Deontay Wilder is turning into the modern Joe Frazier. Not so much in fighting style, but in what he represents. Wilder, like Frazier, is a likeable champion. He’s charming, but soft-spoken and respectful. Even when Wilder pushes the envelope – for example, entering the ring in a mask and feathery robe (a giant bird suit???) – it doesn’t feel like it’s coming from an electric personality.Instead, it’s the mark of a hometown guy trying to keep up on the national stage.
Last weekend, when pitted against Tyson Fury, Wilder’s personality seemed to fade into the background behind Fury’s overwhelmingly confident persona. Fury was the man that all eyes fixed on. He was the one who had people laughing and feeling nostalgic. He was the personality that seemed to be resurrecting heavyweight boxing from the doldrums of recent decades.
Wilder’s role in this saga is similar to that of Frazier in his thrilling boxing series with Muhammad Ali. Like Wilder, Frazier 50 years ago was playing the straight man to Ali’s comedy. In the buildup to the three fights, Ali provided the zingers and the one-liners. As he did in the ring, Ali danced around Frazier verbally. And, like in the ring, Ali’s words were punches aimed at knocking out Frazier: “It will be a killer and a chiller and a thriller when I get the gorilla in Manila.”
Fury isn’t attacking Wilder in the same way. During the first fight, Fury didn’t go after Wilder in the ring. Before and after the fight, Fury didn’t go after Wilder either. Still, all eyes are on Fury. Popular opinion is that Fury won the first fight through boxing skill. Similarly, Fury won the fight culturally. The media and the fans are fixated on him.
He needs to push himself and be more aggressive. The media has marveled at the civility of Wilder and Fury’s partnership. They joke, shake hands, and congratulate each other on how great each other is. That’s lovely.
But for Wilder, the next match needs to be a killer’s game. It needs to be about knockouts and aggression. The moments and years ahead are legacy-defining for Wilder and important to the future of American heavyweight boxing. To avoid being the forgotten man, Wilder needs to get one-step ahead of Fury. Currently, Wilder is losing the duel of amiable charisma. That’s because civility and charisma is Fury’s fight. Fury doesn’t look for knockouts in the ring, and he’s not going to look for it outside either. He wants to keep Wilder at bay and off-balance.
Wilder can’t let that happen. Wilder has to overwhelm Fury. In rounds nine and twelve of the first fight, Wilder did just that. Rather than throwing an errant one-two combo and then backing out, Wilder moved forward. He put just a little more pressure on Fury, without getting reckless. Wilder needs to do more of that in the second fight. Wilder can overwhelm Fury with his power, speed, and athleticism. He needs to be a monster if he wants to win the next one. That means he needs to add a little more Ali to his pre-fight demeanor, and a little less Frazier. Because, if he’s going to fight a fight of skill or charisma, he going to lose, and like Frazier, he’s going to be the forgotten champion.