The time for showboating is over. Tyson Fury has to flick the switch to ruthless destroyer at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday night and produce a statement performance against unbeaten German underdog Tom Schwarz.
The Briton must produce an emphatic victory against a big, strong opponent highly ranked by the World Boxing Organisation but some way below the former world No 1 in skills. Noise is needed, and 12 rounds of “boxing” will not satisfy the craving for the self-styled “Gypsy King” to impose himself on the American fight market.
Bob Arum, Fury’s US promoter, has suggested that the reinvigorated boxer from Lancashire who has become a spokesman for mental health “is like a cross between Ali and Foreman” – with his charisma.
Against Schwarz, Fury should follow the lead of the two greats, pressing home his advantages of height, reach, experience and class to help his paymasters ESPN build towards the proposed end game of a trilogy of super fights with Deontay Wilder, the World Boxing Council champion, after their disputed draw last December.
ESPN reach 87 million homes on this continent and Fury has had decent billing all week, among the NBA finals between the Warriors and the Raptors and the Stanley Cup ice hockey play-offs. It is time to turn it on. Big time.
While Fury’s face has been ubiquitous on the neon billboards at the southern end of The Strip in the world’s gambling capital in the Mojave Desert, throughout this fight week, Fury’s team have noticeably played down the Vegas vibe.
This remains a “soft launch”, if that is possible in this adult playground among the glitz and glamour and high rollers. Trainer Ben Davison, the young strategist who has helped bring Fury back from the brink of mental collapse, as well as overseeing the fighter’s weight loss from 28 stone two years ago, has kept a staunch view that Schwarz “must not be overlooked”. Davison declares that Fury is “utterly focused” on the task.
Meanwhile, cornerman Ricky Hatton – still a popular figure here after those monumental nights against Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao – has heeded the lesson from two weeks ago when Anthony Joshua lost three belts to Andy Ruiz Jr in Manhattan and found himself the subject of an inquiry into his skills and attitude.
Veteran promoter Frank Warren, Fury’s UK handler, stressed to Telegraph Sport that heavyweight boxing “can change with one punch, and Tyson must be on his game”. In short, they have all kept a lid on the “Vegas Experience”.
“I’ve no need to dress anything up. The only thing I’m concerned about is Tom Schwarz, all 6ft 5in of him and all 18st of him,” said Fury, undefeated in 28 contests and ranked No 1 in the world by The Ring magazine. Wilder is No 2, followed by Ruiz, Joshua and, at No 5, the British heavyweight Dillian Whyte. “I have to get past Tom on the night and that’s all I care about. The rest of it – the Deontay Wilder trilogy and what not – that’s all well and fantastic but it’s not realistic at this moment because nothing in heavyweight boxing is a given. This is a very important fight for me.”
The 30-year-old is believed to be earning £10 million for this contest, the first of a multi-fight deal with ESPN. “The MGM Grand Arena is an iconic venue, it’s got great history and it’s an absolute honour to fight here,” added Fury. “It’s my opportunity to make this my venue and fight here on a massive stage. I’ve been a world champion, it is something else to say I have done in my career. It’s a dream come true.”
Although Schwarz is undefeated in 24 fights and ranked No 2 with the WBO, Fury is levels above in skill set. Dig a little deeper, and the German is ranked seventh best in his own country and not even in the top 50 heavyweights in the world by website BoxRec.com.
Schwarz has said all the right things: he will shock the world – as Max Schmeling did 83 years ago against the great Joe Louis – that this is his moment, that he will produce a moment of brilliance.
“I expect him to do that, to say that,” said Fury. “He will be looking for a knockout. He’s a heavyweight after all, that’s all they want to do – land a big right hand, left hook or whatever. But that is not always what happens in Tyson Fury fights. Many have tried and many have failed.”
Arum is convinced Fury has all the qualities to conquer the American market, though we heard that two weeks ago with Joshua. “When I think about Tyson and his personality, he’s like a cross between Ali and Foreman,” said the law graduate who promoted both heavyweight legends. “Not in his boxing style, but he has that kind of charisma. The ability to reach out to people, like Ali and George could. In a lot of ways he’s quicker, mentally. Ali was quick. George made people love him. This guy is more articulate than either of them.”
Arum believes a pay-per-view rematch with Wilder and Fury could reach the three-million mark, allowing it to gross well over $200 million. “This exercise really is like a coming-out party for him. Thanks to ESPN, we’ve been able to give him a tremendous ride. He’s been on so many programmes. The guy is incredible. Forget about his boxing ability. He was on the NFL network with Rich Eisen and he started talking about mental health. People are talking about that all over the country. Organisations that are dedicated to mental health issues want him as a speaker. These aren’t boxing people. Hopefully he beats Tom Schwarz, people will know him as a personality. The public love personalities who are great fighters.”
As for the Fury-Wilder rematch, Arum asserted: “There will definitely be a trilogy. Great heavyweight rivalries in history have been trilogies. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, Ali and Ken Norton. I think that the rematch will be in the first quarter of 2020. And then maybe four, five months later they’ll fight each other again.” If all goes to plan, of course.