With the dust finally settled and boxing’s media machine moved on to other events that now deserve the spotlight, now is a good time to look at a potential fight that initially nobody really wanted to see come to fruition. Tyson Fury the WBC heavyweight champ against Oleksander Usyk, the WBA, WBO, IBF & IBO titleholder.
The fight that we all wanted was Fury versus the man Usyk comprehensively beat for a second time on the 20th of August in Saudi Arabia, Anthony Joshua. There is little doubt that Fury vs Joshua would have been the biggest fight in boxing’s rich history, both financially and on a global popularity scale, but for that statement to have come true, AJ needed to win against the multi-talented Ukrainian.
So much was made of Joshua’s losing effort that Usyk’s monumental feat in lasting into the tenth round and then dominating the best version of Joshua we have ever seen over the final three rounds was somehow overlooked. AJ’s post-fight ring meltdown grabbed the headlines and Usyk, a hero to his war-torn nation Ukraine, had to stand back and see his greatest victory to date become a secondary story. Boxing often gets its priorities badly wrong.
Fury quickly tried his best to stir up interest in a unification bout with Usyk, saying he would come out of retirement to face the Ukrainian if he was paid $500m, but he struggled to be a bigger story than Joshua which might just tell you something about how the boxing public is taking to his on-off retirement announcements. He may be alienating boxing fans that he earned the hard way in his trilogy with Deontay Wilder.
It wasn’t long before Fury’s British promoter Frank Warren was saying that the biggest fight in boxing could be made if someone (most likely Saudi Arabia) could come up with enough money to satisfy both parties, of course, Usyk has never put a dollar minimum fee on the fight as Fury has so we have to assume that only Fury will be the cause if this fight is not made. The Saudis have thus far shown that bringing sports events to their Kingdom has no financial ceiling so they will be the likely front runners in hosting Fury vs Usyk.
Heavyweight boxing is currently at its highest level of popularity since the Mike Tyson heyday, and before that, the Ali, Frazier, Foreman, and Norton era. The protagonists of these moments in time were often the headlines in our daily news as opposed to just the sports pages and again, Joshua, Fury, Wilder and Usyk also now command the same attention for different reasons.
Joshua captured the hearts of the British public, becoming an Olympic gold medallist in London 2012 and going on to capture titles from three reigning world champions as a professional. Fury also became a poster boy for UK boxing when he travelled to Dusseldorf in 2015 to take the titles from decade-long unified champion Wladimir Klitschko only to self-implode in an orgy of drink, drugs and mental health issues. After three years away from the ring, a now 20-stone, Fury returned with a young, un-tested trainer, Ben Davison and veteran promoter Frank Warren as his new team and after two warm-ups against low-level opposition, he did what no one outside of team Fury believed he could do and travelled to America to take on the fearsome WBC champion Deontay Wilder, getting up off the canvas twice on route to a drawn verdict that many felt was unjust to the visiting fighter. Fury followed up with two captivating stoppage wins over his now lifelong enigma in fights that captured the imagination of fans all over the world.
Wilder, although a loser in two of his last three fights remains one of the division’s most watchable commodities. His natural, free-flowing punch power alone makes him a must-watch fighter and yet he could not take heavyweight boxing to its previous illustrious status in the hearts of American sports fans whilst he tore a swath through the division during his WBC title reign that included a winning 12 round decision over then champion Bermaine Stiverne and 10 defences that included the draw with Fury. Wilder not so oddly finally won the hearts of American sports fans in his two losing but valiant battles with “The Gypsy King.”
Oleksander Usyk might just be one of the most skilful heavyweights to ever grace a boxing ring. A big statement but one that might actually be true. Partly because of the Russian Invasion of Usyk’s homeland, the charismatic Ukrainian has become bigger than boxing in certain parts of the world and in his rematch with Joshua he added to his legend by showing the sort of grit to come back from real adversity in the 9th round, the sort of fighting spirit that the Ukrainian people show us on a daily basis.
Along with the come backing former unified champion Andy Ruiz Jr and former two-time world title challenger Luis Ortiz who face one another on September 4th the division is buoyant and Fury vs Usyk if it happens will give us the first fully unified world heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis retired 18 years ago.
So, why would this super fight not happen? With talk from Frank Warren and Fury’s American co-promoter Bob Arum that both parties are happy with a 50/50 purse split, plus the acceptance that the fight will most likely take place in The Middle East and be broadcast by ESPN, surely then, only Fury’s $500m purse demand can stop the fight taking place?
The Saudis kicked up a huge storm in the golf world with its highly controversial “Liv Tour” which reportedly guaranteed 52-year-old Phil Mickelson and former world number 1 Dustin Johnson $200m apiece to join, so the oil-rich Kingdom has proven itself as sports new number one paymaster. So, if Fury insists on $500m for the Usyk mission and a 50/50 split has been agreed then we are talking about sports' first $1 billion event. Or, if it's a $5000m split 50/50 then it would still top Floyd Mayweather’s reported £200m payday for the 2015 “The Battle for Greatness” dual against eight division Titleist Manny Pacquiao.
For once, there appears to be little to prevent Fury vs Usyk from taking place that said, when such huge figures are in play we must expect the greed of those who won’t be taking any punches to surface somewhere amongst negotiations.
So, who wins?