Tyson Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk is off, at least as off as a fight can be when it was barely on in the first place. The fraught negotiations between the WBC kingpin Fury and Ukraine’s unified WBA/WBO/IBF champion appear to have hit an iceberg over the purse split. Usyk’s manager Egis Klimas saying, “No matter how much Usyk compromised, he was pushed for more”.
Fury is no stranger to drawn out negotiations that ultimately come to nothing. ‘The Gypsy King’ has done this dance before with domestic rival Anthony Joshua. There was the time that he “offered” the Olympic gold medalist a bout while contracted to a mandatory defence against Deontay Wilder. Then last year, Fury extended another offer to ‘AJ’ before adding an arbitrary deadline at the last minute that made the bout impossible. Ultimately, Fury and his team negotiate a lot more fights than they ultimately agree to.
It is clear that for all the capital letter “FIGHT OFF” pronouncements across the internet this morning, a Fury-Usyk bout is far from impossible. But what if this era’s defining heavyweight matchup doesn’t happen? How will Fury’s propensity to move the goalposts during negotiations affect the way his career is ultimately perceived? There’s more than the undisputed heavyweight crown and a big pot of money at stake here. This is a matter of legacy.
Fury’s legacy is far from secure. It is a robust, admirable legacy for sure. No other heavyweight has held the WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF championships. Wins over Wladimir Klitschko and Deontay Wilder will live long in the memory, while blitzing Dillian Whyte at Wembley Stadium made for a fine national occasion.
But playing devil’s advocate, these achievements could be viewed differently. While holding every major title is deeply impressive, the fact that Fury never held them simultaneously as undisputed champion is a mark against him. The truly great heavyweights reigned as the division’s sole champion, from Joe Louis to Muhammad Ali to Mike Tyson to Britain’s own Lennox Lewis.
You could also make the argument that the Wilder trilogy, while enthralling, was not warranted. Certainly after ‘The Gypsy King’ destroyed the American in their second fight, nobody was clamouring for a third. The fact it ended up being one of the greatest heavyweight fights of all time redeemed it, though.
The Whyte fight was a brilliant occasion but hardly a robust challenge. The attempt to replicate it with Derek Chisora last December was a pale imitation. A weaker opponent in a fight where, with all due respect to the challenger, you knew there would be only one outcome did not warrant its Tottenham Hotspur Stadium venue.
Klitschko remains Fury’s best win. A 2015 unanimous decision win over ‘Dr Steelhammer’, who hadn’t lost for eleven years, is a deserving crown jewel in his legacy. But Klitschko only fought once more afterwards, losing by knockout to Joshua. This scribe leans towards crediting Fury with ending Klitschko’s dominance rather than simply benefiting from the end of it. But a less charitable reading could see it differently.
Beyond these big hitters, Fury’s record is not awash with huge names. Otto Wallin is largely renowned for pushing ‘The Gypsy King’ to the limit and very little else. Fury’s first two wins over Chisora were a decent but largely domestic-level concern. Christian Hammer, Tom Schwarz and Sefer Seferi are the sort of names you’ll find on a dozen records of middling heavyweights.
This is not meant to tear down what Fury has achieved. He is arguably the best heavyweight of his generation and the finest British big man since Lewis retired. But the WBC champion conducts himself as if his race is run. He acts like bouts with Usyk and Joshua would be window-dressing on a career that already makes him an all-time great. But Fury isn’t there yet. These opponents are not an optional extra, they are necessary for him to establish his credentials as the very best.
Fury vs Usyk may happen, it may not. Nothing is ever straightforward in the murky game of chance that is heavyweight boxing. But Fury would do well to find time and space for some quiet reflection. He needs to honestly consider his legacy, with and without Usyk’s name on his record. Right now, ‘The Gypsy King’ is a very good heavyweight. A solid 8/10 fighter. But Fury must ask himself whether he is willing to settle for being anything less than the best.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change