He did it.
In a bout billed as a Battle of the Giants, Britain’s Tyson ‘2 Fast’ Fury – the Gypsy King – backed up years of smack talk by scalping long-reigning heavyweight kingpin Wladimir Klitschko. It transpired that Fury didn’t require the knockout he had envisioned; a clear-cut points victory would do. All three judges scored the bout in his favour after a contest that, while relatively free of controversy, remained engrossing throughout all 12 rounds.
I predicted in last week’s preview that a win for the challenger would lead to ‘appreciable chaos’ in the heavyweight division. That chaos is something we can now look forward to, after Fury boxed to orders and made the Ukrainian vanguard look all of his 39 years. Call it what you will – a passing of the torch, a changing of the guard, a fluke that will be rectified in the contractually-mandated rematch – Tyson Fury is the new heavyweight champion of the world.
Ignore the Twitter spoilsports; this was a terrific performance by a rank outsider – a courageous, intelligent display of boxing from a fighter not so long ago derided as ungainly, raw and out of shape.
The challenger clowned his way through the buildup, variously appearing at press conferences dressed as Batman, serenading Wladimir during a media workout and gurning for the camera when asked to strike the usual pugilist’s pose. Sometimes he sounded demented. A few weeks ago he stated, ’If I go in there and get knocked out by Wladimir in one round, I’ll hold my hands up and say, ‘Thank you, God.’’ In the next breath he declared, ‘I’m as confident of winning as waking up in the morning and putting shoes on.’ The boxing press speculated during fight week that such flip-flopping was a result of nervous energy; that the enormity of the task was finally beginning to dawn. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. At Friday’s weigh-in, Fury shelved the antics and looked Wladimir dead in the eye. It was probably the most serious expression to ever grace the broad plain of the Gypsy King’s face.
Wladimir Klitschko is renowned for employing mind games intended to discompose opponents. On this occasion, they simply did not work. Fury remained unspooked and good-humoured, and his team stood their ground – on the gloves issue, on the foamy canvas, on the 11th hour imbroglio that meant Wladimir had to rewrap his hands, a dispute that delayed the fight by half an hour. Dr Steelhammer could no more unsettle Fury than he could a great oak tree.
Fury puzzled Wladimir in a way very few (if any) of us anticipated. The man mountain who describes himself as ‘a 6ft9 switch-hitter who is as unorthodox as two left feet on a clown facing backwards’ proved a handful in every which way. Klitschko looked completely nonplussed as he stalked his taller opponent across the ring. Fury was jittery in the early going, feinting with punches as he moved continually from side to side. Indeed, each man was tentative, wary of walking onto a concussive blow. But it was Fury who made the running, who kept Wladimir on the end of his long, arcing punches. I scored the first three rounds in his favour, before Klitschko finally got on the board, edging a tense fourth. He would go on to lose – on my card at least – the following three, as Fury made him look slow and ponderous and not at all like the man who had a ten-year stranglehold on the heavyweight division.
Throughout the fight, Fury was light on his feet, unpredictable, quick-handed; by contrast, Wladimir seemed to have cement in his boots. He fenced at Fury with a timid and tentative jab, rarely following through with a meaningful right. The challenger was not overly adventurous either, but then he was winning the fight – that was quite plain. What’s more, he appeared fitter; Wladimir’s mouth began to gape somewhere in the middle rounds and his feet, never quick to begin with, became heavier, as though he were toiling across a boggy scabland. Fury grew in confidence, switching from orthodox to southpaw and back again. Even when he left both gloves dangling by his side the champion failed to assert himself, failed to instil in his challenger any sense of fear. At times, Fury looked as though he was having fun.
The battle was won at range but also in close. Klitschko – so adept at tying his man up and nullifying his offence – was unable to boss the clinches. Almost every time the pair grappled, Fury looked stronger and meaner, driving hooks into the champ’s exposed ribcage, an area that began to redden as the bout wore on.
The second half of the fight was more competitive than the first. (Again, I can only represent my own view and scorecard, though I’d surmise that you’ll find few to argue this point.) I gave Klitschko – who sustained a slashing cut under his eye in the fifth – the eighth and a share of the ninth. Fury quite clearly won the tenth and eleventh; indeed, he seemed to land at will in the latter round, punishing Klitschko with a succession of quick, heavy-looking lead left hooks. Klitschko’s defence had gone to pot and Fury, sensing blood, threw clubbing shots with a degree of abandon. A buzzed Klitschko turned away from the action at one point and Fury instinctively thumped him on the back of the head; referee Tony Weeks intervened and, without issuing the customary warning, docked a point. It could have been crucial: had Fury not been so dominant in the round, the two-point swing to Klitschko would have resulted in a majority draw on the scorecards; Klitschko would have retained his belts. Thankfully, Weeks’ trigger-fingered deduction mattered not. It would have been a scandal if he had cost Tyson Fury this fight; as one of the consensus best referees in the world, he should learn to issue warnings to fighters turning their backs on opponents. Rule one.
Perhaps Klitschko thought the fight was salvageable or perhaps he just wished to give as good as he got. Either way, the champ stood his ground during the final innings; I gave him the 12th, but it was not enough to retain his titles.
While Fury deservedly basks in the glory of his triumph, the brain trust – Mick Hennessy, his promoter, Peter Fury, his coach – will be mapping out the route ahead. It looks like the first order of business is a rematch, a clause for which exists in the original contract. Whether it happens in Germany or Britain is anyone’s guess, but Fury has long expressed a desire to fight at Old Trafford. The last boxing match to fill the ground was the second Eubank-Benn fight in 1993; what could be more fitting than another heavily-hyped rematch? Fury surely deserves home advantage after venturing to Germany and springing the upset, but as is frequently the case in boxing, money will dictate the terms of a return. The morning after dethroning Klitschko, Fury told the BBC, ‘I’m not really too bothered where the rematch is, to be honest. I think we might have to come back over here again.’ Perhaps Bernd Boente has already made an offer he can’t refuse.
Who knows what might happen in a rematch? Is it conceivable that Fury surrenders to a resurgent, refocused Wlad? Is the writing on the wall for the ageing former champion? Fury said his display only represented 65% of what he can do. Call it blarney, but it’d take a brave man to doubt him now – and at 27, he’s surely entering his athletic prime. One would logically question just how much Wladimir can improve having fought 60+ pro fights, but stranger things have happened. My money would be on another Fury win, maybe even a late stoppage if he can get the tactics right. But the idea of Klitschko exacting revenge is not especially outlandish.
In the meantime, the heavyweight landscape has improved immeasurably. Fury sits atop the pile, a megabucks rematch looming in the spring. If he wins, he might fight the Mayor of Kiev (no, really). Free-swinging knockout artist Deontay Wilder is expected to defend his WBC belt against ironman Alexander Povetkin in the New Year, while David Haye makes a long-mooted return. And the ascendancy of Olympic gold medalist Anthony Joshua depends on him overcoming bitter rival Dillian Whyte in a few weeks. Add to the mix formidable up-and-comers Joseph Parker and Hughie Fury and the conclusion is simple: heavyweight boxing is in rude health.
Let’s sit back and enjoy it.