There are moments in sports so surreal and exciting that it can be easy to get seduced into thinking you just witnessed a handoff from one era to another.
One might be quick to forgive the boxing fans and critics among us who witnessed Tyson Fury improbably rise from the canvas in Round 12 of his pay-per-view title bout against Deontay Wilder last December and were prisoners of the moment as to what it might mean.
Certainly, the general public -- hard-core fans and casual drifters alike -- were treated to a modern heavyweight classic when Fury and Wilder, unbeaten champions with larger-than-life size and personality, fought to a disputed draw. What may not end up being true, however, was that the fight triggered a renaissance for the division in which the best would boldly seek to face each other while serving as a rising tide for the health of the sport.
For those who entered 2019 assuming Wilder, Fury and fellow unbeaten Anthony Joshua were on a collision course for one another, the subsequent hangover has been a painful one.
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Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs), the defending lineal champion, pulled out of rematch negotiations with Wilder to sign a massive deal with ESPN and Top Rank. Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), who holds three of four recognized belts, remained aligned with DAZN. Even Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs) turned down the kind of "generational wealth" he vocally campaigned for after meeting with DAZN to remain under the Premier Boxing Champions banner on Fox and Showtime.
While Wilder's choice to defend his WBC title on Saturday against mandatory challenger Dominic Breazeale at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET), was initially met with dislike from fans who were hoping for Fury, the fight may end up closing the calendar year as the best matchup the division has to offer given the paths taken by all relevant parties.
Fury will make his ESPN+ debut on June 15 in Las Vegas against unbeaten (and all but unknown) Tom Schwarz in a fight deemed nothing short of unacceptable by purists. Joshua, who was expected to make his United States debut on June 1 in New York against hometown trash talker Jarrell Miller, will instead face last-minute replacement Andy Ruiz Jr. after Miller failed a trio of drug tests.
In an odd twist of fate, Wilder-Breazeale went from zero to hero considering Breazeale has the size at 6-foot-7 to look directly into Wilder's eyes and possesses both the power and chin to make this an interesting matchup. Adding more fuel to the fire, of course, is the natural dislike between the two which dates back to a 2017 melee in an Alabama hotel lobby.
Wilder, 33, went on to double down on the disharmony between the two during fight weekin killing Breazeale inside the ring should it come to it.
"Dominic Breazeale is going to get knocked out in dramatic fashion on Saturday. I can't wait," Wilder said. "He's like a fly in my ear. I'm going to get him out of there in a fashion no one has ever seen. [He] asked for this. I didn't seek him out. He came for me. This isn't a gentleman's sport. We have bad blood and it'll be in the ring Saturday night.
"Now he's in there with a real killer. A real one who speaks that speaks his peace and I mean what I say. Nobody's going to stop me."
While Breazeale (20-1, 18 KOs) admits he has used the hatred for his opponent as fuel to push even harder during training camp, this is a matchup he has pursued for multiple years mostly because of his confidence that he's the more skilled fighter. He has watched multiple Wilder opponents expose the champion's raw boxing style in the early rounds before being stopped late.
"Opinions on him being a pretty good heavyweight champion, that's your opinion alone," Breazeale said. "I don't think anyone else agrees with that one. I don't see any fundamental skills. I don't see any successes on his part. He has been champion for about four years. He hasn't grown. He hasn't changed. Yes, he has a big right-hand but don't we all in the heavyweight division? We all have knockout power. So I think I'm walking into a fight where I'm the more skilled, more athletic and bigger, stronger guy."
Anyone in agreement with Breazeale's assessment needs to look no further than the Fury fight where Wilder, despite scoring two resounding knockdowns, was largely outclassed against a bigger and more skilled opponent in the 6-foot-9 Fury. The aftermath of the fight forced Wilder to take a closer look at his training and attempt to iron out some of his technical wrinkles.
"I learned from the Tyson Fury fight to stay patient," Wilder said. "It was my moment and my time. I wanted to put on a great show and deliver the knockout [but] I rushed. Fury had to be perfect for 12 rounds, I just had to be perfect for two seconds."
Not only has Wilder worked harder on becoming a better boxer to pair it with his outright legendary power and elite athleticism, he invested in himself during camp in ways he hasn't previously.
"I'm athletic, I'm agile, I'm mobile, I'm hostile, I've got the heart of a lion," Wilder said. "I am a king. I've purchased a lot of different equipment to enhance my body and to perform, like a Jacuzzi and strength training equipment. I've got the top of the line Jacuzzi for therapy, different things like that. My home, in my basement I attempted to put a full gym, a personal gym, a real nice one. And it's been amazing, 24 hours of training."
Wilder has called Breazeale's assessment of his lack of skills "simple minded" and has reiterated how many opponents he has faced who said the same thing over the last decade. His belief is that Breazeale, who was stopped by Joshua in 2016 in his only title bout, is nothing short of nervous and will succumb violently to the power in Wilder's right hand come fight night.
"He should be nervous because I don't mean no good for him, all bad intentions," Wilder said. "If you're a first-time viewer of boxing, I don't know, it depends on how you feel about seeing a body on the ground or seeing blood on somebody. You're going to be in for a treat.
"I am here for the long run. This is not a short run for me. I'm here for a generational one. I'm betting on myself. I'm taking control of my career in my own hands because I am the talent. I know what I possess. A lot of these guys wish they had what I have. That's just an easy way to cop out. For 10 years this is what he's been doing with his right hand."
Also on this tripleheader is the return of Gary Russell Jr., as the featherweight will defend his WBC title against Kiko Martinez. Russell (29-1) has fought just once a year for the last five years and is still hoping to one day avenge his lone defeat to pound for pound king and unified lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko. Plus, Juan Heraldez battles Argenis Mendez in a super lightweight showdown.
Fight card, odds
Deontay Wilder -1100
Dominic Breazeale +700
WBC heavyweight title
Gary Russell Jr. -5000
Kiko Martinez +1500
WBC featherweight title
Juan Heraldez N/A
Argenis Mendez N/A
Listening to Breazeale's confidence makes one almost want to believe he can pull the upset despite being such a monumental betting underdog. With the size and chin to equal Wilder, and good pop of his own, he's certainly at best a live dog considering the unpredictability of the division and the bad blood between them.
But if there's one thing Wilder has established throughout a four-year title run which has seen him essentially evolve and learn on the job is that if you don't catch him early -- a feat no opponent has yet to accomplish -- it's merely a waiting game until your fatigue allows his blackout punching power to end the fight.
Does Wilder's power cover up for his inadequacies as a boxer? There is no question about it. But when he commits to his jab, Wilder has a dangerous mix of stamina and explosion to keep his opponents on edge for every second of the fight knowing the price they would pay with one slip up.
Not only is Wilder's power as good as any heavyweight in history, he is the rare fighter who possesses an almost extra level of danger when placed on edge by the politics or dislike around him. One has to look no further than his 2017 rematch with Bermane Stiverne when Wilder, whose emotions had runneth over after yet another career-defining opponent either avoided him or failed a drug test to cancel a potential fight, made his opponent pay for the sins of others in a one-round dismantling that was nothing short of scary.
Breazeale has all the makings to be a tough out but if even the incredibly gifted Fury, blessed with unique size and slickness for the division, couldn't go the distance with Wilder without needing to miraculously' rise from the grave in doing so, the idea of Breazeale having anything more than a puncher's chance is reflective in the betting odds.
Pick: Wilder via KO5