There’s a saying in sport that you learn more in defeat than you do in victory. When you’re on a song and winning, everything seems to come easy – and when sticky patches do come along you can use that in-built confidence to ride out the danger.
But when you lose, that bubble of invincibility is pricked, and the arrogance – necessary to get to the top of most sporting ladders – of the serial victor can dissipate rather quickly.
Boxing is the perfect case study of the difference between a winner and a loser. When a fighter is winning regularly, they’d happily take a bout with an Eskimo in an igloo if it meant they could make some money and challenge for titles.
But when a boxer loses their perfect record, there’s a decision – both explicitly and sub-consciously – to be made: am I going to dust myself off, learn and climb back to the top of the mountain, or am I going to fade away, unable to get the horrors of defeat out of my mind.
To some extent, both Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury lost their air of invincibility after their titanic first bout ended in a drawback in December 2018.
For Wilder, the WBC champion, it was really the first time in his career that anybody had avoided his power punches for all 12 rounds. Bermane Stiverne went the distance with the Bronze Bomber, but that was based on a tactic of essentially running away. Fury took him on toe-to-toe, and it will have hurt the champ to see the Gypsy King twice get up off the canvas.
As for Fury himself, this was the first blemish on his otherwise perfect 29-0 record, and for all the bluster and bravado he will know how much Wilder’s ramrod right hands really hurt him.
On February 22 at the MGM Grand, assuming it isn’t a draw, one of these fighters will lose their unbeaten record. The sportsbooks can’t split them in their odds on Wilder v Fury, and so another stalemate isn’t completely out of the reckoning, but more than likely one of these proud fighters will taste defeat for the first time.
It may just have been trash talk in a bid to promote the fight, but Deontay Wilder has already said in an interview that he will retire from boxing if Fury is true to his word and knocks out the champion inside two rounds – mocking the challenger’s ‘pillow fists’.
It is difficult to go back on such bold statements, so Wilder has rather backed himself into a corner. But he’s not the only one to already be talking about retirement. Fury himself has speculated that he could retire at the end of 2020, and that’s assuming he wins this rematch in Las Vegas.
It has been reported that Fury’s wife Paris begged him to retire after the first contest with the Alabaman, and now the Brit has suggested that he will have just three more fights: this contest with Wilder, a probable trilogy match on UK soil in the summer and then, all being well, a shot at unifying the division against Anthony Joshua at the tail-end of the year.
Whatever happens in Vegas, Wilder and Fury will no doubt fight again later in 2020, and should either man taste defeat on both occasions you suspect that will be ‘all she wrote’ for their career in boxing.