Ronnie O’Sullivan insists Tyson Fury is a man after his own heart – never ducking a fight against the very best. The Rocket plays Thailand’s Noppon Saengkham on Wednesday, chasing a quarter-final place at the UK Championship as he bids for a record-extending eighth title in York.
And O’Sullivan, who turns 46 on the day of the final, is proud he has seen off the cream of the snooker game at the peak of their powers over 30 years.
Six-time world champion O’Sullivan has regularly questioned what he sees as the lack of a level playing field in Formula One given the car differences. And he has now hailed boxers like ‘Gypsy King’ Fury - saying they show greatness by taking on and beating whoever is out there.
When O’Sullivan started Stephen Hendry was the No1, and since then he has regularly locked horns with John Higgins, Mark Williams and now Mark Selby, Neil Robertson and Judd Trump.
He said: “I'd like to think I'm in a sport where I'm not ducking people. I've played the best at their best, they've played me at my best. It's one of them sports, a bit like golf and tennis, where you're forced to play the opponent.
“Some other sports they don't test themselves against the best for whatever reason. Listen, I like to think I've took on all comers in my career.
“There's a few sports like that, not just Formula One. In boxing you get someone like Fury who fights anyone, then you get other fighters who refuse to fight certain fighters. I like to think I'm a Fury, never ducked anyone, never ducked a challenge, picked myself off the floor and come out fighting even when I've not felt like fighting.
“I think that's the only way you can judge if a sportsman is truly a great or not, if they've fought whoever was the greatest at the time in front of them. You see a lot of boxers fighting people when they're past their best or come up with excuses on why the fight can't happen. You lose respect for them type of people.
“Whereas your Mexicans, your all-time greats, Marvin Haglers, Sugar Ray Leonards, Lennox Lewis, they're all-time greats because they fought the best when they were at their best. For me that's what makes a great a great.”
Meanwhile Saengkham, 29, insists he is a different player to one that lost 6-2 to O’Sullivan two years ago at the UK – and his brilliant third-round win over former world champion Stuart Bingham would tend to confirm that.
Saengkham, born close to Bangkok and raised appreciating the trail-blazing efforts of compatriot James Wattana - a former world No3 who won three ranking titles – has always looked a tidy, compact and efficient player.
The current world No45 fell off tour a decade ago but got back on in 2013 and has stayed there since, however though he has reached the semi-finals of ranking tournaments on two occasions the last of those came more than three years ago and pickings have been slim since then.
Maybe the extraordinary rollercoaster of a contest against Bingham can fire him up once more, because speaking to the media afterwards he looked like a man ready to take on the world, let alone a record seven-time UK champion in the form of O’Sullivan.
A scoring blitz including breaks of 61, 131, 53, 64 and 56 put Saengkham 5-0 ahead, and the match looked over. But Bingham bravely chipped away at the lead and somehow clawed his way back level at 5-5, at that stage appearing a strong favourite in the decider.
But in a timely bathroom break the Thai somehow managed to clear his frazzled head and emerged icy calm to knock in a magnificent break of 121 to seal his date the Rocket.
He said: “I was confident coming in and of course at 5-0 up you are enjoying it, every pot I tried was going in. As he was coming back I started to feel the pressure, and I had a really good chance to win the match at 5-3, but Stuart showed why he is a world champion.
“Before the last frame I went to the toilet and just told myself ‘You can still do this’ and that I should be happy just to be out there playing a world champion in a frame like this. I was just hoping for one chance, and luckily I got it.
“Playing Ronnie you always want to learn something. I have only played him twice and lost both times. But I am a lot more confident than last time here in the UK when I was too nervous. No one works harder than me on tour, I am doing 10 hours a day, every day. I am a new Noppon, and I believe I can do it.”