The heavyweight showdown between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury – which will be the biggest fight in British boxing history – could see the rivals each earn £200 million as part of a two-fight deal. But the title of undisputed world champion is the real prize.
Both men are in the prime of their careers and are gargantuan athletes, but their boxing styles could hardly be more different. The purists will favour Fury, simply because of his ring skills and fighting knowhow. Fury, 32, has an awkwardness and movement which defies his 6ft 9in height and 19½-stone frame, and makes him a difficult opponent to hit.
Fury, the World Boxing Council champion, has an ability to read his opponent’s punches, making him a dangerous rival for anyone in the blue-riband division. He also carries the confidence of being undefeated in 31 fights, and combines power as well as skill when he is on the front foot.
Joshua, 31, who holds the World Boxing Association, World Boxing Organisation and International Boxing Federation belts, has developed with each performance, though there are question marks about the strength of his chin, although his power makes him – at his best – as good a finisher as anyone in the division. After blasting through opponents with a fearlessness, and ruthlessness, Joshua’s style has become more refined in his last two performances. As the 6ft 6in tall, 18st man mountain often admits, as does his long-time coach Robert McCracken, the young sensation who won Olympic superheavyweight gold at the London 2012 Games is a work in progress as a champion fighter. Joshua will need to be compact, and defensively savvy against the self-styled Gypsy King, whose family are steeped in boxing – 10 generations of bare-knuckle fighters. Fury was boxing as soon as he could walk and has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the noble art and heavyweight lineage.
Both men have been knocked down – and climbed off the canvas again – in fights that have tested their mettle.
Fury was felled in the ninth and 12th rounds in his first contest with WBC champion Deontay Wilder in Los Angeles in Dec 2018, but went on to earn a controversial draw against the American, a fight many observers believed the Briton had won by three rounds.
In his second meeting with Wilder, he eviscerated the champion in seven rounds of aggression. That about-turn in fortunes showed Fury’s ability to change tack. But it will have been 18 months out of the ring by the time he steps in against Joshua. That inactivity could prove to be a massive factor in this fight.
Joshua last fought in December, so inactivity is not an issue. In his epic fight with Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Stadium in 2017, Joshua showed huge heart, stamina, and a second wind after being felled by the great Ukrainian, to come back and finish his foe in the 11th round.
Fury, it is worth recalling, bamboozled Klitschko to claim three of the world title belts in Germany in 2015, showing how he is able to nullify the jab with ease. That could be highly significant against Joshua.
For all of Joshua’s punching power and finishing ability, the mental scar of the loss to Andy Ruiz on his American debut in June 2019 has affected his confidence and may be another telling factor in this fight.
Joshua had Ruiz hurt and down in the third round of that contest, but was caught off guard by the smaller man who came back to drop him four times. His chin was exposed in that fight and that too could be a telling factor.
There could be signs in Joshua’s last two performances – the victory in the rematch with Ruiz, and his triumph over Kubrat Pulev in December – that Joshua has developed a new style which sees his hands higher, and his jab more effective. Joshua arguably has faster hand speed than Fury, but timing could also be key in the exchanges between the two fighters in this contest.
Joshua will need, in my view, to get the fight finished by the middle rounds against his rival when they have their dust-up, most likely in the Arabian desert, in June or July, and it is unlikely that Fury will go toe-to-toe with his fellow British fighter, preferring perhaps to use his boxing skills to mesmerise Joshua. The debate will rage for several months now in the build-up to the contest, but from my standpoint, Fury enters the contest as the marginal favourite, given the fact that he can adapt his game plan in what will be a fascinating battle of skill and nerve.