Tyson Fury defends his WBC and lineal world heavyweight titles against Dillian Whyte at Wembley Stadium on Saturday night in a contest that is fast being overshadowed by events outside of the prize ring. Luke G. Williams previews a fight surrounded by controversy and drama…
If Tyson Fury didn’t exist you wouldn’t be able to make him up. A man of contradictions and contrasts, the 33-year-old lineal and WBC heavyweight champion defies rational explanation or any attempt to define or pigeonhole him.
An Irish traveller who has become a British icon and has cracked America, Fury is also a world heavyweight champion who rather than being sculpted like an Adonis has a dad bod and love handles.
Charismatic and charming at times, thin-skinned and seemingly cruel at others, Fury is most probably a manic depressive and has a chequered past during which he has failed a drugs test and associated himself with an alleged criminal kingpin.
An expert at reinvention, Fury has recovered from the brink of despair, suicide and gross obesity to conquer the heavyweight division for a second time – a comeback comparable to those of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in days gone by.
Since linking up with trainer Javan ‘SugarHill’ Steward he has also remoulded himself stylistically, transforming from a brilliant technical boxer into a seek and destroy slugger.
All the things considered, Fury is surely the most intriguing and charismatic heavyweight champion since Mike Tyson, and possibly since Muhammad Ali. It therefore adds some extra spice to Saturday night’s proceedings – set to unfold in front of 94,000 spectators – that the ‘Gypsy King’ is adamant it will be his final fight as a professional boxer.
With the disclaimer that everything Fury says should be taken with a cellar of salt, he stated this week: “That’s it. Get a good victory here on Saturday night, relax, sit back and enjoy life… It’s been a long old journey, ups and downs in my career, lots of ups and downs. I’m coming up to 34, 20 years as a boxer, that’s enough for anybody. There’s plenty of other stuff I need to do like look after my kids and wife and enjoy them.”
If Saturday really is his Fury’s final fight, the position that he will ultimately occupy on boxing’s imaginary Mount Rushmore becomes yet another sub-plot within a promotion that already includes enough labyrinthine drama to fill a binge-worthy Netflix box set.
It is worth remembering that only three ‘lineal’ heavyweight champions have exited the sport on their own terms and with the mythical crown first worn by John L. Sullivan still in their possession – Gene Tunney, Rocky Marciano and Lennox Lewis.
As a keen student of boxing history, Fury will be keen to join this select band and if he defeats Whyte on Saturday night and follows through on his retirement promise then he will have done so.
However, as this all-British heavyweight showdown has drawn closer question marks have begun to appear above Fury, hitherto regarded by many as almost a statistical certainty to win.
The biggest question of all concerns how the growing controversy and toxic fall-out from the latest twists and turns in the Daniel Kinahan saga will affect the Gypsy King. As fight week has progressed, Fury has responded to the increasingly incessant and intense questioning about his relationship and connection with Kinahan with visible testiness and mounting irritation.
Whyte will hope that the controversy concerning Fury’s connection with a man who the US government has placed a $5million bounty upon, had unnerved the heavyweight champion to the extent that his focus has been diverted from the task at hand.
However, contrarian that Fury is, the Kinahan brouhaha could, of course, have the opposite effect. Fury has a natural mistrust of much of the media, and the criticism he has received for his connection with Kinahan may merely reinforce his conviction that he is misunderstood and persecuted, thus providing him with increased motivation to infuriate his critics by giving Whyte a solid beating.
The question of Fury’s potential retirement is also a fascinating sub-plot. If he is serious, and has half an eye on the exit door, then might that affect how he performs on Saturday, either positively or negatively?
It was interesting to note that, in contrast to his combustible edginess ahead of the second and third Wilder fights, Fury seemed relaxed, subdued even, at Wednesday’s media event with Whyte, raising concerns among some that he may lack the requisite intensity and focus to perform at his best.
The usual pre-fight bluster, trash talk and overblown rhetoric that we expect from Fury has certainly been missing far during fight week.
“We’ve had a great preparation,” he said. “There are never any complaints from me. We always do what we can do in training camps and do the best that we can do on the night. I’m sure Dillian Whyte’s had a great training camp as well. He’s a good fighting man. The fans are in for a real treat. I know Dillian. I know him personally, and he knows me. And we’re going to rock ‘n roll on fight night. We’re ready to throw down and treat us all to a hell of a barn storm.”
Certainly, if Fury is anything less than fully focused on the task at hand then Whyte has the tools, and the power, to make him pay, predominantly through the explosive power that resides in his formidable left hook.
Fury (31-0-1, 22 KOs) has never been stopped, or even defeated, in the professional prize ring, but he has been floored on six occasions – once by Neven Pajkic and Steve Cunningham and four times by Deontay Wilder.
While none of these foes managed to keep him down, they showed that he can be hit and he can be hurt. Whyte (28-2, 19 KOs) has argued that his “thudding” power, as opposed to Wilder’s power which is based on “speed”, will thus be able to achieve what the Bronze Bomber could not.
We must also remember that this is Whyte’s big opportunity – after years of manoeuvring, positioning and wrangling – he has finally secured a shot at the heavyweight title and will surely do everything in his power to make the most of it.
The 34-year-old is certainly speaking like a man who intends to grasp the opportunity he has with both fists. “It means everything to me to be fighting in my home country, and especially because it’s for the world title at Wembley,” Whyte said this week.
“It’s not too far from where I’m from. It means everything. It’s massive. It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for. It’s a big fight. You won’t hear any bullshit from me. I’m ready to go.”
Despite the doubts swirling around Fury, surely he will possess too much length, height and versatility to slip up against Whyte?
The key to victory for the Gypsy King is surely to fight in a more conservative manner than in his last two fights against Wilder, boxing, moving and frustrating Whyte early on, and then taking full advantage when he tires in the later rounds, as he did against Oscar Rivas and Joseph Parker.
If Fury fights in this manner, then cold, hard, logic points to him winning a comfortable points decision in a fight that lacks the fireworks and dramatics of his wins against Wilder.
But then again, where is the logic in the life and career of Tyson Luke Fury?
So here’s another possible scenario: Fury – eying immortality and retirement – looks to go out with a bang and take Whyte out early but gets tagged himself and heavily floored.
Fury hauls himself up before the count of ten, but Whyte follows up with desperate flurries and a hurt Fury is stopped on his feet by the referee, a decision he bitterly contests as we hurtle inexorably towards Fury-Whyte 2.
On balance, I favour the former scenario, but boxing’s innate capacity for chaos means I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter unfolds.