If you had to pick out one professional boxer whom you thought would make a successful pro wrestler, there’s a good chance you would choose Tyson Fury.
The 6’9”, 250+ pound lineal heavyweight champion is certainly WWE-sized physically, standing taller than all but one active WWE wrestler (even when taking wrestlers’ notoriously inflated measurements as the truth), but he also has a personality suitably sized for sports entertainment. Hell, even his draw with Deontay Wilder, capped by a miraculous rise off the canvas, felt like an Undertaker match.
Fury will get a chance to put the theory to the test on October 31 at WWE’s Crown Jewel event, when he takes on Braun Strowman.
“My people have been working behind the scene(s) on it for the past few months but my involvement came over the past couple of weeks,” Fury told DAZN’s Andreas Hale after a recent press conference to announce the match. “I always wanted to get involved with WWE for a number of years but because of my boxing career, I wasn’t able to. The opportunity arose recently, and I took a hold of it with both hands.”
At times, Fury has felt more like a pro wrestler than a boxer. Not that he can’t really fight—his record and status as heavyweight kingpin are evidence of that—but because everything else about him has a performative feel, and is shrouded in at least a little bit of mystery. The Gypsy King’s showmanship has put him in Batman costumes, Uncle Sam hats, Lucha Libre getups, and his new signature look, loud patterned suits with no shirt underneath his blazer. On the microphone, he’s both talked people into arenas to see him fight and serenaded them with karaoke classics while standing in the ring.
The mystique surrounding Fury itself is also deeply apocryphal. Last year, it was reported that Fury donated the entire purse from his bout against Deontay Wilder to the homeless. It was widely accepted as being true, but never really confirmed—the story felt too good, too heartwarming to refute even if it weren’t entirely true. There are plenty of other stories like it in the Fury archives—and it’s all very pro wrestling. Without ever having stepped in a wrestling ring, Fury always understood the concepts wrestling is built upon—the shroud of mystery, the charisma that makes people want to suspend disbelief against all logic. The carnyism of pro wrestling has always come naturally to Fury.
Many of boxing’s greats have had stints in pro wrestling throughout the years, either as a competitor or in an auxiliary capacity as a referee or “special enforcer” for matches. The connection and attraction is easy to understand—pro wrestling is a simulated performance of a fight, after all. On the flip side, boxing’s promotional efforts are largely rooted in pro wrestling. There isn’t a boxer alive whose pre-fight chatter isn’t in some way influenced by Muhammad Ali, who famously credits legendary wrestler Gorgeous George as the original inspiration for his schtick.
Ali went on to make several WWE appearances, once getting airplane spinned and slammed by Gorilla Monsoon, before having a dreadful “crossover” bout against Antonio Inoki in Japan, which turned out to be real in Inoki’s mind by not necessarily in Ali’s.
Boxers dabbling in wrestling goes back much farther than Ali, however. In fact, during his reign as heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson took part in six reported wrestling matches. Footage exists of at least one - in February of 1914, Johnson took part in a wrestling match against Fred Marcussen in Germany, a match that lasted 23 minutes according to the Poverty Bay Herald. What resulted was a 30 second film of the two grappling, ending with Johnson tapping out.
Ali and Johnson are the closest parallels to Fury as they were also active heavyweight champions when they gave rasslin’ a go. Other active fighters have taken part in matches as well, though generally towards the ends of their career. Archie Moore’s pro boxing record contains two wins over wrestlers, Ray Shire and Mike DiBiase (father of “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase). Though they are official wins, as Dave Meltzer wrote in 2008, both bouts had a build up through pro wrestling storylines—Moore was a special guest referee who cost Shire and DiBiase victories, leading to two bouts that ended identically, a TKO via cuts in the third round for Moore. Prior to the match, Moore’s friend and baseball legend Ted Williams told reporters he wished Moore would retire, and The Old Mongoose must have listened. The DiBiase “bout” would be the last of Moore’s boxing career.
While still technically an active fighter in 1992, Roberto Duran took part in a “worked shoot” bout of sorts against Masakatsu Funaki in Japan. Around the same time, Leon Spinks embarked on what is likely the most lengthy and successful run a boxer has had in pro wrestling other than Primo Carnera, spending roughly three years making tours of Japan, primarily for FMW. Spinks wound up having matches and full-on storylines with Atsushi Onita, Terry Funk, The Sheik, Sabu and more.
Many other boxing legends have dabbled in pro wrestling after their fighting careers ended. Joe Louis had a lengthy run as a pro wrestling referee, as did Jack Dempsey. Jersey Joe Walcott wrestled “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers in Canada several years after he hung up the gloves, and in the 80s, Joe Frazier wrestled Carlos Colon in Puerto Rico after some referee appearances himself.
As history has shown, if you’re famous and popular enough in boxing, a wrestling promoter will try to lure you in. WWE paid Floyd Mayweather a reported $20 million for a WrestleMania match against Big Show, a figure rivaled by the $15 million Fury is reportedly making for his match against Strowman. Interestingly, Andy Ruiz recently told reporters that the WWE also contacted him about an appearance following his shocking victory over Anthony Joshua.
The wrestling industry clearly sees boxers as good for business, both simply as a novelty attraction, but also as lenders of legitimacy to the scripted performance. However, it’s likely boxing that stands to gain more from Fury’s appearance than the WWE. Even WWE’s declining weekly television ratings vastly exceed the viewership of almost every boxing broadcast and pay-per-view offering ever. Mathematically, one can assume that the consumers of wrestling and boxing don’t overlap, so the product with less viewers is the one who stands to gain the most. It’s true that some boxing fans who otherwise wouldn’t watch wrestling may tune in to see what Fury can do, but it is more likely that fans who enjoy Fury’s act on WWE programming might tune in to his next legitimate fight.
Reviews of Fury’s performance thus far have been positive. His trash talk sounds even more natural and polished than many of the performers trained to do it professionally, and Triple H has raved about his in-ring abilities for a novice after watching him learning pro wrestling fundamentals at WWE’s Performance Centre in Florida.
When you think about it, Fury’s recent boxing matches had incredible drama while occurring totally naturally without a script, so just imagine what he’ll be able to create with one.