Tyson Fury’s heavyweight world title defence against Derek Chisora has been much-criticised and maligned since it was announced six weeks ago – namely because the ‘Gypsy King’ has beaten his foe twice already. But the boxing world – or even the sporting world as a whole – ought to be making the most of a genuine crossover star while the ‘Gypsy King’ still wants to step into the arena and fight.
Frank Warren and Bob Arum, in the sport for several decades and Fury’s promoters in the UK and USA respectively, compared Fury to David Beckham and Muhammad Ali this week. Moreover, and the most important aspect here, is that Fury can fight. Everything else about him is a bonus.
Lennox Lewis, the last undisputed heavyweight boxing champion, already perceives Fury as the world’s No 1 heavyweight of this era. For as long as Fury remains in the limelight, he should certainly be enjoyed, bizarre as he can be, as big a personality while thoughts of retirement criss-cross in his head while dealing constantly with his mental health demons.
Who knows how long Fury will go on?
There is no secret that Fury is an odds-on favourite to defeat Chisora at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday night, and that – barring a major upset – all roads lead to an undisputed heavyweight title with the Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk in the Middle East in March next year. The vast majority of the 60,000 fans in attendance will be there for ‘The Tyson Fury Show’. And little wonder.
Fury, now 34, in his fighting prime after three colossal contests with Deontay Wilder, the most destructive puncher in heavyweight history, may only fight a couple more times, in spite of his declaration this week that a globe-trotting fistic tour awaits next year.
A fight with Usyk (undisputed title), a fight with Anthony Joshua (colossal all-British clash with huge financial gain for both) could conceivably be Fury’s two and out.
Look at what Fury brings: physically, the 34-year-old fits the bill perfectly as a heavyweight champion: 6ft 9ins tall, 19 and a half stone. Huge heart, chin, skills, engine, and fighting IQ. He hails from a family with ten generations of bare-knuckle traveller fighters on both parental sides.
As a personality, moreover, Fury has crossed over into a major star, and it is the narrative of his life which has allowed Fury to transcend pugilism as a public figure. It makes him unique.
Having documented his rise and fall and rise again, from defeating Wladimir Klitschko seven years ago to become world champion, to falling off a cliff mentally and ballooning to 400 pounds and contemplating suicide, to re-finding himself and regaining his sanity, Fury remains an amazing sports story.
Again, we ought to make the most of this fighting character while he still has the will and ambition to step into the ring and challenge himself.
Netflix are making the most of him at present, filming a series that will go out next year, a third book is out – all three Fury books have gone to No 1 best-seller list – and after a series of fights in the USA, where he also captured the hearts and minds of the public, 150,000 fans have flocked to two stadium fights in 2022.
Warren, Fury’s UK promoter, outlined how his charge is, in his view, “the biggest British sports star since David Beckham” and that arguably the giant Lancastrian has “made more of an impact in the United States than Beckham did”. Interesting point.
Arum, Fury’s promoter across The Pond, made comparisons with Muhammad Ali, who he promoted in the Sixties and early Seventies. “Tyson is the biggest personality we’ve had in boxing since Ali,” Arum told me. “Look what he does… he gets it… the singing in the ring, the ability to understand what his audience wants. And he can fight.”
Fury can, and does, overstep the mark, ranting as he did with expletives at this week’s news conference at Spurs; there are those who will never forgive the sexist and homophobic views in an interview seven years ago, yet as storylines go, Fury’s narrative has become powerful on several fronts. Not least the mental health side.
Fury receives thousands of letters a month from mental health sufferers and as Warren also told me this week. “When you have the toughest man in the world – the heavyweight champion – speaking openly about his struggles, that touches people. Tyson is a man of the people. There’s no one like him. Make the most of him.”
Both Fury and Chisora have promised a tear-up in Tottenham but as Fury, in an aside this week, said “do you really think I’m just going to stand in front of him and let me hands go? I’m not stupid. I’m going to jab his head off and then knock him out”. Expect Fury to do that – unless there is a catastrophic upset – and force the stoppage on Chisora around the seventh or eighth round, followed by a face-off in the ring with Usyk, as the ‘Gypsy King’ eyes his next opponent, and assignment, with the undisputed heavyweight title on the line in 2023.
BT Sport Box Office will show Tyson Fury v Derek Chisora exclusively live on Saturday 3rd December. Live coverage starts from 7pm, with ring walks taking place at 9pm. bt.com/sportboxoffice.