Column: As big fight looms, poolside with the Gypsy King

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The water was warming up, and so was the sun. On the kind of day that made it easy to forget about dreary weather back home, Tyson Fury was sitting poolside in the backyard of his home in the shadow of the Las Vegas Strip, watching as some of his housemates frolicked in the shallow end.

The Gypsy King resisted the impulse to join them. He didn’t have a swimsuit on and, besides, he had more serious things to attend to.

Like promoting a fight that, on paper, needs no promotion. Fury and Deontay Wilder for the title Saturday night in the biggest heavyweight showdown in years.

“If this fight doesn’t sell, no fight in history will sell,” Fury said. ”You’ve got a Brit versus and American, a talker versus a talker, personality versus personality. Both unbeaten, and we fought to a draw last time.

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“What’s not to like?”

Frankly, not much. Fourteen months after they were both disappointed in a draw in a hugely entertaining fight, Fury and Wilder meet in a rematch so big that it took two major TV networks to combine for the pay-per-view show.

It’s a fight with a bit of everything, the kind of fight boxing fans usually only dream about. There’s little not to like about the bout at the MGM Grand arena, except maybe what it costs to watch at home on Fox Sports or ESPN pay-per-view ($79.99).

Still, this fight might be the rare one worth calling up a few buddies and ordering pizzas. If it even comes close to the drama of the first fight, the entertainment value will be priceless.

And it’s taking place only because the two best heavyweights in the world are willing to put their unbeaten records and everything else on the line to make it happen.

“It takes a certain type of man to risk his life and not just his life,” Fury said as a camp member splashed nearby. “I mean risk everything he’s ever achieved in his life. To put it all on the line, draw a mark and say, right, let’s have the two best men fight each other for the ultimate glory. That’s what me and Wilder are doing.”

How Fury got to this point isn’t exactly how the path to heavyweight greatness is usually mapped out. He won a piece of the title against Wladimir Klitschko in 2015, only to descend into the darkness of depression and drug and alcohol addiction that threatened to end not only his career but his life.

Fury ballooned to 385 pounds and seemingly would never fight again. But he discovered that working out would help him beat his demons and he hasn’t stopped since returning to the ring in June 2018 after a 2 1/2-year absence.

He’s still big — 6-foot-9 and probably about 270 pounds at fight time — but sober now and right in the mix at the top of a heavyweight division that is suddenly hot once again. Two months after Anthony Joshua got a piece of the title back by beating Andy Ruiz Jr. in Saudi Arabia, Fury and Wilder will meet with the winner considered by most in boxing to be the legitimate heavyweight champion.

“The sleeping giant has now awoken,” Fury said. ”We’ve brought it back to the glory days. I believe the heavyweight division now is thriving like it was in the 70s and 80s.”

While the fight has a lot of intriguing sidelights — as well as two showmen with contrasting styles not afraid to mix it up — the real selling point is the first fight. Fury outboxed Wilder throughout that fight only to get knocked down in ninth round and then completely flattened in the 12th.

Wilder was walking around the ring celebrating what was surely another knockout victory. But somehow Fury got up and actually took the fight to Wilder in the closing seconds and when the scorecards were tallied it was a draw.

The rematch shapes up as boxer versus puncher once again, except Fury claims this time he’ll be the one knocking Wilder down. He’s predicting a second round knockout, despite Wilder’s claims that he hits like a much smaller man.

“I don’t respect his boxing skills,” Fury said. “But the thing is I’m not looking for boxing skills in this fight. I’m looking for the big knockout punches. So it’s going to be a very entertaining fight while it lasts.”

It’s Fury’s third straight fight in the boxing capital of the world, and he left England at the first of the year to properly train for it. Fury and his camp are ensconced in a rented house near the glittering Strip, though Fury says he rarely ventures out to the casinos.

On a recent night he did visit the Strip, though, taking in a Vegas Golden Knights hockey game. Almost as if it was planned — and it kind of was — Ryan Reaves and Ross Johnson of the New York Islanders dropped their gloves and squared off and traded blows right off the opening draw as Fury cheered from the stands.

“He asked me to (fight) and I said, ‘Let me go run somebody first’ and he goes `(Tyson) Fury is here,’” Reaves said. “I just said, `Yeah, that’s true. Alright, we’ll do it.’”

Much like Fury’s first fight with Wilder, the fisticuffs between Reaves and Johnson ended in a draw, with both players getting 5-minute penalties. But the fight seemed to spark the struggling Knights who went on to a 1-0 win.

The fight Saturday night could be just as close, with bookies making it a rare pick ‘em choice. And if the old adage in boxing that styles make fights is true, it could be one that lives up to the hype the second time around.

The Gypsy King against the Bronze Bomber, with everything at stake.

The kind of fight you’d pay to see.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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