There are few contemporary boxers who polarise opinion as much as Tyson Fury, in and outside the ring. For admirers, he is the otherworldly-skilled lineal heavyweight champion of the world; a humble, God-fearing family man who has inspired millions through his fight to overcome depression and his mental health advocacy.
For detractors, he is an overrated bore-fest of a boxer who dethroned an ageing champion in one of the worst heavyweight title fighters of all time; a foul-mouthed, sexist, homophobic braggart and the victim of his own self-destructive tendency.
The self-styled ‘Gypsy King’ has never been short of a word or two during his boxing career or shied away from controversy; qualities which have landed him in hot water on a number of occasions. Dissecting Fury the person is a gargantuan task and would frankly fall well beyond our scope and purpose. In this article, we content ourselves instead by demystifying some common perceptions surrounding Fury the fighter which circulate among his detractors.
#1 Fury has little power
In the sport of boxing, it’s a fact that knockouts sell, especially for a generation of casual boxing fans weaned on the image of a prime Mike Tyson in seek-and-destroy mode. Unlike his namesake, Fury is not known as a knockout artist who finishes off his opponents in explosive fashion. However, with 19 knockouts from 27 wins, Fury can clearly dig a bit, as one would expect from a professional boxer who stands 6 foot 9 inches tall and weighs 260 pounds.
British heavyweight Dave Allen, a former Fury sparring partner and a man known for his ability to take a punch, has labelled Fury as one of the hardest punchers he has ever shared the ring with. Sparring is one thing and fighting is another, but Fury clearly has above-average-power in a division where anyone who gets hit flush can be in trouble, even if it is not proportionate to his freakish physical dimensions. That said, with the exception of the much-smaller Steve Cunningham, Fury has never taken out a world class opponent cleanly. Most of his victories by stoppage have been the result of an accumulation of punishment, such as those over Dereck Chisora in their rematch and Christian Hammer.
#2 Fury has a weak chin
Fury has been dropped twice in his career, against unheralded Neven Pajkic in 2011 and more seriously against Steve Cunningham in 2013. Pajkic and Cunningham are small heavyweights and neither man is known for his punching power. Dereck Chisora (in their first fight), Nicolai Firtha and Joey Abell all visibly hurt Fury at various points, but were otherwise dominated. It must be said that Pajkic and Cunningham dropped Fury with big overhand rights which he never saw coming; the type of punch liable to cause a knockdown and/or knockout. Not only did Fury rise on both occasions and recover, but he went on to stop both opponents. Against a much bigger puncher in Wladimir Klitschko, Fury had to taste some big shots from the Ukrainian in the final round and took them well. Clearly Fury isn’t in the Oliver McCall league when it comes to his chin, but neither is he Seth Mitchell.
#3 Fury is a boring fighter
Fury has been in a handful of entertaining fights, such as his dramatic come-from-behind stoppage victory over Cunningham and his slugfest with Abell, but he was far from his best in both. Fury turned up for the Abell fight in awful physical condition following a layoff of nearly a year and opted to duke it out with the heavy-handed but china-chinned journeyman; getting buzzed more than once in between dropping Abell multiple times and ending maters in the fourth round.
When facing superior opposition, Fury has been less prone to risk-taking, but it hasn’t made for thrilling fights. His length, reach and movement contrive to give opponents fits and prevent them from getting any meaningful offense going, while Fury works off a consistent jab and combinations designed to rack up points rather than take you out. When, on top of this, an opponent is content just to go rounds, like survival specialist Kevin Johnson back in 2012, the result can be a cure for insomnia.
Although he was a deserving winner against Klitschko, the fight was a snoozer for the majority of its duration. Fury connected on only 86 of 371 punches while Klitscho’s output was even more anaemic as he only connected on 52 of 231. In Fury’s rematch with Chisora, the fight turned into a technical beatdown, yet one so devoid of action that two-thirds of the audience left before the fight’s conclusion. Like his predecessor Klitschko, Fury’s style can prove highly effective, but it’s certainly not pretty to watch.
#4 Fury is an overrated boxer
Fury is blessed with abnormal speed, reflexes and movement for a man of his size. His footwork is first-rate, he is an expert at throwing feints and his use of angles is bedevilling, enabling him to stun opponents and walk them into punches that they never see coming. He can fight tall and box you at range, making full use of his physical dimensions, but is just at home fighting on the inside, where he can use his massive weight and superior strength to wear you down, as he did to Cunningham, and land head-jolting uppercuts that sap you of your will to fight.
Fury is also one of the best switch-hitters in the game. In the Chisora rematch, he opted to fight southpaw from the second round onwards, completely befuddling ‘Del Boy’ and reducing him to an ineffectual plodder. Fury is a true student of boxing and has demonstrated the ability to execute a rehearsed game plan with discipline, even if it comes at the cost of entertaining the crowd. Less cerebral fighters end up falling into patterns that an educated opponent will recognise and exploit, but Fury understands better than most the value of unpredictability; in this way, he forces his opponent to fight at the tempo and pace he prefers. It all amounts to a deeply frustrating night for the man in the opposing corner who often finds himself discouraged to the point of being mentally defeated before the fight has even reached its conclusion.
The Chinese general Sun Tzu, author of the acclaimed ‘The Art of War’ once said that ‘Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting’. In this sense, Tyson Fury may well be the ring general par excellence. Put your bias to one side. Whatever you think of Fury’s power, punch resistance or entertainment value, there can be little doubt that he is the best pure boxer in the heavyweight division.
Article by: Paul Lam
Follow Paul on Twitter at: @PaulTheWallLam