In a sport that’s very foundations were built on hyperbole it’s easy to get swept up in the aftermath of a big fight.
When Tyson Fury finally vanquished Deontay Wilder in their thrilling trilogy decider earlier this month, plenty were fast to crown Fury as one of the greatest of all time and they were certainly claiming the third Fury-Wilder fight was one of the best heavyweight title contests of all time.
Almost instantly, comparisons were made to great fights of the past and the great warriors who fought in them.
Pound for pound debates were reignited and all-time top 10 heavyweight lists regurgitated.
It’s always going to be difficult to compare eras, particularly at heavyweight where today’s monoliths have such enormous physical advantages over the big men of yesteryear.
And if you’re comparing heavyweights, how do you compare the version of Fury in fight two of the trilogy with the Ali who struggled against Jimmy Young? How do you compare the Wilder who stood up to so many heavyweight bombs against Fury with the Floyd Patterson who was down seven times against Ingemar Johansson? And what about skills, the slickness of the great Jack Johnson with the millennial strategies of Oleksandr Usyk, and the one-two of Rocky Marciano against the more physically imposing Anthony Joshua?
Or does one just take the all-time best versions of one fighter and match them against the same through history, for example the Ali who fought Cleveland Williams versus the Mike Tyson who smashed Michael Spinks?
That doesn’t allow for tactical nous. The more defensive minded Fury of the Wladimir Klitschko fight was a different kind of handful to the one who jumped on Wilder in their second fight, the same way the Ali who went to the ropes against George Foreman was different to the one with a more commanding presence against Oscar Bonavena.
The fact is, Fury is the best of this era and he will cement that further still should he wind up with victories over Oleksander Usyk, Joshua or both.
But dream unifications are a pipe dream in the present-day heavyweight division, a weight class fragmented by promotional splits, politics, mandatories, greed, A and B sides and a seemingly limitless run of rematch clauses.
This is where there is the major difference between the greats of today and the greats of the past. More often than not, the former heavyweight legends faced one another, sometimes more than once. A few big ones have slipped through the net, such as Lennox Lewis-Riddick Bowe but it’s hard to recall such a torn landscape, with pay-per-view channels, streaming providers, network TV and much more besides.
New ground will likely have to be trodden to get some of the biggest fights on once, let alone with rematches and trilogies.
But what is good for today’s big men is that following Usyk’s recent win over Joshua and Fury’s violent victory over Wilder, people are interested in the heavyweight division again and they are tuning in. It takes these kind of fights to exhibit boxing at its best and gives the sport its greatest chances of reaching the masses.
It’s easy to hit the old clichés and say how the heavyweight division goes is how boxing goes but great fights in boxing’s flagship division create a unique sporting vacuum that gives sports editors and producers a rare opportunity to provide the sport the space and oxygen it requires to grow.
Some national newspapers in the UK afforded Fury-Wilder more than six pages of coverage while Joshua, as always, was on the front and back pages.
And as we’ve always known, no one has lost stock in brave defeats. Joshua could still pack a stadium tomorrow and Wilder has grown with the loss, particularly after – days later – he took to social media to give Fury his just due, something he refused to do on the night.
That in itself caused some outrage, his failure to give Fury his props, gave boxing an unusual look for a few days. So often one of boxing’s redeeming qualities has been the ability for fighters to tear into one another and then, at the bell, embrace like long-lost relatives – with any hard feelings long since forgotten.
Saturday night was all too fresh in Wilder’s mind to let a couple of years of bygones be bygones. You also have to factor in that there’s a fair chance he might not have been of sound mind and was likely concussed following a battle that was so savage it will stand up against any of the great heavyweight wars we’ve seen.
Plenty have said the fight was short on quality and therefore doesn’t deserve to be in the same breath as Ali-Joe Frazier or Evander Holyfield-Riddick Bowe but these are the best of their time so it does, it is and it will.
It’s too easy to be a critic and try to shoot holes in fights of today but you don’t need to. You can enjoy them. Good fights are good for the sport, regardless of the outcome, and we should be grateful to Fury and Wilder for everything they gave us last weekend.
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