This version of Tyson Fury, the guy who knocked out Deontay Wilder twice and put Dillian Whyte to sleep Saturday with one of the best uppercuts you’ll ever see, would be a difficult out for any fighter in boxing history.
Yes, that includes Muhammad Ali. And George Foreman. And Larry Holmes and Lennox Lewis and Rocky Marciano and Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis and Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe and Vitali Klitschko and Wladimir Klitschko and Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson and whatever all-time great heavyweight you care to name.
There aren’t many guys in boxing history who would be able to deal with a 6-foot-9, 270-pound heavyweight with an 85-inch reach, slick boxing skills and a sledgehammer punch.
That’s not to say that Fury’s the greatest heavyweight of all time. He doesn’t have anywhere near the résumé for that.
But the list of guys you know would beat him — guys you would be comfortable betting your house on beating him — is incredibly small.
Fury was brilliant again on Saturday in front of a European boxing record crowd of 94,000 at Wembley Stadium in London, stopping Whyte at 2:59 of the sixth with arguably the greatest punch of his career to retain the WBC and lineal heavyweight titles.
Whyte was attacking as he did for much of the fight when he was hit in the nose by a solid Fury jab. But instead of shuffling off to the side as he did so often in the fight, Fury followed that jab with a right uppercut. It caught Whyte on the jaw and sent him in a dead fall backward to give Fury the win in what he said would probably be his final bout.
“I promised my lovely wife Paris of 14 years that after the Wilder 3 fight [in October], that would be it,” Fury said Saturday. “And I meant it. We had a war. It was a great trilogy. And I meant that. But I got offered to fight at Wembley at home, and I believe that I deserved, that I owed it to the fans, that I owed it to every person in the United Kingdom to come here and fight at Wembley. Now it’s all done. And I have to be a man of my word. And I think this is it. This might be the final curtain for the Gypsy King. And what a way to go out!”
If he sticks to his word and passes on facing the winner of July’s bout between IBF-WBA-WBO champion Oleksandr Usyk and former champion Anthony Joshua, he’ll be one of the few in history to go out on top.
Sadly, we remember most of our great heavyweights for leaving after they’ve repeatedly been concussed and beaten. Ali took such a bludgeoning in the second half of his career that he developed Parkinson’s that muted him for much of the second half of his life.
Who can forget the sad sight of Tyson being pummeled by Lewis, or of Louis, back fighting after a brief retirement because he needed the money, getting battered by Marciano?
Lewis is one of the few who walked away as king with his money in the bank and his faculties intact, quitting after a triumphant and thrilling stoppage in 2003 of Vitali Klitschko.
If Fury walks away now, he’ll pass on mega-millions to face the Usyk-Joshua winner. If Joshua wins that, a fight between he and Fury would pay each man at least $100 million and would give Fury the chance to become the undisputed heavyweight champion for the only time in his career.
When Fury defeated Wladimir Klitschko in 2015, he won the IBF-WBA-WBO belts, but not the WBC title. He earned the WBC belt by knocking out Wilder in the second fight of their epic trilogy, but he never held all four at once.
He is the lineal champion, the proverbial man who beat the man, and that’s enough for a lot of hardcore fans of the sport and perhaps Fury himself. But he’s never held all four sanctioning body belts at once and that’s what is required in modern boxing to be undisputed champion.
'You’re messing with the best man on the planet'
Joshua promoter Eddie Hearn told Yahoo Sports on Saturday he felt Joshua has always had the goods to be able to defeat Fury, but said all focus is on the Usyk fight for the moment.
Imagine the scene in July, though, if Fury climbed through the ropes to pose nose-to-nose with the Usyk-Joshua winner. It would be wild.
The scene was crazy on Saturday, with the second-largest attendance in boxing history behind only the 1993 fight in Mexico City at Azteca Stadium between Julio Cesar Chavez and Greg Haugen that drew 132,274 fans.
They came to see Fury do his thing, his first defense as champion on home soil. He gave them the show they wanted to see.
Whyte tried, but he didn’t have the gifts to deal with this version of Fury.
“I believe that Dillian will be a world champion,” Fury said. “But tonight, he met a great in the sport. I’m one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. And unfortunately for Dillian Whyte, he had to face me here tonight. There’s no disgrace. He’s a tough, game man. He’s as strong as a bull. He’s got the heart of a lion. But you’re not messing with a mediocre heavyweight. You’re messing with the best man on the planet. And you saw that tonight with what happened.”
Before the fight, ESPN showed a package of Fury’s defense. Punches Wilder threw at him missed by an inch or two or, in a few cases, a bit less. He’d duck his head here, or slip it there, and the punches zinged past him.
He’s got great boxing skills and the quick reflexes to support those.
But as fighters age, those reflexes go and lesser men begin to hit them cleanly who never before would have laid a glove on them. After a few of those is when you see your heroes unable to speak clearly, beaten up and taken advantage of by a sport that far too often swallows its young.
Fury has the opportunity to change that narrative. He’s rich, his faculties are intact and he’ll never want for anything for the rest of his life. He’s not close to being done yet, but there’s always some newcomer, always some goal that keeps them coming back.
The pressure on Fury to return will be immense.
If he can do it and keeps his vow to walk away, God bless him. It’s the only move to make at this point.
Fighters need to learn this lesson: Use the game. Don’t let the game use you.
Fury gets that. I think.