Inside story of Tyson Fury’s 14-month plan to knock out Deontay Wilder

Deontay Wilder can't say he wasn't warned.

For weeks, Tyson Fury had openly laid out his game plan for the most eagerly-anticipated heavyweight showdown since Lennox Lewis knocked out Mike Tyson almost two decades earlier.

Fury's languid back-foot style was binned and in its place a new, aggressive come-forward strategy designed to right the wrongs of his first meeting with Wilder.

Few believed the scheming Traveller would follow through with his plan, least of all the man in the opposite corner.

By the end of the first round, however, the doubters were silent and what followed was nothing short of a masterpiece.

Here, on the anniversary weekend of Fury's famous victory on the Las Vegas Strip, is the inside story of his journey from the Staples Center canvas to the top of the world…

***

A furious and perplexed Ben Davison was struggling to comprehend how his charge had been denied victory by the judges.

Even taking the two knockdowns into account, he couldn't fathom how Fury wasn't now heavyweight champion of the world.

Davison, who had been front and centre of Fury's remarkable comeback from a near three-year drink and drug-fuelled depression, immediately asked for a copy of the fight.

He watched it dozens of times as he attempted in vain to make sense of how one judge, Alejandro Rochin, had awarded Wilder the fight by four rounds.

Indeed, Davison, who had helped Fury lose 150lb for his comeback, appeared to be taking the result harder than his student, relaxing only after taking a holiday with his girlfriend.

Fury, meanwhile, had reined in his bombast after the final bell and was far more circumspect about the preceding 36 minutes.

Long after the final notes of his impromptu rendition of American Pie had died out, he would reflect, "What unfolded that night in LA was the greatest victory ever seen in a draw."

***

It was a phone call from Amir Khan which would set in motion the $100million deal which would delay Fury's rematch with Wilder for nine months.

Fury and Wilder were in agreement that their controversial draw required a blockbuster sequel with a touted date of May 18.

Promoter Frank Warren teased the prospect of the second fight taking place at Wembley but Las Vegas was always the odds-on favourite to play host.

But when Khan called as a conduit for US promoter Top Rank, headed by octogenarian Bob Arum, Fury's head was slowly turned.

Top Rank, along with broadcaster ESPN, wanted to jump on the Fury bandwagon and polish his star on the other side of the Atlantic.

Part of their plan was for Fury to fight twice in 2019 before then securing a second date with Wilder.

"Initially, I still wasn't that interested because I felt that I would have been happy just with the Wilder rematch and then I could hang up my gloves and move on to another chapter in my life," Fury wrote in his autobiography Behind The Mask.

"But as I weighed up the biggest offer I had ever received in my career – enough money to set my family up for life – along with the fact that I would have such a powerful American promoter behind me, I felt that it all started to make sense."

A key member of Fury's negotiation team was Daniel Kinahan – friend to the boxing stars or alleged cartel boss depending on who you ask.

Kinahan, whose role in the sport is under intense scrutiny following a BBC Panorama investigation, played an instrumental role in rescuing Fury from the wilderness.

"Not only did he get a deal with BT Sport and agree terms with Frank Warren for his comeback, and agree terms for a Deontay Wilder fight when a Deontay Wilder-Anthony Joshua fight couldn't be made… but he went above and beyond expectations for the [ESPN] deal," Davison told iFL TV recently.

Hailed as "one of the biggest things to happen to a British sportsman" by promoter Warren, Fury's nine-figure, five-fight contract initially dampened expectations of a rematch with Wilder given the heavyweights were represented by competing television networks.

The second installment was parked for the foreseeable future as Fury instead turned his attention instead to unbeaten German Tom Schwarz.

***

Two weeks before Fury donned an 'Uncle Sam' outfit for his Sin City debut against Schwarz, Wilder announced his next two fights would be rematches; first against Luis Ortiz and then against Fury.

That he did so on the eve of Anthony Joshua's defeat by Andy Ruiz Jr appeared calculated given Wilder had failed to agree terms with the Brit in 2018.

Fury had to first take care of the hitherto unheralded Schwarz and did so with consummate ease via a second-round stoppage.

Commercially, however, the fight struggled. The MGM Grand Garden Arena was only a third full with 5,489 tickets sold and a further 1,187 given away, leaving the total some way short of the 9,012 crowd announced on the night.

With a gate of less than $900,000, it was a sluggish start to ESPN's investment with Fury walking away with at least £10m for less than six minutes of work.

But behind the scenes, work on his rematch with Wilder was gathering pace.

Ten days later, Top Rank's head honcho Bob Arum met Wilder's powerful but elusive manager Al Haymon in Beverly Hills in a bid to thrash out a deal.

A 50/50 purse split was agreed which would eventually see both men bank more than $25m while the television network conundrum was solved when ESPN and Showtime agreed to screen the fight simultaneously.

Fury then announced – during an 'audience with' performance in a small town in Scotland of all places – that the sequel was booked for February 22, assuming he first overcame Swede Otto Wallin and Wilder did likewise against Ortiz.

But Fury's second outing on The Strip, this time at the bigger T-Mobile Arena, sold even fewer tickets than his first with only 3,577 fans parting with their cash.

Almost 4,000 tickets were given away in a bid to swell the crowd but with Fury handed another unknown dance partner, expectations were again low.

In the end, however, Fury came close to losing his unbeaten record and his rematch with Wilder when a cut over his right eye almost forced referee Tony Weeks to wave off the fight.

Only his leniency and some frantic work from cut-man Jorge Capetillo kept Fury in the fight as he bobbed and weaved to a unanimous-decision victory.

But as the last of the 47 stitches was sewn into Fury's eyebrow, doubts were creeping into his mind.

The night before he took on Wallin, the heavyweight had sat outside his Las Vegas villa with Davison and two other members of his team.

"Do you know what weight I was this morning?" Fury mused. "Eighteen stone, two pounds… it's light and I'm concerned about it.

"It's too light, maybe. I reckon if I'd done a run this morning or a bit of training I'd be 17st 12lb or something."

Fury went on to weigh a smidgen over 254lb for his clash with Wallin, his lightest since his win over Wladimir Klitschko four years earlier.

Fury's father John would echo his son's fears in the immediate aftermath of the bloody victory, barking: "It's the worst I've seen from Tyson.

"I'm proud of how he has mauled his way through but he has to be honest and say things are not right. For a man to be in that condition after eight weeks (in) camp – it looked like he had nothing after round two.

"His strength and power went tonight, he was as weak as a kitten from the first round. At 18 stone one, I've warned him and warned him. He is a 19-stone fighter.

“If I had my way, the lot (Tyson's corner) would be gone. If they keep that team that will be his career."

It is unclear how much influence John Fury would later have on his son's decision to change his training team, but he certainly had his way.

Flying back from his successful WWE debut against Brawn Strowman in Saudi Arabia, and with his rematch with Wilder mere weeks away, Fury rolled the dice in one of the biggest gambles of his career.

His back-foot game plan may have taken him within a whisker of defeating Wilder 12 months previously, but Fury was unwilling to risk leaving the result in the judges' hands for a second time.

After talking to his cousin and former middleweight world champion Andy Lee, Fury called Javan 'SugarHill' Steward, nephew of the late, great Emanuel who had taken the fledgling heavyweight under his wing early in his career.

With Steward on board, Fury broke the news to Davison that he would have to share training responsibilities. Initially on board, Davison later called Fury to break up a partnership that had reaped such rich rewards.

Fury also added Conor McGregor's former nutritionist George Lockhart and renowned cut-man Jacob 'Stitch' Duran to his entourage.

He flew his wife Paris and their five children to Las Vegas a week before Christmas where they would stay for the first 16 days of Fury's training camp.

Having enjoyed a steak on Christmas Day, Fury's family flew home after New Year and left the self-titled Gypsy King to prepare for Wilder.

***

With seven weeks until the rematch, Fury informed Steward of his plan to knock out a man who carried dynamite in his fists.

Far from being shocked – as most experts and pundits later would be – Steward concurred. "Yeah, man, I like that plan. That'll work," he said.

A cursory glance at highlights of Fury's draw with Wilder was enough for Steward to know he had to implement his 'Kronk style' training plan.

Having been tied to his uncle's apron strings during his Hall of Fame career, he had seen first-hand the transformation of Thomas Hearns into one of boxing's most devastating punchers.

And more pertinently he had witnessed the dramatic improvements in Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko after their moves to Detroit.

Fury's knockout record was patchy but the idea that a 19-stone giant had 'pillow fists', as Wilder often taunted, was absurd.

And so to improve the Brit's chances of carrying out his seemingly reckless plan, Steward went back to basics and focused on Fury's balance and footwork, so much so that the pupil felt like a novice taking his first steps in the gym.

With an improved base from which to throw his long limbs, Fury tightened up his jab and honed his right hand into a more potent weapon.

"My power shots were developing but also he was able to show me how I could intimidate Wilder and put him under pressure by cleverly moving my feet into the right position," he would write later.

Fury trained twice a day for six days a week, always taking Sundays off as is his tradition. Between sessions, he was plied with calories as he sought to right the wrongs of his previous weight 'cut'.

Live-in chef and nutritionist Lockhart, who had made his name in the world of mixed martial arts, made five daily trips to a local farmers' market to buy enough fresh produce to deliver 4,500 calories over six meals.

Fury would eventually scale 273lb, only three pounds lighter than he was for his comeback fight against Sefer Seferi in 2018 – but crucially, he was far leaner.

Tyson Fury's daily diet

8am: Greek yoghurt and fruit

11am: Spicy curry

2pm: Either fish, red meat or chicken

6pm: Either fish, red meat or chicken

9pm: Energy balls made with almond butter

+ Pre and post-workout shakes

Fury's new-found dietary discipline meant he no longer nipped out for takeaway food and, perhaps more impressively, ditched his 30-cans-a-day Diet Coke habit.

Elsewhere in camp, his brother Shane was tasked with reducing the heavyweight's media commitments which meant access was limited to Fury's favoured outlets.

In the interviews he did conduct, Fury parroted his prediction: "I'll knock him out in the second round".

***

Twelve months on from Fury's victory, the boxing world is craving the return of the traditional fight week hoopla.

Only the fight game would require athletes to make a 'grand arrival', a fancy phrase for turning up at a Las Vegas hotel, waving to fans and answering an anodyne question or two.

Four days before the first bell, Fury, showing off an elaborate suit emblazoned with his own face, was first on stage at the MGM Grand to promise the most exciting performance for 50 years.

Almost an hour later, Wilder ambled through the lobby, complete with shades and a fur coat which partially covered his bare chest and gaudy silver jewellery.

He promised another successful defence of his heavyweight title but was some way removed from the angry 'Bronze Bomber' persona he adopts as fight night approaches.

Twenty four hours later, after a somewhat boring press conference, the spark was finally lit during a two-minute insult-filled staredown which was brought to an end when pushes were exchanged.

It would be the last time the rivals would be permitted to face off as the Nevada State Athletic Commission later ruled there would be no post weigh-in coming together.

Deprived of one last opportunity to gaze into each other's souls, Fury and Wilder instead traded final threats from opposite ends of the stage.

As promised, the challenger had added bulk to his frame but surprisingly, so too had Wilder who scaled a career-high 231lb – although he was still 42lb lighter than Fury.

Formalities and final KO promises made, the rematch was on.

***

All was calm inside the challenger's dressing room.

A day spent watching films had dragged on until it was time for Fury to make one more journey to the MGM Grand in his chauffeured Rolls Royce.

Now, as Jimmy Lennon Jr prepared to make his introductions, the joviality died down as Fury's team huddled together in prayer, buoyed by news that Wilder had appeared tense while his hands were being wrapped next door.

Fury made an eye-catching entrance on a throne but it was the strained notes of Patsy Clyne's Crazy which caught the crowd's attention.

Once disembarked and in the ring, he watched as Wilder made the same walk in what would become his infamous 40lb, bejewelled suit intended to mark Black History Month.

And as Fury limbered up during the introductions and anthems, he was again convinced the champion was on edge.

***

Long after Fury had regained his heavyweight crown, he would reflect on his fast start to the rematch.

But the Brit's short sprint from his corner last year was identical to the one he made 14 months earlier.

This time, however, rather than take the centre of the ring and look to counter, he pushed the action while cutting off the squared circle and putting Wilder on the back foot.

Even having done so, it would be 90 seconds into the first round until Fury landed with purpose; a one-two momentarily knocking Wilder off balance.

The underdog's jab was also warming up nicely but it was his Kronk-inspired footwork which continually flummoxed Wilder throughout the opening three minutes, so much so that former two-weight world champion David Haye hailed it the best round he had seen from Fury.

Every so often, Fury's feet slowed and Wilder made time and space to launch his bazooka of a right hand, but on this occasion it mis-fired and instead it was Fury who enjoyed success with his back hand.

The second stanza came and went without Fury's promised knockout but any lingering doubts about his ability to stop the champion soon dissipated.

Two clubbing right hands weakened Wilder early in the third session before a jab-right hook combination dropped him with 30 seconds remaining.

With a swollen lip and a bleeding ear, Wilder clung on through the fourth round but was down again in the fifth, this time from a left hook to the body. Strictly speaking, another knockdown should have been called seconds later when only the ropes kept the champion on his feet.

It is long forgotten that Fury was deducted a point for holding towards the end of that frenetic three minutes but it was clear by then it would make no difference to the result.

A quieter sixth session was the calm before the storm as an exhausted and debilitated Wilder was saved from further punishment in the seventh when trainer Mark Breland tossed in the towel.

Wilder would go on to sack his coach before concocting a bizarre list of excuses and conspiracy theories to explain the first defeat of his professional career.

For Fury, it was quite simply mission accomplished.

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