Liam Napier: The greatest heavyweight of his era – why Tyson Fury is the athlete the sporting world needs

OPINION:

Tyson Fury is the athlete, the showman, the modern sporting world needs.

In the age of false image culture and manufactured influencers, how refreshing to witness a supreme athlete with love handles making claims as the greatest of his era, perhaps the greatest of all time.

Who needs sculpted muscles when you move like Jagger, resurrect fights by climbing off the canvas with supernatural recuperating powers and bang with the best of them.

The great irony to the Fury-Deontay Wilder trilogy is the British bloke with the sloppy rig displayed far superior fitness than his chiselled American opponent. In a time of masked faces and swift judgments, lessons exist in their contrasting physiques for us all.

Comparing eras in any sport is fraught. Rocky Marciano finished his 49-0 career in 1955 as an 85kg heavyweight. Would Fury have beaten Vitali Klitschko, the best of the Ukrainian brothers, Lennox Lewis, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, whom he is named after, George Foreman, Joe Frazier? It’s impossible to say for sure.

Certainly, Fury is the greatest heavyweight of the past decade. He alone reignited the division of giants by dethroning Wladimir Klitschko in Düsseldorf six years ago when no one gave him a chance. While he went off the rails immediately following that triumph in a drug and alcohol-fuelled bender that nearly ended in suicide, his recovery from such depths continues to inspire many grappling with the same black dog illness.

Inside the ring, he has proven the only man who can beat Tyson Fury is himself.

Fury is a flawed character – aren’t we all – but at least he’s authentically real. What you see is what you get; a huge human with boxing in his blood, passion in his heart.

Fury knows his flaws and has overcome many to reach the pinnacle of pugilism, making his accession to the throne more worthy.

Through it all Fury harnesses the long-held stigma of his travelling roots, displays his emotions, speaks openly about ongoing battles with mental health and captivates millions on the engrossing ride that delivered Sunday’s instant classic when the Gypsy King was anointed King of Vegas too.

Fury is Hollywood. Who else could survive almost 30 rounds over three fights with the hardest-punching heavyweight on the planet – and enjoy almost every moment.

Eleven rounds and five knockdowns – including two for Fury in the fourth – into their latest scrap, somehow he had the legs and lungs to belt out a stirring rendition of Marc Cohn’s ‘Walking in Memphis’. Fury then, of course, in customary boxing fashion, celebrated long into the Vegas night.

Heavyweight fights often conspire to be turgid spectacles. For all the hype rarely do styles combine to leave viewers satisfied with exorbitant pay-per-view costs.

Fury and Wilder one, two, three are exceptions. They were all box office hits.

Wilder deserves credit for playing his part, particularly in the trilogy where he demonstrated his warrior spirit to absorb relentless punishment and last as long as he did. But he was extremely fortunate to not lose all three fights – saved only by the highly controversial split decision draw when Fury awoke from being floored in the final round of their first 2018 fight in yet another iconic moment.

When Wilder’s broken hand and wounds heal from this latest beating, hopefully there are no more elaborate excuses. Mentally recovering from successive knockout defeats that again exposed his lack of defence will be his greatest test of character.

Fury, meanwhile, is the complete package. Standing 2.06m and with 216cm reach he is a towering figure with unrivalled ring craft.

He can fight long; he can close the distance as he did with Wilder. He switches seamlessly between southpaw and orthodox, making him extremely awkward to read. Like Ali, he thrives on gamesmanship, and lives for these legacy occasions.

Even after being knocked off his feet he comes back clam, strong, methodical to demoralise opponents.

No great boxer is ever the same but many share similar traits. The best of the best are born to fight. Fury is one of those; at home in the four-corned office no matter the circumstance.

In the third Wilder fight Fury tipped the scales the heaviest he’s been and fought as the big man. He leaned all over Wilder, using the full extent of his large frame, to leave the Alabama native physically exhausted. Wilder was gone from the middle rounds but grimly fought on in the hope of landing one trademark right hand that never came.

With Wilder put to sleep, Oleksandr Usyk, Antony Joshua and Dillian Whyte hold designs on halting Fury’s reign. Good luck to them all.

Whyte, on the verge of becoming the WBC mandatory challenger, looms as the next contender, though he must first get through Otto Wallin later this month which will be no easy feat given the Swedish southpaw’s only loss in 23 pro fights came against Fury over 12 bloody rounds.

The winner of the Usyk-Joshua rematch early next year – after the Ukrainian’s classy upset last month – could follow Whyte in a potential unification bout for Fury.

An immediate unification between Fury and Usyk is possible but they must agree terms within 30 days which, with so much at stake, appears as likely as 89-year-old promoter Bob Arum retiring.

Fury’s tactical nous against Joshua, his demonstrative size advantage and similar skills against Usyk, would favour him in attempting to reclaim the full set of belts in both scenarios.

Nothing is ever guaranteed in the heavyweight division but chart that path, and Fury could retire undefeated next year, on top of the world, having cleaned out the division, with nothing left to prove.

The ultimately futile debate about his place among the greatest of all time would then be inescapable.

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