TYSON FURY, they said, was unrecognisable. He was unrecognisable when looking up at Francis Ngannou having been knocked down by the debutant in round three, and he was equally unrecognisable when, in an effort to get serious for Oleksandr Usyk, he posed for selfies which highlighted a rather dramatic weight loss.

Perhaps, in the end, one thing had led to the other. Perhaps, just as the broken-hearted will find solace in exercise following a failed relationship, Fury responded to adversity by going to extreme measures to change both his look and, in turn, future.

Whether this, as an approach, ultimately works or not remains to be seen. But Fury has, on more than one occasion of late, appeared half the man he used to be; both in terms of form – chiefly, that performance against Francis Ngannou – and topless selfies, invariably taken within gyms or bathrooms, which tease a streamline version of Fury ahead of Saturday’s (May 18) fight against Usyk.

“I met up with Tyson in Saudi when Joseph (Parker) fought (Zhilei) Zhang and he looked in fantastic shape,” said Andy Lee, one of Fury’s coaches. “You see the videos and pictures online and the proof is there.

“The thing is, he is well up for this fight. He’s been talking about this fight since Usyk beat (Anthony) Joshua the first time (in 2021). He is a unique character. I remember one Wednesday afternoon him coming into the gym and it just being me and him and he goes on this hour-long rant about how he was going to smash Usyk up and how he would go about doing it. There was so much passion in his voice. ‘I’m going to hit him with this shot… I’m going to do this… I’m going to do that… How’s he going to get in front of me?’ he would ask. ‘I’ll just stick that jab out and control him with it.’ I had to say to him, ‘Look, Tyson, it’s just me and you here.’ But that’s the thing: it wasn’t a performance. He’s all about this fight and you’re definitely going to see the best of him, I think.”

Form-wise, only once the first bell rings and the fight starts we will either see the best of Fury or the worst of Fury. However, if talking physical condition, we should have a good indication of that long before the first bell and long before Usyk tries to further reduce Fury in size with his left and right hands. Weigh in heavy and we know it was all a ruse, a trick of the mind, blind hope; whereas should Fury come in lighter than usual the assumption then will be that he has trained harder than ever for this fight and that, moreover, he sees a smaller man in Usyk and believes the key to defeating him lies in his ability to match him for both speed and mobility.

“I don’t know if losing weight always does help,” said Lee, playing devil’s advocate. “Listen, it will help him move on his feet, and with his footwork in general, but in terms of hand speed, I don’t know if that changes. I’m not all in on this theory that you have to lose a load of weight because you’re fighting a smaller guy. Joe Joyce lost weight to fight Zhang and he got stopped and had a bad night. But then he put weight back on for the rematch and still got beat, only more conclusively this time.

“I think the key is to just fight at your natural weight – always. For heavyweights, there is no weight limit, so you have the luxury of finding out your best weight and always fighting in and around that weight. Tyson will know that weight and I’m sure it will be somewhere around the weight he is now.”

Tyson Fury (Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Regardless of his official weight, Fury will boast clear physical advantages over Usyk when the pair meet in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia this weekend. He will, for one, boast a five-inch advantage in height, as well as a seven-inch advantage in reach. He will also, if previous weights are anything to go by, be the naturally heavier of the two, with Usyk weighing 221 pounds last time out and Fury weighing 277 pounds.

That said, there is often more to a fight at heavyweight than simply numbers and what appears on the tale of the tape. Indeed, when dealing with someone like Usyk, the former cruiserweight king, any opponent knows that what he perhaps lacks in modern-day heavyweight size he more than makes up for with acumen, toughness, and speed of hand, foot, and thought.

Even those who have observed Usyk only from the outside, like Lee, can see in the Ukrainian precisely what makes him such a tough riddle to solve. “Tyson will tell you it’s not his hardest fight,” said Lee. “He will say (Deontay) Wilder at the time was his hardest or most dangerous fight. But Usyk is very, very clever, and, like all those great amateurs from Eastern Europe, there’s no guessing with them. Everything they do, there is method behind it, in terms of when they feint, and the way they move, and how they set things up, and the things they show you. They are very, very clever fighters.

“But so is Tyson. He is a real thinking fighter when he is in the ring; he figures things out as he goes. I was speaking to Sugar Hill (Fury’s other coach) about this and he said to me, ‘All I’ve got to do is flick the switch because we got to this point in the last camp where we had everything in place to beat Usyk and it was all coming together and now Tyson has all those things within him. So all he needs to do is go straight back to that – pick up where we left off almost.’

“It’s a tricky fight, we know that, because he’s not that small, Usyk. He’s six feet four and he has built himself up. He has also been this great amateur and punches as hard as any of them, I believe. The thing that separates Usyk from Tyson’s other opponents is his self-belief. Outside of the technicalities and everything else, what’s inside a person when they’re going into a fight is what really matters. What do they think? How do they feel? Do they believe in what they are doing? You saw in that second fight with Joshua, when Joshua had that one great round, Usyk, after it, just sat down on his stool, talked to himself in the corner, and then stood up, blessed himself, and boxed even better in the next round. He never lost a round after that. That’s the big challenge for Tyson. Tyson has always had the edge on everybody when it comes to mental strength. He has been able to intimidate them and get into their head either before a fight or during a fight. That becomes a much bigger challenge with this fight and with someone like Usyk.”

As odd as it may sound, there is an argument to be had that preparing for Oleksandr Usyk on May 18 has, for Team Fury, been easier than preparing to fight Fury’s previous opponent, Francis Ngannou, on October 28. At least with Usyk, you see, for all the Ukrainian’s tricks you know what you are getting; that is, you know you are getting a traditional boxer in a traditional boxing match whose boxing history is available for the world to see on video. Ngannou, in contrast, was, although not in physical terms, a far more elusive thing. He was by turns circus performer and the world’s strongest man. He was both mixed martial artist and professional boxer. He was fall guy and tough guy. He was huge but also invisible.

“It was a strange one to prepare for,” admitted Lee. “I remember one day in camp we had a conversation and I said, ‘This guy is hungry. I was just reading his backstory and reading about how he came from nothing and was living homeless before eventually becoming UFC champion. This guy’s hungry.’ Tyson just said, ‘Yes, I know. I’m doing all I can. It’s not like I’m cutting corners or not taking it seriously.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’

“But mentally it’s different because you’re in with a guy who has never boxed professionally. You naturally don’t have that same level of threat there. Also, although they said Ngannou had never boxed, the truth is, he had been boxing a long time. Joseph (Parker) remembers seeing him in the boxing gym in Vegas in 2018, so he has been in boxing a long time.

“In the fight itself he was very cautious against Tyson and that worked out well for him. He was more ambitious against Anthony Joshua (in March) and that didn’t work out well for him.”

Fury is floored by Ngannou (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

For Fury, what started out as a game of patty-cake in a state-of-the-art Saudi playground soon turned into the most important and potentially humiliating fight of his otherwise excellent professional career. Furthermore, so shocking was the course the fight took, many people assessing this weekend’s clash with Usyk are now unable to back Fury with quite the same conviction, a reality Lee, and presumably Fury, accepts.

“He won the fight, but because of the performance, it didn’t feel like a win,” Lee said. “There was no doubt in my mind that he deserved to win the fight, but he didn’t win it in the fashion he was supposed to.

“Tyson can be like that, though. He can have bad performances when he doesn’t have that threat or that fear. I was probably too comfortable as well because I didn’t think much of Ngannou after seeing him on the pads. I saw that and thought, No, this guy isn’t at the races.

“Also, Tyson had the fight week press conference and a weigh-in, then engagements after both. He was up late both nights and on the night didn’t get into the ring to fight Ngannou until 3 am. All this plays a part. Maybe he didn’t physically underestimate him, but none of this other stuff he would have been doing had he been fighting Usyk.”

In other words, whether talking condition, focus or performance, the shape-shifting Tyson Fury will, once again, be unrecognisable on Saturday night.