It took him almost a week, but Deontay Wilder finally did it: he congratulated WBC Heavyweight champion Tyson Fury on defending the title in their third fight against each other. Wilder released a statement on Instagram loaded with athletic cliches about overcoming adversity, but in the last sentence he actually tagged Fury in the post, congratulating him and thanking him for “the great historical memories.”
They certainly provided historic memories. A true heavyweight trilogy with two fighters in their prime for the first time since Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe in the early 1990s. Fury and Wilder had everything. There was Fury getting up after catching the business end of Wilder’s legendary right hand in the first fight. There were the Met Gala costumes during the ring walks in the second fight, where Wilder looked like a Power Rangers villain and Fury should have gone all the way and been dropped in from a helicopter-like Strangé in Boomerang.
Then there was the slugfest of a third fight. Two giant men trading blows in a way that if viewers squinted, they would almost swear it was the third Ali-Frazier fight all over again. Then, in the 11th round, Wilder’s body threw in the towel instead of his corner, as he tumbled to the canvas following a Fury combination. In the perfect sports movie, the two NBA power forward-sized men would drape their long arms around each other and vigorously embrace, proud of each other for putting on a show that would be remembered forever.
The post-fight did not play out that way.
Wilder could be seen hastily exiting the ring once he regained control of his body, and Fury said in his post-fight interview that he went to Wilder’s corner to offer congratulations but Wilder would not accept it. There is now video of Fury in Wilder’s corner and when Fury says “respect,” a swollen-faced Wilder replies, “I don’t respect you.”
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In general, sportsmanship should be encouraged. After a playoff game or series in team sports is over it’s good to see everyone shake hands. It was even a nice moment at UFC 263 when Brandon Moreno became the first-ever Mexican-born champion and while he was clearly overcome with emotion the loser of the match, Deiveson Figueiredo, physically lifted Moreno onto his shoulders.
However, in combat sports, I can do without the sportsmanship. I’ve already suspended many of my sensibilities once I turn on the fight. This isn’t a street fight where 30-40 people gather to watch a person get pummeled for 35 seconds. A professional fight is two people pounding each other for half an hour in front of a crowd at a Roman coliseum full of cheering dignitaries, and the whole event is broadcast on television.
So did I enjoy Khabib Nurmagomedov leaving the choke on Connor McGregor a few seconds too long and then leaping over the cage to go after McGregor’s people, absolutely. I enjoyed Frazier holding a grudge against Ali decades after their trilogy. I even enjoyed Jorge “QAnon” Masvidal chowing down on a slice of pizza while talking trash at the press conference after knocking out Ben Askren in record time and mocking him in the cage.
Combat sports are wild, so when the pros want to get wild with each other, let them go at it. If I’m paying $79.99 to watch, entertain me to the fullest.
In the real world, of course, Wilder should’ve congratulated Fury, but this is the fight world and if I’m being completely honest, it would’ve been more fun for that heavyweight trilogy to end with “I don’t respect you.”