Tyson Fury walks into Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this Saturday as a proven commodity. As he makes his way to the ring to face Derek Chisora, he does so as the consensus number one heavyweight of his era. Through unforgettable wars with Deontay Wilder, a dramatic destruction of Dillian Whyte and a back-and-forth thriller with Otto Wallin; he has earned his stripes as a modern heavyweight icon.
But on this day in 2015, Fury walked into enemy territory. A former British, Commonwealth and European champion, he was completely unproven at world level. The Esprit Arena in Dusseldorf was full to the brim with fans who wanted to see ‘The Gypsy King’ fail. Germany was a stronghold of his opponent, WBA, WBO, IBF and The Ring heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. Ukrainian by birth, the vast majority of his dominant career had been spent in Deutschland.
Looking back on the footage seven years on, you expect to find Fury in his nascent form. But the 6’9 behemoth was never one for babysteps. The swagger is there. The nonplussed approach to the furore surrounding him. The weaponised focus on the task at hand once the bell rings. Fury emerged onto the world stage fully formed, ready to be embraced by fans who wanted a change after a decade of Klitschko rule. And if you were a Klitschko fan? Well that just made you a “big dosser” in the challenger’s eyes.
‘Dr Steelhammer’ hadn’t lost in eleven years coming into the match. But he had been forced to concede a brace of pre-fight battles to Tyson. The Fury camp said they were not happy with the gloves being used for the fight and demanded they were changed. Upon inspection of the ring, they also requested that a layer of padding be removed from the spongy surface. Klitschko was used to dictating terms, particularly in his second home. But, with the fight at risk of an eleventh-hour cancellation, Fury was indulged. It would prove decisive.
Klitschko’s reign had been historic. His 18 consecutive title defences put him third on the all-time list, behind only Joe Louis and Larry Holmes. Klitschko’s reign was also the second-longest in history, only trumped by ‘The Brown Bomber’. He’d beaten every sort of foe along the way. British power puncher David Haye, former unified champion Hasim Rahman, Nigerian knockout artist Samuel Peter, unbeaten next-big-thing Alexander Povetkin. But he had never faced a boxer quite like Fury.
The size advantage the Ukrainian usually enjoyed would not be a factor. Fury is three inches taller than the 6’6 Klitschko. ‘Dr Steelhammer’ had used his jab to dominate his foes, displaying the best heavyweight lead left since Holmes. But ‘The Gypsy King’ disarmed him, with a potent jab thrown from awkward angles that took the champion off his game.
From the pre-fight histrionics to the jerky, uncommon style with which he boxed, everything Fury did in Dusseldorf was designed to unsettle the usually-relaxed Wladimir. The champion had seen aggression before, he had seen speed, he had seen boxing logic. What he hadn’t seen was a fighter committed to idiosyncrasy. A boxer who posted a masterclass not by obeying the conventions of boxing, but by breaking them with such precision that it was impossible to counter him.
It was an ugly display of beauty. Fury had never quite boxed like it before and he never really would again. Such a bespoke gameplan hasn’t been required since. This was an article tailor-made to be worn by one W.Klitschko. One of the finest heavyweight thinkers ever was presented with an ideology so radical he could not comprehend it. And he lost his championship accolades as a result.
Like so many revolutionaries, new champion Fury would endure a period of exile. The world was not ready for his message and, in truth, he was not yet ready to deliver it. But as he battled substance issues and mental health demons, he was acquiring the required layer of steel needed to navigate the heavyweight division. He returned into a landscape where he was now the dominant figure. Fury is finally enjoying the fruits of the coup he perpetrated in 2015. Despite the supreme credentials of Oleksandr Usyk, ‘The Gypsy King’ remains the true heavyweight champion of the world.
Hopefully we get another meeting between the Brit and a Ukrainian soon, with Fury and Usyk playing the roles. But for now, as Fury prepares to reassert his dominance upon Chisora, we can look back at the moment this magnificent journey started.
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