We’ve entered a surreal period for prematch boxing madness. You can’t simply strut to the ring in stars and stripes and a matching top hat (Hi, Apollo Creed). You can’t even get away with strolling out in head-to-toe breast-cancer-awareness pink (Mwah, Juan Manuel Lopez). Now you have to come ready to win the Tony for best scenic design. You have to rival whatever is going on at the Metropolitan Opera. Two summers ago, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor embarked on a pseudo-musical, loosely racist roadshow to promote their hotly wanted brawl. A new high for hype and a new low.
But what if the craziness reached its practical limit on Saturday night, when Deontay Wilder showed up for his rematch against Tyson Fury dressed as, dressed as — dressed as what? Pokémon zaddy? Akira Kurosawa’s Death? Licorice Satan? The black mask was florally bejeweled. The skulls on either shoulder wore a crown that matched the magnificent one atop his head. The eyes lit up a Twizzler red. It was “Dr. Octagon Stages a Coup in Westeros.” It was “Daft Punk Jetpacks to Wakanda.”
Because the fight occurred during Black History Month, Wilder’s entrance was intended as a tribute to black excellence. As he made his way from the bowels of Las Vegas’s MGM Grand Garden Arena and the rapper D Smoke snapped through his song “Black Habits,” images of Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and Maya Angelou appeared on big video monitors. But the costume evoked other, nonracial blacknesses. His was a warrior’s armor with flourishes of luchador, Dia de los Muertos, and the shadowy entity in the Palme d’Or-winning Thai masterpiece “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.” He was a statue. He was security at the Damien Hirst disco. He was macho-fabulous. He was in Group B on “The Masked Singer.” I wouldn’t have been at all shocked if when Wilder’s mask was removed, Grace Jones was underneath.
This now is how Wilder rolls: with statement pieces. In November, he came to the ring encrusted in a golden crystal mask; the glittering paneling on his costume read “dominus” and “victorum.” Officially, he was there to vanquish Victor Ortiz, but he looked like he could’ve taken out the Power Rangers, too.
Maybe the dignified thing to do these days would be just to walk out to Tupac and confirm for the bloodthirsty crowd that they’ll be getting the funeral they came for. That’s how Michael B. Jordan arrives for the climactic fight in “Creed.” That was also 2015. Anybody whose jaw has dropped at Floyd Mayweather Jr. making his way to a match (gladiatorially, in a bronzed breastplate; in a Mexican-flag robe and shorts, complete with sombrero and hype-man 50 Cent) can attest: Nobody wants dignity anymore. Nobody wanted it in “Creed”! People want what happens after Jordan’s Adonis gets to the ring, and Tony Bellew, playing Adonis’ opponent Ricky Conlan — “Pretty” Ricky Conlan — is due to arrive. The crowd brays (“Con-lan. Con-lan.”); the arena goes dark; and a goateed dwarf breathes plumes of fire before Ricky enters enshrouded by slo-mo and smoke.
Even that’s tame now. On Saturday night Tyson Fury went out before Wilder, seemingly unbothered by what would follow perhaps because he knew his was actually the nuttier entrance.
Look, any old boxer can come to the ring plopped atop a throne that a phalanx of Spartan-clad beauties is holding aloft. Any old-old boxer can do that to Wagner or Metallica or House of Pain. But it takes somebody special to arrive for the fight of the year to Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.” Lip-syncing to Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.” Fury is that somebody, the rare professional face-puncher (from England, no less) to enter an arena to half-century-old, country-western hype music?
Fury’s nickname is the Gypsy King, and who knows what the throne symbolized. But from it he rose — all 6 feet, 9 inches of him — to blow kisses from his green-gloved hands. It was strangely serene; the get-up chintzy. His royal red cape with Dalmatian trim and that surprisingly demure crown turned him into the Burger King, even though the black robe beneath it seemed more fit for the massage parlor.
The women doing the carrying had to carefully manage a narrow path from the back of the arena to its center while a gentleman shone a fluorescent spot on the man and his throne and, therefore, into their faces. Yet the awkwardness of it all was good camp. (I mean, the conflation of civilizations alone …) When Wilder followed, a major difference could be discerned. Fury was unencumbered; Wilder was encased.
Wilder’s costume was designed, as was the one for his Ortiz fight, by the Los Angeles duo Cosmo’s Glamsquad. The craftsmanship is astounding; it weighed 40 pounds. Before the match, an elated Wilder told TMZ that it cost him “40 racks,” or $1,000 a pound. He wasn’t wearing an outfit. He was wearing caviar. Not 48 hours after the bout, he told ESPN that it might have cost him the match.
“My uniform was way too heavy,” Wilder said, adding that “we had it on 10 or 15 minutes before we even walked out and then put the helmet on. That was extra weight, then the ring walk, then going up the stairs. It was like a real workout for my legs. When I took it off, I knew immediately that game has changed.”
Both men arrived undefeated. Their encounter two years ago ended, improbably, in a draw. Wilder was a different fighter Saturday. He looked sleepy. Fury knocked him down twice and practically said “timber.” In the sixth round, they were both covered in blood and Fury actually licked some from Wilder’s neck. A round later Wilder’s corner threw in the towel.
Maybe this is where the madness ends. Strong costuming can upstage athleticism but should never hinder it. Fury seemed to know this. He seemed to sense what it meant for his opponent. When the TV cameras caught Fury mouthing the words to “Crazy,” he was asking, “What in the world did I do?” He might as well have been singing Wilder’s innermost thoughts.
Speaking to a reporter at Yahoo, Wilder managed to ruminate a kind of upside. “I wanted my tribute to be great for Black History Month,” he said. “I wanted it to be good and I guess I put that before anything.” So what in the world did he do? If you see things that way, looks like he took one for the team.