TYSON FURY, the WBC heavyweight ‘champion’, last week insisted he doesn’t care about the legacy he leaves behind in boxing. He is here to make money and loads of it, he says. Not break records or collect belts or even fight his closest rivals. This latest Gypsy King proclamation is proved by his upcoming October 28 date with boxing debutant, Francis Ngannou.
It pays to keep the salt handy when Fury has something to say, however. When he announced his retirement, as he did last April, nobody was surprised when he came back. When he says he’s going to give his entire fight purse to charity, don’t start planning on how to spend it. When he says he’d fight Anthony Joshua for free, don’t be alarmed when he demands 60 per cent of the purse. He even once claimed to have seen a man on the streets of Los Angeles without any shoes so Fury, who reportedly wears a size 15, took his own off and handed them over. Whether the plan was for the vagabond to wear them or shelter beneath them is unknown.
But his latest admission should be welcomed. At least on this occasion it is completely honest. Because, as we all know, a fight with Francis Ngannou will do nothing whatsoever for his place in history and should not be dressed up as anything that suggests it might. And, yes, I know that Ngannou is so strong he once demolished an entire skyscraper when he slammed the entrance door a little too vigorously. But whether or not Ngannou can indeed hit harder than speeding train is irrelevant. He is 0-0 and Fury is 33-0-1.
Yet it’s difficult to criticise Fury for taking the cash on offer for an easy night’s work. The lack of structure in boxing has all but facilitated it. I’m sure I would take the cash. I’m pretty sure you would too. Fury deserves ample kudos for what he has achieved, both in boxing and the land of celebrity. By walking in both worlds, he has become one of the most famous people alive today. And though we, as diehard boxing fans, might want to discredit him for that, we must remember what’s truly important in this life. It’s being with our family, it’s being a good parent, it’s being loyal to those we love and those who truly appreciate it. Fury does all of those, and then some.
Some have argued that Fury is wasting his talent. Quite the contrary. If he’s going to earn significant cash for a fight of this nature, one can argue he’s making the absolute most of it. Those boxers and ex-boxers who scream he’s making a mockery of boxing, and they make salient points, likely wish they could have hit similar jackpots themselves. In a sport notoriously difficult to make any kind of money at all, and a sport known to take more than it could ever return, Fury is making easy money by the truckload.
That doesn’t make it any easier to stomach, however, for those of us who do care about legacy and history and the reputation of the sport. We just about forgave Fury for terrorising a washed-up Derek Chisora last December because, well, we figured 2023 would be the year when the heavyweight division finally got its act together – and made a fight between the universally recognised number one and two – for the first time since 1999. Turns out that the biggest fight in the division this year will in fact be Fury versus Ngannou.
Tyson is far from the only one to blame for that. Yet when he rattles on about facing Jon Jones, another MMA star, after Ngannou, it gets harder and harder to take him seriously as a boxer. John Fury, Tyson’s father, has compared this contest to Muhammad Ali taking on wrestlers in the 1970s. However, Ali’s expeditions took place after beating, among others, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Ken Norton. Nor were they disguised as professional boxing matches. One can also liken it to the money-spinning clash between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor from 2017. Mayweather’s work was already done by then and he hasn’t fought professionally since. Though a flagrant and distasteful cash grab, at least Floyd wasn’t holding any titles hostage at the time.
If Fury was to retire from boxing tomorrow, and if he has no plans to face a boxer again he really should, one wonders how he’ll be remembered. Undoubtedly, at the very least, as a fine fighter and a master showman. One who ended the long period of Klitschko domination in 2015 and came back after three years out of the ring – via a couple of easy tune-up bouts – to all but beat Deontay Wilder in 2018 in a battle that will always be remembered. Even if he’d walked away then, following that still awe-inspiring rise from the canvas in the last round, it’s likely that history would have been kind.
His copybook is far from clean, however. If we’re to criticise Canelo Alvarez and co for failing drug tests, then we must remember that Fury received a backdated two-year ban from UKAD that coincided with deep depression, as his lifelong battle with his mental health spiraled out of control. That he’s where he is today, a recovery of sorts that he once credited to Daniel Kinahan, underlines his inner fortitude.
What he’s shown us since that first Wilder bout hinted at true greatness. The thrashing he dished out in the return, the thrilling third fight and then the drubbing of leading contender, Dillian Whyte. In each of those bouts, for different reasons, Fury was truly magnificent. And it’s because of how good he looked, and how much he thrilled us in the process, that explains why we all now feel like he’s letting us down. The boxing world was there for his taking and the heavyweight division, at long last, had a champion capable of becoming a king.
Fury is not operating at a time when there are no challenges out there. The sense of unfinished business is pronounced. If he’d cleaned up the division and then excursed to novelty boxing, fine. Or if he’d remained retired and come back for this, no problem. Team Fury will claim they tried to make fights with Oleksandr Usyk, Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jnr before settling on Ngannou. There can be no excuses, however, if a fitting rival does not follow.
Fury is 35 years old and has not lived a healthy lifestyle for large periods of his life. It’s only logical to suggest that he’s already past his best. Perhaps he can sense the end coming. Perhaps that’s why he is distancing himself from real challenges and taking the money while he can. Only he knows. And only he can prove us wrong.