On December 1st at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, two unbeaten fighters will compete for the WBC heavyweight title. Champion Deontay Wilder (40-0-0, 39KOs) and the underdog, lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury (27-0-0, 19KOs).
Tyson Fury held the IBF heavyweight title for 10 days in 2015. After his shock win in Düsseldorf over the unified champion Wladimir Klitschko (64-5-0, 53KOs) on 28th November, a rematch clause stipulated in their contract meant he would have been unable to face the federation’s mandatory challenger, Vyacheslav Glazkov. So, Fury was stripped of his title by the IBF on 8th December. He vacated the WBO, WBA and IBO titles in June 2016 after testing positive for cocaine. Fury said he self-medicated in order to deal with difficulties with his mental health and since then has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He also tested positive for elevated levels of the banned steroid nandrolone for which Fury said eating uncastrated wild boar was the cause. As Tyson, named after the world heavyweight champion at the time of his birth is “the man who beat the man”, the rich history of the lineal heavyweight championship of the world continues.
His comeback win in the MEN Arena against Sefer Seferi (22-1-0, 21KOs) on 9th June 2018 came 924 days after that famous night when he won the unified heavyweight championship of the world. Seferi was pulled out by his team and did not come out for the fourth round. 70 days later Fury was disappointing in his win over Francesco Pianeta (34-4-1, 21KOs) at Windsor Park in Belfast on points over ten rounds.
Facing Wilder will be a whole new ball game. But which one?
“This ain’t basketball, this is fighting” Fury told Wilder in their recent round-table discussion. Some have said “The Bronze Bomber” from Alabama has a questionable resume, but 40 unbeaten with 39KOs is not to be sniffed at. If a relatively inactive Fury were to beat Wilder, it could be argued it would go down as one of the biggest shocks in heavyweight history.
On 25th February 1964 in Miami Beach, Florida the 22-year old 7-1 underdog Cassius Clay (19-0-0 15KOs) beat Sonny Liston (35-1-0 24KOs) to win the heavyweight title. The champion and huge pre-fight favourite was tipped by 43 out of the 46 boxing writers who covered the fight. When Liston failed to come out for the seventh round Clay shouted “Eat your words! I am the greatest! I shook up the world!”
On 22nd January 1973 in the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica the 4-1 underdog, George Foreman (37-0-0 33KOs) took undisputed heavyweight champion Joe Frazier (29-0-0 21KOs) apart in two rounds knocking him down six times in total. Previously to the fight with Foreman, Frazier had successfully defended his heavyweight title in 10 consecutive fights. One being the “Fight of the Century” on 8th March 1971 in Madison Square Garden, New York City when Frazier (26-0-0, 23KOs) beat the unbeaten Clay (now named Muhammad Ali (31-0-0, 25KOs)) in a split decision win.
When Big George’s defence against Muhammad Ali was arranged by Don King and the music businessman Jerry Masucci, The Louisville Lip was a 4-1 underdog. Ali had been the distance with Frazier and Ken Norton (29-1-0 23KOs) but as Foreman knocked both “Smokin‘ Joe” and “The Jaw Breaker” out in two rounds, you can see why the Texan knockout artist was the favourite. Ali appeared extremely confident and told the world he was going to dance. “If you think the world was surprised when Nixon resigned, just wait till I kick Foreman’s behind!”.
Ali believed he would beat Foreman when everyone else around him thought he was going to be humiliated. When Ali passed Foreman hitting the heavy bag at a public workout, he’d been instructed by his team to make sure he looked away. Foreman’s punches had made a massive dent in the bag and they didn’t want the former champ to see it. Ali’s team seriously feared for his health. In the 1996 Leon Gast directed Academy Award winning documentary about the fight in Zaire “When We Were Kings”, Norman Mailer said “Ali’s dressing room was like a morgue” before the fight.
On October 30, 1974, Ali (44-2-2, 29KOs) beat Foreman (40-0-0, 37KOs) in Stade du 20 Mai, Kinshasa, Zaire in what was to be known as “The Rumble in the Jungle”. Ali didn’t dance as he said he would. Instead he sat on the ropes soaking all of Foreman’s punches in what would be known from then on as the “rope-a-dope” tactic. As Foreman grew tired and exhausted from punching, Ali was able to capitalise and knock him out in the eighth round.
There have been some huge shocks in heavyweight boxing: one punch from a man weighing over 200 pounds can change a fight in an instant and that’s why it is the most exciting of all of the weight classes.
Wladimir Klitschko ruled the heavyweight division for 15 years but a new era was ushered in when Tyson Fury (24-0-0, 18KOs) shocked the 1-4 favourite in Germany. The era started, but unfortunately it didn’t play out the way it might have. It could be argued that we may have potentially been robbed of an iconic era of boxing due to what Fury calls “the silent killer”: mental illness. And that is through no fault of his own. He most likely would have gone on to have fights with Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Dillian Whyte to name a few.
To hear Tyson say that he has a bigger job than boxing now and that is to raise awareness for mental health and help stamp out the stigma must be applauded. Appearing on The Joe Rogan Experience, he spoke frankly about his mental health recovery. He said that his way to deal with his diagnosis was through training everyday but also that people shouldn’t throw away their pills away just because he doesn’t use them. Fury’s previous homophobic comments, for which he has apologised, made front page news. It’s just a shame that his interview with Rogan: where he made heartwarming, heartbreaking, inspirational, caring and also highly responsible comments were not given similar column inches.
Tyson Fury has been practically inactive for 3 years. He relies on speed and, although the win over Klitschko was a self–admitted “snooze-fest” he did what was needed to beat the Ukrainian. Unfortunately, the old saying that a boxer’s speed diminishes with time, but their power doesn’t isn’t much help to Fury. He does have punching power as demonstrated with his 19 KOs but he relies on speed and awkwardness in the ring to beat opponents – as he proved when he won his titles. Fury believes he can beat Wilder. A knowledgeable student of boxing, he appears extremely confident in interviews.
The ex-unified champion, once trained by his uncle Peter Fury, now has trainer Ben Davison in his corner. He could play a major role in the contest as the corner-man, who the boxer must trust, can change the tide of a fight. Davison has been described a relatively inexperienced trainer. It’s a risk to have someone in your corner who has not been involved a huge fight before. Fury says he has full faith and trust in Davison and Davison has said that his job is done. He’s helped Tyson be happy again. He appears like a man with a cool head and someone who has his proirities right. So, saying that, who am I to argue with the unbeaten lineal heavyweight champion? Having said that, Davison won’t be the only person in Fury’s corner. Hall-of-Fame trainer Freddie Roach, who trained Manny Pacquiao, has been asked by Fury to be his cutman for the fight and involved in preparation.
Taking this fight is a risk, Fury could have had a few more warm-up fights before taking on one of the most dangerous fighters in the heavyweight division. In an interview recently Fury quoted the 3 time champ.
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” – Muhammad Ali
If he beats Wilder, it could be argued that it would be a bigger shock than the Rumble in the Jungle. An ex-heavyweight champion who relies on his speed and boxing ability coming to the ring to meet the champion, a knockout artist. The difference being that on December 1st it will be 1099 days since Tyson Fury beat Klitschko. In the 1099 days leading up to the bout with Foreman, Ali had fought 13 times.
Can he do it? Of course he can: it’s heavyweight boxing. I hope he does. With your challenges to regain the heavyweight belts and raise awareness for mental health – go shake up the world, Tyson. In more ways than one.