For most of the last quarter of the twentieth century, the heavyweight title scene was often confined to casino cities like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, far removed from the spectacle of decades past with crowds assembled at places like the Polo Grounds, Yankee Stadium, or Soldiers Field.
The 21st century has seen a heavyweight field much less in need of the US market and its array of stadium shows has been a breath of fresh air. Both Klitschko’s, Anthony Joshua, and now Tyson Fury have delivered memorable massive crowds.
The heavyweight title is supposed to be the pinnacle of boxing. The aerial shots over Wembley on Saturday, cameras hovering over a mass of humanity nearing 100,000, sure as hell looked like a pinnacle. Boxing’s biggest events used to be a place where the working man could rub shoulders, if only at the turnstiles, with the folks who could afford a ringside seat.
That gets to the universal appeal of boxing and fighting sports in general. They’re incredibly complicated in terms of skill at the highest level but ultimately ask a question anyone can understand: which one of those two people can kick the other’s ass.
It was a question another mass of humanity asked in a stadium just one week before for Errol Spence-Yordenis Ugas in Texas, magnified by more than twice the crowd. Coming just seven days apart, it’s hard not to feel like boxing has put its best foot forward this month with Katie Taylor-Amanda Serrano still to come at one of boxing’s highest churches, Madison Square Garden
The moment Saturday, the fireworks and ring walks, gave way to a fight that couldn’t meet the occasion. Heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, making his eighth defense of history’s title (or second of his second reign depending on how one sees that situation), delivered a performance almost as complete as his win in the second of three fights with Deontay Wilder.
Dillian Whyte waited a long time for a title shot. Whyte started out as a southpaw, trying early to throw wrinkles and make an opportunity. Fury solved the riddle before the first round was out, showed Whyte he wouldn’t have much luck from an orthodox stance either in round two, and put Whyte out of contention with a single uppercut in round six.
We got a little bit of everything except a competitive fight. Whyte mustered occasional offense, with some decent shots to the body, and some less than subtle fouls. Fury talked trash and gave some rough stuff back.
Then Fury hinted it might be the end.
Will it be?
Futures: After the fight, Fury’s wife was quoted saying she thinks he’ll be back. The guess here…of course he’s coming back. Will he tussle with UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou in a boxing match for easy money and go do some WWE work before we see him back? That wouldn’t be a surprise. Neither would Fury doing those things and continuing to box.
There is a chance Fury could walk away. As the legal issues around Daniel Kinahan continue, Fury’s association with him during his career is going to stay part of the Fury story. Fury didn’t seem to like the questions this week. They won’t go away. Neither will the tool boxing takes on the body both in live action and in preparation.
Regardless, after this weekend it’s hard to imagine a fight with the winner of Oleksandr Usyk-Anthony Joshua II isn’t just as big if not richer than the Whyte event. Fury can say he doesn’t care about the winner of that fight but tunes change. Joshua would probably be the bigger event, in the UK and globally. That will be true even if Joshua can’t avenge his loss to Usyk, and he’s going to have a hard time with that task. Fury-Joshua, like Joshua-Wilder, is always going to sell if it gets made.
If Usyk wins again, a fight with Fury is a perfect storm for both men. Usyk is the greatest cruiserweight since Evander Holyfield and, with his first win over Joshua, also the most accomplished to move from that class to heavyweight in the post-real deal years. Four-belting both classes would be a unique history.
A Fury win would basically be a clean out of the division. It would also give him a deeper range of styles conquered in doing so to even out what will be a low volume hall of fame career. We’ve seen Fury handle the long reigning king (Klitschko), the devastating knockout artist (Wilder). We haven’t seen Fury in with a quicker, smaller man who can match his boxing IQ. That both would be prominent on pound-for-pound lists going in wouldn’t hurt the sales pitch either.
It will be a must-have match for this era to truly feel complete.
Usyk has to win again first.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.