BY FRANK HAVILAND
For all its undeniable brutality, boxing is a fairytale. You don’t need to have ever laced up yourself or watched Rocky to understand that. The cold hard truths meted out in the ring are surpassed by the blood, sweat and tears that enable men to triumph over adversity; to fight battles others cannot see. Boxing has saved many men from a certain life of crime: Bernard Hopkins famously learned to box in prison, while Mike Tyson was well on the way to joining him before falling under Cus D’Amato’s wing. Boxing saved Tyson Fury too.
His story is nothing short of a fairytale: born 3 months premature and weighing just a pound, doctors feared for his chances. Thirty years on and 20 stone heavier, Fury had won the world heavyweight championship, spiralled into the despair of drugs and depression, ballooned to 30 stone, and was on the brink of suicide. He then decided to get up off the canvas and retake the title. As comebacks go this is up there with Ali-Frasier and Foreman-Moorer.
After 3 years out of the ring, and with just 2 tune-up fights, Fury faced Deontay Wilder; the most feared puncher in the division, and with a knockout ratio of 98%, arguably in heavyweight history. Despite clearly winning 10 of 12 rounds, and widely-recognised as having won the fight, the judges awarded a controversial draw. Fury knew the rematch would have to be different.
In the heavyweight division where one punch can end it all at any time, there is something mercurial about a 6’9” Hercules who boxes rather than slugs it out, and moves with the grace of a welterweight. But that is what Fury does.
There is also nothing more iconic in boxing than the age-old battle of the boxer versus the puncher. While Fury is the consummate boxer, Wilder is unquestionably wild. I’ve seen club fighters with superior technique, and yet he has what legendary trainer Teddy Atlas refers to as the ‘eraser’ – a thunderous straight right which has put 40 of his 41 opponents down and out; all except Fury.
After an enthralling first encounter in 2018, Wilder-Fury 2 was touted as another Ali-Foreman, a Lewis-Tyson, a Louis-Marciano – such was the hype in a sport which rarely delivers what is promises.
In the build-up to the fight, everyone was asking the same question: ‘can Fury box for the full 12 rounds without getting clipped?’. The consensus was that he couldn’t. The bookies had Wilder the favourite, with the only possible outcomes Wilder by KO, or Fury on points. The majority of experts also couldn’t see Wilder failing to land: David Haye confirmed Wilder was the hardest puncher he’d every sparred, while Teddy Atlas drew attention to Fury coming in a career-heavy 273 pounds. Coupled with rumours of problems in the Fury camp, most experts seemed to agree that Fury couldn’t do it.
Nevertheless, having been robbed last time out, Fury declared pre-fight that he was going to take things out of the judges hands and knock Wilder out. This was perhaps advisable, fighting in Wilder’s backyard with 3 American judges, and an American referee. He wasn’t taken seriously.
In boxing, you generally have to take everything with at least 2 pinches of salt; trash talk is part of the game, and many a beef is manufactured purely to sell tickets. Besides which, Wilder has a great chin and had only been down once in his career, and even that was a decade ago.
Furthermore Fury’s career has been dogged with criticism, although it’s not entirely certain why. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t look much like a heavyweight champion; lacking the menace of a Foreman, and unaccompanied by the bulging muscles of Joshua.
His critics have branded him ‘boring’, ‘awkward’, and ‘a spoiler’. He shouldn’t worry, he’s in good company. All-time greats like Mayweather and Klitschko were often referred to as ‘boring’, mostly by those who don’t understand the sweet science: the art of hitting and not getting hit.
And yet time and time again, Fury has told everyone what he was going to do to disbelief, only to go on and do precisely that. No one thought he could defeat Klitschko in Germany. Few believed he could come back from the brink and even go the distance against Wilder. Precious few will have taken his talk of taking the fight to Wilder seriously. Indeed Wilder openly mocked his punching power, claiming Fury had ‘pillow fists’ for hands.
‘Everyone has a plan until they get hit’ as the old boxing maxim goes, but the trouble is, that works both ways. Fury said he was going to take it to him from the opening bell, and that is exactly what he did. He utterly destroyed Wilder, forcing him onto the back foot from the get-go. It wasn’t that Wilder didn’t land any bombs, Fury simply walked through them, with more convincing offence of his own. After the first knockdown, it was clear that Wilder was shaken; in the fourth round his eyes actually looking fearful. After 7 rounds it was a bloody massacre, and the Wilder corner was right to throw the towel in.
Britain has had its share of heavyweight champions over the years. Henry Cooper famously knocked Ali down. Lennox Lewis is an all-time great, but never quite gelled with the public. Frank Bruno was much-loved, but more heart that anything else. With this victory however, I believe Fury surpasses them all.
He is something special. Not just what he’s achieved, but where he’s come back from. Completely changing his style from defensive to offensive fighter in the space of a short training camp, is something only a Rocky film would have previously contemplated. To his fans too, Fury is all-heart. He allows Twitter followers to phone him, is an ambassador for mental health, and is as warmly-received on the streets of America as he is in Manchester.
When he made his professional debut 12 years ago, I recall his father John Fury being mocked for comparing him to Ali. Those comparisons no longer appear ridiculous.
With this win, I believe Fury has cemented his legacy in the pantheon of the greats: Marciano, Ali, Louis – he’d have given them all more than a run for their money. We were denied the fairytale ending back in December 2018. Fury ensured we finally got what we wanted.
Now that all the heavyweight belts are tucked up cosily in Britain, a thrilling encounter is once more on everyone’s lips: ‘when does Fury-Joshua happen?’ After tonight’s performance however, the question perhaps ought to be, ‘does Joshua want anything to do with Fury?’