By Matt Christie
TYSON FURY and Oleksandr Usyk will fight in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on February 17 next year, presuming there are no mishaps between now and then.
It’s been a long road to get to a point where we will, for the first time since Lennox Lewis ruled, be able to recognise one world champion in the heavyweight division. The drought can predominantly be blamed on two things: Too many sanctioning bodies and too many Klitschkos.
One sanctioning body would cure so many headaches. Even just two would ease the suffering. However, for a significant portion of the last 23 years, and through no fault of their own, Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko were active and wearing belts thus dashing any hopes of crowning one king.
There were of course other reasons. We shouldn’t forget that Vitali last fought in 2012 which means that, for 11 long years, there has been nothing (when applying only common sense) to stop the mess from being cleared.
Efforts of sorts were made to do just that. Anthony Joshua, following Tyson Fury’s disappearance after beating Wladimir in 2015, managed to gather the IBF, WBA and WBO titles within three years. Yet a fight with Deontay Wilder, then the owner of the WBC strap, proved elusive. Though it would have been a titanic event, egos and money and underdogs took it in turns to play the proverbial iceberg.
Joshua exchanged victories with Andy Ruiz Jnr, Wilder became embroiled in a three-fight rivalry with the comebacking Fury, and, for a while, it seemed like restoring order was impossible.
Then Usyk came along to upset Joshua, not once but twice, and Fury, at last, removed Wilder from the logjam. Once again, there were only two. More negotiating woes ensued, of course. Rematch clauses, purse splits, dates and venues were argued over. Until Saudi Arabia reemerged with enough money to appease any squabbling. Fury-Usyk was set for December 23, as part of Riyadh Season, with one minor caveat; Tyson had to squash a debutant named Francis Ngannou beforehand in a bit of fun designed to open the festivities in October.
The former UFC champion hadn’t read the script. He dropped Fury in round three and by the end of 10, many observers were convinced they’d just witnessed the biggest upset in boxing history. Fury, however, was awarded the decision. But his black, miserable eyes told a tale on the arms that were held aloft. The real fight, and what should have been the only fight, threatened to capitulate again.
Thankfully, it didn’t. Riyadh Season lasts for six months, and a new date was found within it. Yet because of everything that came before, Fury-Usyk is one of those contests that we won’t truly believe is happening until the opening bell sounds.
It’s a contest that should take its place in heavyweight history – irrespective of how entertaining it proves to be – alongside only a handful of others as one of the most important.
Though there have been bouts of greater cultural significance, like Joe Louis-Max Schmeling II in 1938, and fights that crafted greater legacies, like Muhammad Ali-George Foreman in 1974, Fury-Usyk marks the end of the longest period of frustration the division has ever seen.
Others that can compare include Mike Tyson-Michael Spinks from 1988, a blowout that resulted in Tyson ruling supreme as the lone leader for the first time since the end of Ali’s time at the top a decade earlier. Joe Frazier defeating Ali in 1971, in an event that is unlikely to ever be matched, was another that punctuated a period of confusion. And of course, the two-fight rivalry between Lewis and Evander Holyfield in 1999 crowned the Briton as the best heavyweight in the world, and the decade.
What we know, both from history and the current climate, is that it’s unlikely that Fury or Usyk will be able to keep all the belts for long. Whether that’s because the sanctioning bodies again conspire to fracture what was once the greatest prize in sport or the winner walks into retirement with nothing left to achieve, only time will tell.
In the meantime, enjoy Fury-Usyk for what it is. A once in a lifetime fight, the kind we’ve always wanted and the likes of which we may not see again for many years.