John Rawling: 2020, Tyson Fury v. Deontay Wilder

My sporting career has been one of decades-long mediocrity. From cricket and running in my younger days, through to snooker, pool and golf in my advancing years. Save for the moment I managed to get my only hole-in-one on the golf course, which I have to say was quite one of the most exciting and uplifting sporting moments of my life. In fact, I think I could broaden that. First boundary in a cricket match, passing driving test, loss of virginity, marriage... maybe that hole-in-one moves to the top of the pile.

Perhaps I should trawl my broadcasting career for standout moments. Boxing has been the sport with which I have been most associated over the last 30 years or more. And perhaps nothing shines more brightly than Tyson Fury’s two fights against Deontay Wilder, for which I provided the television commentary.

Their first meeting, for Wilder’s WBC world heavyweight title, was in Los Angeles. It had ended in a controversial draw after Fury had outboxed the champion before being floored twice in the closing rounds and being denied victory by the judges’ scorecards. The big talking point was the final round, when Fury stunned viewers by somehow hauling himself to his feet after being virtually knocked unconscious by a huge Wilder punch.

And so there came the rematch in February 2020. It was a massive Las Vegas event. Most experts were going for Wilder second time around, even though Fury had properly regained fitness and put all his problems of previous years behind him. Could Fury prevail, even though most experts were going for Wilder and the American was the gambling favourite?

I remember having a conversation with the old champion Lennox Lewis at the weigh in. And he was convinced Fury would win, by carrying the fight to Wilder and forcing the champion to fight on the back foot where he was least effective. His argument was enough for me. I had fancied Fury before, but now I felt certain he would win.

That night, I went for beers with some of the best known journalists in the country. Needless to say, we all had too many as we had so many times together over the years and, fuelled by multiple bottles of Sam Adams, I spoke with certainty about how Fury was going to dominate the fight and win the title. In my telling, Lennox Lewis was in agreement so all bets were off. They thought I was mad.

So, imagine my delight the following day, when the fight was staged and Fury produced the performance of his life to annihilate Wilder. It made for fantastic television in what was the last huge boxing show before a crowd before the world was gripped by the awful Covid-19 pandemic. Hopefully I did the contest justice with the words I found and the excitement I tried to convey for viewers. For me, it was one of the great performances of all time by a British fighter in the US, and one which meant he could be discussed as a man to rank alongside Lewis, at least on that night in Las Vegas.

But nothing was sweeter than a couple of hours later when journalists and broadcasters convened in a renowned Irish bar on the Las Vegas strip. I was hoping the journos would come in who had been so dismissive of my belief that Fury was going to win. And they did. Much Guinness was consumed, and they picked up the tab after being forced to eat humble pie. Cheers Tyson. Thanks for a memorable performance and unknowingly financing a great night.

Memory added on August 5, 2021

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