WHILE his cousin, Tyson, prepared to once again fight the hardest puncher in the heavyweight division in Las Vegas, Hughie Fury waited to make his first ring appearance of 2021.

The 27-year-old, last seen outpointing Mariusz Wach in December 2020, fights durable gatekeeper Christian Hammer this weekend in Newcastle and knows time is of the essence if he is to make an impression of his own at the top end of his weight class.

“It’s been very frustrating not being able to get in the ring, but it’s just one of those things,” said Fury, 25-3 (14). “You just have to get your head down and keep working on things in the gym. There’s nothing you can do about it, especially with what happened with the pandemic.

“I believe everything happens for a reason and I’ve had to remain patient. It’s easy to go off track, so we’ve just carried on and I’ve managed to get my head down. It’s just been eat, sleep, train, repeat – every day.”

The choice of Hammer as an opponent is an interesting one. The 34-year-old Romanian, 26-7 (16), has fought in Britain on two previous occasions and has history with numerous British heavyweights, including Tyson Fury (who retired Hammer after eight rounds), as well as David Price, Danny Williams and Michael Sprott, all of whom Hammer stopped inside the distance.

“For my first fight this year I could have just had a knock-over job, but I don’t want to do that,” said Fury. “I believe in myself and I want to keep testing and improving myself. I want opponents who are going to fight back and come to win. You’re not learning anything by jumping in with someone who is not going to throw punches back. At the end of the day, it’s about challenging yourself.

“I’ve watched a few of Hammer’s fights and he’s tough and very durable. He’s been in with a lot of names and is a very experienced fighter. He knows how to survive and get through fights and he’s got a tight defence. He comes to fight and I hope he does come to make a fight of it because that will mean it will be an easy night’s work for me. I’ve just got to use my boxing and outsmart him. Whatever he brings, I’ll have an answer.”
For Hughie Fury, it’s no longer about simply winning. Given the trajectory of his career to date, there is now just as much of a need to impress and make those who view his performances as skippable sit up and take note.

With defeats to Joseph Parker, Kubrat Pulev and Alexander Povetkin in his past, it is up to Fury to show that these blemishes say more about his progression and room to grow than they do about his limitations at world level.

“If you compare me with how I was in previous fights, it’s man against boy,” Fury said. “The way I’ve come on, and the shape I’m in now, there’s a big difference. I’ve come on leaps and bounds since then.

“I learnt something from all my fights but one that sticks out in my mind is the Pulev fight (in October 2018). I went in there with a cut and it just splattered across my face in the second round. The referee came over and said I had a round left before he was going to stop the fight. I then put everything into that third round and gassed out, so had to go 12 rounds with no energy. It was a great learning experience. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I wouldn’t take back any of the fights I’ve had.

“No one’s ever really got the better of me and beaten me in a really one-sided fight. I just look back at them, and my shape and everything else, and it was man against boy. I’ve also had a lot of bad luck going into fights. But all that is about to change.”

Ever the purist, Fury has for years said the man to expose the flaws in Anthony Joshua’s game would be a gifted boxer good enough to defeat brawn with brains. He felt somewhat vindicated, then, when watching Oleksandr Usyk do just that on September 25, flipping the heavyweight division on its head in the process.

“I thought Usyk would cause a lot of problems because Joshua is not a good boxer and is definitely not as good a boxer as Oleksandr Usyk,” Fury said. “Usyk is very good with his feet and that’s what helped him get the better of things and make Joshua look like a rabbit in the headlights.

“Joshua should have used his power more as he came forward. He should have tried breaking the smaller fighter down. Instead, he tried outboxing a smaller fighter who has got faster hands and better feet than him. He didn’t go in with the right game plan.

“They said Usyk is not a big puncher because he’s moving up [from cruiserweight to heavyweight] but he’s still a 16-stone man wearing 10-ounce gloves. Of course he can hit. I think he was a bit aware of that, Joshua. As soon as he got stung by that first left hand, he was wary of coming forward.

“I think Usyk has got his number now. Usyk wasn’t impressed with his own performance. He didn’t think it was all that, and gave it a seven out of 10. If that’s so, he knows he can do even better next time.”