In his most recent outing, WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury barely scraped past former UFC superstar and pro boxing debutant Francis Ngannou in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The super-hyped battle for “Baddest Man on the Planet” turned out to be “Worst Performance Ever” by Fury, who has come under close scrutiny since winning that 10-round split decision on October 28.
There are many within the trade who now believe that Fury will be angel cake for IBF, WBA, WBO, and Ring Magazine counterpart Oleksandr Usyk when the pair collide for the undisputed championship on February 17, once again in Riyadh. However, history tells us that you get the very best out of Fury when he has something to prove.
I’ve only ever picked against him once. In November 2015, “The Gypsy King” ventured to Dusseldorf to face long-reigning heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. Given Klitschko’s remarkable 11-year win streak, and with what amounted to home advantage, there were few who gave Fury a serious shot at victory in his first world title bout.
By this time, I knew I’d been missing a trick with the Manchester man and had come to rate him highly. I just felt the judges would go against him in Germany and that Klitschko would retain his championship.
About a week prior to the fight, in an interview for The Ring, Fury told me how he’d upset the odds. “[Klitschko] is so accustomed to winning everything with that jab and stepping back,” Fury offered.
“What happens when he can’t do that because he’s out of range? When he can’t hit the target with the left, he won’t have the confidence to release the right. Then what? He’s an Emanuel Steward fighter and I know how he thinks. Klitschko likes to touch his man with the jab and follow with the right but if the left can’t land the left, there is no right.”
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I called Fury back less than 48 hours after he’d won a 12-round unanimous decision over Klitschko. “What did I f—kin’ tell you?” were the first words he said upon answering.
Just short of five years later, Fury was gearing up for his second fight with power-punching destroyer Deontay Wilder. The colossal Englishman was now five fights into an unlikely comeback after having been out of the ring for over two years and ballooning up to 400 pounds.
It had also emerged that Fury had tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug following a 2015 win over Christian Hammer, for which he served a retroactive suspension. He’d also been abusing alcohol and drugs, and his mental health had deteriorated significantly.
With everything against him, Fury lost 140 pounds – yes, 140 pounds – and bested two unheralded opponents before challenging Wilder for the WBC title in December 2018.
Again, Fury was the underdog, and again he confounded the critics when it mattered most. While the judges ruled the first Wilder bout a draw, the general consensus was that Fury had been ripped off on the cards.
“The first fight was a negative in hindsight, but it was a positive in life,” Fury told me days prior to the rematch. “It was a positive because I came back from the brink of no return. After three years out of the ring, I was back to my best and I beat the current WBC heavyweight champion. I didn’t get it on the scorecards, but it was a victory in my mind.
“Deontay Wilder now has to get back in the ring with ‘The Gypsy King’ for a second ass-whipping and I’m looking forward to handing him one. I’m gonna open a can of whoop-ass on this guy! I’m more active, I’ve had two years of activity, and I’ll be ready.”
Fury battered Wilder from pillar to post in the second fight and barely absorbed a punch in return. It was all over in seven rounds, with Fury anointed as the WBC and Ring Magazine champion. Again, he’d kicked sand in the faces of his detractors and proved that he was the best big man in the world.
Write him off at your peril.
Fury was atrocious against Ngannou. There’s no other word for it. I literally can’t think of a more embarrassing moment in heavyweight history than Fury labouring as hard as he did to win that fight.
In 1939, Joe Louis was floored by rotund challenger Tony Galento, who looked more suited to fighting outside a bar than in a prize ring. However, looks are deceiving. Galento was a badass and rated No.4 by The Ring when Louis hammered him into submission.
What about Leon Spinks? He had just seven pro fights when he upset Muhammad Ali in February 1978. That was a low moment for “The Greatest”, but at least Spinks was a former Olympic champion.
No, Fury vs. Ngannou was the worst ever.
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However, the Fury that you’ll see against Usyk will not be the same animal. We were told that Fury put in a 12-week camp for Ngannou. Okay, but what was he doing in camp? Do you really believe that Fury worked as hard for Ngannou as he did for Klitschko or Wilder?
Over in Saudi Arabia, Fury was like a court jester, hobnobbing with celebrities and sports stars, and playing the fool. He didn’t feel threatened and his cavalier attitude almost came back to haunt him.
Usyk is a magnificent prize fighter with genius-level ring IQ. Your average boxing anorak on X (Twitter) knows that, so you can be damn sure that Fury knows it. With a proper training camp and his mind on the job, “The Gypsy King” will still be an enormous challenge for the Ukrainian sharpshooter to overcome.
Don’t look for the same happy-go-lucky Fury that you saw pre-Ngannou. At heart, The Gypsy King is a real fighting man and there’s plenty to fight for on February 17.