Monday, May 13 

Another day, another embarrassment in which John Fury was at the centre.

His 35-year-old son may be just days away from a career-defining victory that would enhance his status as one of the very finest heavyweights of all time, but John Fury – not unlike in much of the documentary footage surrounding his prizefighter son Tyson – was apparently unable to resist again attempting to be the centre of the world.

The 59-year-old grandfather is listed on BoxRec as an unremarkable 8-4-1 heavyweight who stands 6ft 3ins. He was stopped in his final two fights – the first in 1991 by the respected Henry Akinwande, and the second four years later by Steve Garber, who he had previously outpointed in 1987. By 1995 Garber had a losing record, having lost a further 17 fights, so it is tempting to look at John Fury’s record and conclude that he realised that in 1995 he had already given the best of himself to the boxing ring and that there was nothing more that he was likely to achieve.

Tyson Fury’s achievements, regardless of whether he loses on Saturday, will long rightly be celebrated, so why almost 30 years later his father is threatening to cast the most negative of lights on so historic a fight – for the undisputed heavyweight title – remains unclear. 

“I am a warrior, that is what we do,” he explained after needlessly head butting the considerably smaller Stanislav Stepchuk, when bigger, alternative targets had been guiltier of “coming into my space”, as he described it. For the sake of balance, he later said: “Sincere apologies to everybody involved.” Also for the sake of balance, that so-called apology including him saying that Stepchuk “had to have it”.

“I didn’t touch him,” Stepchuk said. “He went crazy.

“Yeah [I wanted to punch him], but because of the age difference it would not be very fair. He should not look for an actual fight because he could have a heart attack and finish in the ambulance.” 

Stepchuk, of Usyk’s entourage, resisted pointing out the poetic justice involved in John Fury being the one to throw the head butt yet leaving the scene with blood pouring from his head and Stepchuk remaining largely unscathed. The damage to John Fury – his gargantuan ego aside – also regardless appears minimal, given how much more severe the consequences could be if the Saudi Arabian authorities choose to investigate (it has been reported that they will not).

Saturday’s fight, which remains one to be relished, is central to the ambitions of the Saudi Arabian elite attempting to rehabilitate – or sports wash – their country’s reputation. Tyson Fury fought in Riyadh before – when in 2023 he struggled to victory over Francis Ngannou – and is the world’s highest-profile heavyweight. 

John Fury had been unable to attend his son’s trilogy of fights with Deontay Wilder because he was denied entry to the United States as a consequence of his conviction in 2011 when he was found guilty of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm after gouging a man’s eye out in a brawl in 2010, leaving his victim half-blind. He was handed an 11-year prison sentence, of which he served four. 

The negative publicity his bullying drew on Monday not only demonstrated that the grandfather who is supposed to know something of rehabilitation has instead apparently learned little; it certainly helped neither the Saudi Arabian powerbrokers’ he seems so fond of, nor his son’s cause. 

Tuesday, May 14 

Instead of writing at length about how soulless a place Riyadh is, and how equally soulless is the unfortunately spelled BLVD City – the relatively remote entertainment* centre at which Tuesday’s far-from-grand grand arrivals were held – it seems more appropriate, given the significance of Saturday’s fight, to focus on the fighters’ condition.

BoxingScene could have detailed the fact that the grand arrivals felt at best like the dress rehearsal for something fitting in the build-up to an undisputed heavyweight title fight, questioned why Fury’s co-promoters Frank Warren and Bob Arum – for all of their decorated careers – required “entrances”, why the deplorable WBC’s Mauricio Sulaiman again saw fit to gatecrash the occasion, why the Mike Tyson Boxing Club is, of all places, also there, or why there was a ghost town of a theme park next door.

Instead, the two main-event fighters, regardless of the reality that they are fighting at a location that threatens to undermine the attention being paid to a fight capable of defining their remarkable careers, seem worthier of greater attention.

On Monday, BoxingScene noticed how healthy Fury’s skin looked – which for he, not unlike some other professional fighters, reveals so much about his conditioning. He already looked a professional athlete who has long been living cleanly, which couldn’t be said about him in the build-up to his struggles in October against Francis Ngannou. When BoxingScene then spoke to his former trainer Ben Davison on Tuesday, Davison said that he had made the same observation, and revealed that he had questioned whether the cut Fury previously suffered in sparring was a consequence of Fury, in the aftermath of fighting Ngannou, too quickly losing too much weight. 

Warren, similarly, has spoken of Fury “glowing”, but he could just as easily also have been describing the air of confidence the showman Fury is exuding – one that is consistent with that he has showed in the build-up to some of his very finest wins.

Usyk, who “arrived” to Hearts On Fire of Rocky IV fame, looks similarly composed and confident. So much so that when Frazer Clarke was being interviewed, he paused to reach for his phone to record a video of him, and to admire his entrance. Fury arrived later, wearing a hat that wouldn’t look amiss on the cliche of a pimp, and while Usyk was then on his way to be interviewed, he paused in his tracks, stopped and turned to watch and listen to Fury speak – not unlike BoxingScene had observed him doing when Anthony Joshua made his way to the ring for Usyk’s victory over him in London in 2021.

Chants from the Ukrainian’s entourage of “Usyk-Usyk” started when Fury spoke on stage, and while they were met by rival chants of “Fury-Fury” from his opponent’s associates, those chants convincingly failed to drown out those that started first.

For Usyk and Fury, regardless, read “Moses Itauma”. The heavyweight fights under Davison for the first time against Ilja Mezencev on the undercard, and at 19 years old ahead of his ninth professional contest appears every bit as laidback and mature as those preparing to feature in the main event.

Wednesday, May 15 

Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk – two of the world’s most mentally strong and confident fighters – have long appeared to accept that they are unlikely to get under each other’s skin.

It therefore represented somewhat of a surprise at Wednesday evening’s open workouts in Riyadh that the southpaw Usyk did his pad-work in an orthodox stance and that Fury, immediately afterwards, did his as a southpaw. 

There ultimately seems minimal chance that Usyk will box with an orthodox stance on Saturday evening – his former trainer James Ali Bashir explained to BoxingScene earlier in fight week of the threat he’s capable of posing from his southpaw stance, particularly having previously seen the southpaw Otto Wallin severely cut Fury – and while Fury has succeeded in both stances, it’s far from unthinkable that he only worked out as a southpaw because he had seen the workout Usyk conducted first.

“I can’t believe Usyk is actually gonna come out and box orthodox,” said Matthew Macklin, the retired world middleweight title challenger in Riyadh in his role as a pundit for Sky Sports, to BoxingScene as Fury’s workout was unfolding. “Fury might come out as a southpaw for a bit, but I’d be shocked if Usyk comes out orthodox.

“They just went through the motions. They weren’t gonna show anything off. It’s promotional obligations. They came out; broke a sweat. That was about it.

“They’re both in top shape. They’re both ready.”

To see Fury in the flesh is to again be reminded of how unusually fluid and agile he is for a fighter with his vast dimensions. Usyk, regardless, apparently didn’t need that reminder. After being interviewed while Fury was in the ring, instead of staying to watch he walked the long way round – and therefore took the path in front of the rows of observers present – to leave.

His respected cutsman and cornerman Russ Anber stayed to watch Fury from start to finish, and Anber insisted – and clearly believed what he was saying – that Fury’s lighter physique could represent a risk. “I think he’s convinced himself he’s gotta go against a really fast guy – a middleweight, as he calls him, and Usyk does fight like a middleweight – and doesn’t want to carry around that excess,” he told BoxingScene. 

“You have to wonder how much that size meant to him in being able to absorb punishment; in being able to take a punch; in being able to pick himself back up, because he was able to withstand that – the sheer mass of him.

“Now he’s done to the same size as Usyk, who’s meeting a man with a resistance that’s more his own weight. That’s a big difference. Punch an 80lb bag compared to a 200lb bag and there’s a big difference.

“[But Fury] has to use his skills; use his size, because that’s what got him where he is. I think he’s going to play into his own strengths. I think he’ll do everything of the sort [forcing a messy fight] – especially if it’s not going well for him, and that’s the one thing that’s gonna worry me. I don’t want this fight, of such a magnitude, to generate something like that. May the best man win and do it clean and fair and not have to resort to foul tactics.”

Anber had been in Perth, Australia, to work the corner of Usyk’s fellow Ukrainian Vasiliy Lomachenko over George Kambosos at the weekend. “[Usyk’s] probably not on as much of a high as he wants to be on [having seen Lomachenko win], because he’s got his own fight coming up, but sure he’s happy for him, and I’m sure it’s a source of inspiration for him.” 

On Monday, Usyk had been asked about Lomachenko’s victory, and he responded: “Yes, I spoke to him and congratulated him. I am very happy that Vasiliy got the belt.”

For the record, after he concluded his workout, Usyk said: “I feel good. Each event that takes place will always have a new experience; each new experience; each new day; each new experience for the country, for the team, is always a wonderful great new experience.

“I don’t have last [words for Fury]. I save that for Saturday. Thank you.”

Fury said: “I’m on top of the world, baby! Who wouldn’t be enjoying it? Main event; undisputed heavyweight championship of the world. Come on! 

“Keep tuned. Keep your eyes peeled. We’ve got some big stuff coming over the next couple of days. I always have a crazy little ring walk, and you wouldn’t expect anything different for the biggest fight of me life, would you? I don’t think it’s ever been done before, so it’s definitely going to be a big surprise.

“Me and Oleksandr are going to put on a fantastic show for the world to watch. Usyk! Usyk! Usyk!”

Fury’s father John was also present, and had a mark on his forehead to serve as a reminder of him disgracing himself on Monday. 

A cynic might be tempted to point out the poetic justice potentially involved in that mark remaining there until the weekend, to serve as a permanent reminder in every photo that may be taken, post-fight, in the event of his son recording his finest win.

Thursday, May 16

“God bless him,” Tyson Fury responded when asked if he had “one last message” for his opponent Oleksandr Usyk (despite the fact that they will speak again at Friday’s weigh-in and in the hours before they fight). 

“I’ll say a prayer for him before we go out that we both get out the ring in one piece and go home to our families, because that’s what it’s about,” he also said.

Fury has retained an admirable sense of perspective in the days leading up to what is likely to prove his defining fight, but his human side and that perspective likely isn’t what the many broadcasters invested in Fury-Usyk wanted to hear from him at Thursday’s final press conference.

The presence of some travelling fans had finally become apparent on Thursday evening at BLVD City, and while the natural showman in Fury appeared to promise an appearance when he first arrived at the top table, once he had taken his seat he had appeared as ready as almost everyone else for Thursday to conclude.

For Fury and Usyk the stakes are perhaps higher than they have ever been, and there is a professional obligation to attempt to preserve their energy. But there also exists a professional obligation from all of those around them to promote the most significant heavyweight fight for a quarter of a century, and whether it’s the repeated postponements, the heat in Riyadh, the ill-advised timing the build-up events have been scheduled for or the city’s stifling tedium, it seems everyone involved – in honouring every request for an interview and photo opportunity – has little left to give.

Fury refused to look at Usyk when they were instructed to face off at the conclusion of Thursday’s press conference, but for most observers that was as interesting as their latest encounter became.

Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield – the last heavyweights to contest the undisputed title in 1999 – have arrived in Riyadh to be present for the occasion, and 25 years after they fought at the historic Madison Square Garden, where once was staged The Fight of the Century, and then in Las Vegas, BoxingScene would be interested to hear their true thoughts about suitable a venue they actually consider Riyadh to be.

The reality, however – not least given the countless times everyone else involved in Saturday’s promotion has spoken about how apparently glorious it is to be in the “Kingdom” of Saudi Arabia – is that they will likely lie through their teeth as much as almost everyone else. Show up, play the role, and depart richer. It’s little wonder that those bankrolling Saturday’s fight – which remains one to be relished – identified those involved in boxing as among the most buyable assets in the sporting world.

The only indication BoxingScene has found that anyone local has an interest in boxing came away from the neon lights of the tacky entertainment centre at which the majority of the build-up to Saturday has been staged. In the nearby Mike Tyson Boxing Club (Tyson continues to prove he is another of the most buyable of assets) could be seen Teddy Atlas training a host of Saudi Arabian teenagers and children – girls among them. It was tempting to conclude that that may have been a demonstration of a wider improvement for women’s rights in a country where, for all of the faux glitz, reports persist about an oppressive culture. It was equally tempting to ask if that potential demonstration was undermined given it existed in the gym built in the image of a man once convicted of rape.

Friday, May 17

The Tyson Fury-Oleksandr Usyk fight-week bubble finally started to expand on the day that the two challengers for the undisputed heavyweight title weighed in.

BoxingScene had been invited to attend earlier on Friday the so-called “launch” of the video game Undisputed, which appears to have been postponed considerably more times than Fury-Usyk, and is almost as difficult to avoid on social media as sponsored posts from Turki Alalshikh.

There was also an invitation to attend a Fight Week Auction, hosted by Sotheby’s, where it was possible to bid for a watch (the invitation repeatedly and pretentiously described it as a “timepiece”) as tacky as so much of what appears to be modern-day Riyadh. It is difficult not to admire the manufacturer’s optimism, given Riyadh’s the city where time doesn’t appear to pass.

Larry Holmes and Wladimir Klitschko – the latter particularly hearteningly, given so much of his retirement has been dedicated to helping Ukraine’s war effort against Russia – could be seen at Friday’s weigh-in, at the same location of BLVD City where Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield had appeared the previous day.

David Haye, another former world heavyweight champion, is also in Riyadh and has been around some of the fight build-up. The only one consistently absent is Anthony Joshua, who BoxingScene understands has been local for the longest period and yet is hardly anywhere to be seen.

That he is on course to fight the winner of the two-fight series between Fury and Usyk – and may not necessarily need to wait for a rematch – makes it particularly strange he hasn’t been interested in speaking to the media in an attempt to enhance his profile and further his interests. Joshua, regardless, has undoubtedly had a fine career and earned millions doing things his way.

When Fury and Usyk weighed in, Usyk’s weight was erroneously announced as 10lbs heavier than the 223.5lbs that was the reality. He remains a career heaviest, but not to the extent that there is considerable cause to believe that he doesn’t still intend on using his superior mobility and speed to record a career-defining win.

Saturday, May 18

For those curious about the evolving fan experience on fight night in Saudi Arabia, when BoxingScene arrived at the remote Kingdom Arena for Tyson Fury-Oleksandr Usyk there were fans having a flag confiscated, despite theirs being a flag dedicated to Usyk, and not Ukraine. For those curious about the potential evolution – or lack thereof – of John Fury’s narcissism, he could again be seen front and centre when his son first arrived at the arena, and then when the then-WBC heavyweight champion made his way to the ring.

Before he did so, British heavyweight rivals Frazer Clarke and Fabio Wardley were reunited at ringside for the first time since their bruising British and Commonwealth heavyweight title fight on Easter Sunday, and reportedly told each other of their desire to fight again.

None of which did much to enhance the unremarkable atmosphere that instead of resembling anything like that at The O2 Arena the night of Wardley-Clarke was often closer to that of a morgue. Joe Cordina-Anthony Cacace was the nature of fight that would have been enhanced by the presence of a passionate British audience – Cordina appeared to have struggled too much to make 130lbs – but instead by most of those present it was largely overlooked.

There, regardless, was finally some tension in the air among the 22,000 sold-out crowd in the moments before the main-event fighters did their ring walks. What then unfolded was the highest-calibre and most dramatic and absorbing of fights – one in keeping with the rich traditions of the heavyweight division – that even the most cynical of observers would have briefly stopped caring or forgotten entirely about where it was taking place.

Throughout what were the difficult opening rounds for Usyk, BoxingScene watched one of the broadcast microphones being angrily swatted away from the Ukrainian’s corner. BoxingScene also observed, on occasion, adverts being played on the big screens between rounds instead of highlights of what had just unfolded. Adverts, no less, to promote the fight between Fury and Usyk – when surely those present were the very last in the world who needed reminding of when and where it was taking place?

It was shortly after 2am in Riyadh when Usyk left Fury fighting for survival in that dramatic, career-changing ninth round but the time was also ultimately irrelevant. What was unfolding – as one Colin Hart, a retired reporter present at the Fight of the Century, the Thrilla in Manila, the previous undisputed heavyweight title fight between Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield and more could attest, having also travelled to Riyadh to be present – was a fight so admirably clean and absorbing that a rematch is essential and, it is to be hoped, on course for later in 2024.