this. This lighter weight and Wilder’s less polished footwork could mean that he would be more vulnerable to getting caught and taken down by wrestling.
Ultimately, both of these men will be at such a disadvantage in terms of wrestling to most of their potential opposition, so I cannot help but say that Wilder’s style and attributes translate to MMA better. This is because he will not have to spend as much time under fire of wrestling as Fury will; the lower level of striking defence in MMA means Wilder will likely be able to find his perfect moment early, possibly before his opposition can start initiating grappling exchanges or hacking down his legs with low kicks.
While Tyson Fury is likely less vulnerable to wrestling exchanges in the moment, he’d likely be exposed to a wrestling threat for far longer than Wilder, and even his stellar footwork would be hard pressed to keep the likes of Stipe Miocic, Daniel Cormier, Ryan Bader or Curtis Blaydes away from his hips for fifteen to twenty-five minutes.
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