Friday, May 17, 2024

Fury-Usyk: Will The Wait Be Worth It?

In March 1999, Heavyweight champions Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis met in Madison Square Garden to unify three portions of the World Heavyweight championship. While there was the absence of the World Boxing Organization’s (WBO) championship at the time, the bout was viewed as being for the Undisputed Heavyweight championship of the world as the crowns of the World Boxing Council (WBC), the World Boxing Association (WBA), and the International Boxing Federation (IBF) the three oldest sanctioning organizations in the sport, and who were the only organizations in existence the last time the World Heavyweight championship had been fully unified in 1987, were on the line. The magnitude of the event, which was also heavily promoted, being in Madison Square Garden before a massive crowd was something that also made the occasion seem special.

It did signal, or at least seemed to signal what had been a decade of political mess in the Heavyweight division. A decade, which began with Mike Tyson at the helm as the undisputed champion before losing his crown to James “Buster" Douglas in February 1990, before Douglas himself was dethroned by Evander Holyfield in October of that year, which signaled what seemed to be the beginning of a new era for the division. Two years after winning the undisputed title however, Holyfield was beaten by Riddick Bowe in November of 1992 in the first fight of what became one of the most memorable trilogies in Heavyweight history. 

Some may recall shortly after Bowe beat Holyfield in 1992, the politics of the sport reared its head when the champion, who was contractually obligated to defend his title against Lennox Lewis, who at the time was an unbeaten number one contender recognized by the WBC, refused to honor his commitment and disgracefully threw the WBC championship in a trash can in public. There may be no one in Boxing who has more frequently and objectively pointed out the flaws of the various sanctioning organizations and the politics that be in the sport more than this observer over the many years I have covered the sport. Nevertheless, Bowe’s actions, disgraceful as it was in disrespecting both the label of “Heavyweight Champion Of The World," as well as the sport by doing that set in motion several years of several fighters holding claim to world titles, partial unification bouts, and yes more fighters being stripped of their titles for among other things refusing to honor their obligations in defending their titles against mandatory challengers.

In that sense, I really wanted to believe that Holyfield-Lewis would signal a return to normalcy in the division that hopefully would follow in the sport’s other divisions as well. Unfortunately, that night, March 13, 1999 will forever be remembered for a controversial decision in a fight that most, including this observer, felt that Lewis dominated, was shockingly declared a draw at the conclusion of the twelve round bout. As most know, there would be a rematch in November of that year, and despite the second encounter between the two being more competitive, Lewis would emerge victorious in successfully unifying three of four world titles in the division and gaining with it, undisputed status. 

Though it would have appeared that there was conclusion to the mess, almost immediately after defeating Holyfield in the second fight, Lewis was stripped of the WBA version of the World Heavyweight championship for refusing to fulfill his mandatory defense obligation in fighting then WBA number one contender John Ruiz, and though there have been several unification bouts in the years since where several fighters have been able to hold unified portions of the championship amongst Boxing's five world sanctioning organizations, there has not been a recognized undisputed world champion in the division in nearly twenty-five years. 

On May 18th, the Boxing world will focus on Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where undefeated Heavyweight champions Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk will finally meet for the Undisputed Heavyweight championship of the world. A bout that will truly be “Undisputed” as it will be the first time in history that all five world organizations’ respective world championships will be on the line and can be seen on DAZN Pay-Per-View.  As there always seems to be in Boxing, the road to this encounter has not been straightforward. For there was what turned out to be an ill-advised non-title bout between the WBC champion Fury and former UFC Heavyweight world champion Francis Ngannou. A fight where despite the significant experience advantage of the boxer Fury over the MMA fighter Ngannou, Fury showed up to that fight, in the same location as this fight will take place, out of shape and treating the bout very lightly. The mentality nearly cost Fury his unbeaten record in a fight that proved to be more competitive where he was knocked down by Ngannou, Fury emerged with a ten round split decision victory in a fight that many observers, including this one, felt he lost. 

While it was tempting to say the decision in that fight may had been influenced by the fact that this fight had been signed for February of this year prior to Fury's bout with Ngannou, the two-time world champion Fury did a disservice both to himself and arguably the sport in the way he approached that fight. As for the scheduled February date for Fury-Usyk, obviously by virtue of the title of this column, it was postponed due to Fury suffering a deep gash over the right eye, which was a result of an accidental elbow during a sparring session in preparation for the bout. 

Although accidents like a fighter suffering a cut in sparring are not new in combat sports, one might question Fury's condition going into this fight now three months later from the original date. Furthermore, despite the significance of the bout and everything in the Heavyweight division being on the line, Fury did not leave the best impression coming out of a fight against a Boxing novice in Ngannou, which because of both his overall experience level and standing in the sport, he was expected to outclass Ngannou.

Fury will have a height advantage of nearly seven inches over the 6’3 Oleksandr Usyk and is the natural Heavyweight in facing the former Undisputed Cruiserweight world champion. It is logical to think that Fury, who tends to have weight fluctuations between fights and weighed-in at nearly 278lbs. for his fight with Ngannou, will try to come in with a significant weight advantage over the unified WBO/IBF/IBO/WBA world champion Usyk and look to put that weight on the shorter fighter as the fight progresses. 

The interesting aspect about this fight that I personally cannot distinguish an edge between the two having covered both throughout their careers, beyond the natural height and size advantage Fury has is who will have the edge at least on paper in terms of the approach. Both fighters are known for their ability to be elusive, both are highly skilled boxers, can at times be awkward, and both can get an opponent out of there if given the opportunity. 

If Usyk, who has not had the easiest time dealing with some opponents since he became a Heavyweight in October 2019, can deal with the size disadvantages that he will have in front of him, he might have a slight edge when it comes to hand speed. Though it is logical to think he will try to target the right eye of Fury to in theory gain a further advantage, the answer as to who might win this fight might be determined by whether Usyk will be able to avoid Fury's weight being put on him and whether he will be able to take Fury's punching power. Despite the fact that Tyson Fury has been knocked down several times throughout his career, conventional wisdom suggests that Usyk's best chance to win this fight will be to try and out box Fury to win a decision. Of course, this is under the assumption that the right eye of Fury will not become a factor over the course of the fight. 

As historic as this fight is, the various political elements that be in the sport may also play a role in determining just how long there is one fully undisputed world champion in the Heavyweight division, assuming a winner is determined between Fury and Usyk and the fight is not declared a draw. This is due to there being an immediate rematch clause for this fight being in place and the International Boxing Federation already announcing that the winner of this fight must face it's number one contender in the unbeaten Filip Hrgovic following this fight or they will be stripped of the IBF crown, which would obviously break up the Undisputed Heavyweight championship of the world if that were to happen. 

While there is also the possibility that a rematch clause will not be exercised by the losing party in this fight, there will likely be much more to say and follow coming out of this regardless of the outcome. As this observer prepares to cover his third fight that will hopefully unify the Heavyweight division and the fourth time an Undisputed Heavyweight champion of the world has been determined by way of unification in my lifetime, I sincerely hope it will not take another twenty-five years before there is one full undisputed champion in the division and the holder of that crown will be determined in the ring and not by contracts and/or failing to meet one's obligations to defend against mandatory challengers. At some point progress is only as good as long as it lasts long-term and Boxing is no exception to that principle. 

“And That's The Boxing Truth.”

Fury vs. Usyk for the Undisputed Heavyweight championship of the world takes place on Saturday, May 18th at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The fight as well as its full undercard can be seen on a pay-per-view basis globally on DAZN Pay-Per-View beginning at 10AM ET/ 7AM PT for $69.99. For more information on this pay-per-view event, including pricing in your country, local start times in your area, and to subscribe to DAZN please visit:

(*Price listed above United States and Canada Only.* *Card and Start Times Subject To Change.*)

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