After spending so long believing that “middleweight” Oleksandr Usyk was no match for him, it’s not a surprise to hear Tyson Fury retain that viewpoint and claim he won a fight the rest of the world knows he lost.

On May 18 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Usyk started their much-watched world heavyweight title fight fast before surviving a crisis in the middle rounds to finish strongly, and almost stopping the groggy Englishman in a hellacious ninth round. Usyk was thus named undisputed champion – a status bestowed upon those who win all four sanctioning body gongs in one fight – via split decision. The judges’ scores were 115-112 and 114-113 for the Ukrainian, with the 114-113 for Fury going against the consensus of the majority who watched. 

Unsurprisingly, one person who backed Fury was his own promoter. Frank Warren voiced his belief that his fighter had nicked it but did not once consider lodging an appeal in the same way that he had done so the last time one of his boxers faced Usyk. Daniel Dubois was halted in round nine by the Ukrainian back in August yet there was some debate over a blow – ruled at the time as low – that felled the champion for a lengthy spell in round five. The appeal was unsuccessful, but nonetheless illustrated the lengths to which Warren is prepared to go if he feels one of his boxers has been treated unfairly. 

Fury, regardless, is claiming there was a grave miscarriage of justice in Saudi Arabia.

“I’ve watched the fight back lots and still got the same answer – I thought I won,” he said on his Furiocity YouTube channel. “Usyk knows he didn’t beat me. It was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be.

“My problem was I probably had too much fun. It was too easy. It was like I was in there with a local amateur boxer. I was enjoying it too much, messing around, and paid the ultimate price in round nine.”

It’s a far cry from the post-fight respect he’s shown to pretty much every other opponent he’s fought – the likes of Wladimir Klitschko, Deontay Wilder, Derek Chisora and Dillian Whyte included. The difference here, of course, is that he lost to Usyk and, worse for his psyche, most observers agree that he lost.

What is true is that the 35-year-old was indeed having fun against Usyk – particularly in rounds four to seven when it appeared he might cruise to victory over a former cruiserweight champion who gave away six inches in height to the 6’9” Fury and a shade under 40 pounds in weight. 

Yet the tongue that he was regularly popping out was socked back into his mouth in round eight – a session in which Usyk also appeared to break Fury’s nose. Then came that ninth when an accurate left hand and subsequent barrage caused the spidery arms of Fury, not so long before behind his back in a display of bravado, to grab hold of both his opponent and the ropes in a futile effort to retain his balance. 

“He landed a good punch in round eight and busted my nose,” Fury said. “In round nine he had a 10-8 round, and I gave him round 10. But other than that, I didn’t give him any other rounds.” 

According to Fury’s logic, then, he won via a 116-111 score – a tally that even the most ardent “Gypsy King” disciple would struggle to fathom.

Boxers are the most courageous of athletes. That bravery stems not from their physical prowess, the skills they perfect or the muscles they build, but from the kind of psychological fortitude that the likes of you and I will likely never achieve.

Yet to retain such ferocious determination in battle often means that certain truths must be ignored. For example, should a boxer spend too much time studying and then admiring the strengths of their upcoming opponent it’s natural that some trepidation might follow. One can certainly understand why so many of Mike Tyson’s opponents had lost the fight long before the opening bell after being force-fed highlight reels of him knocking his foes silly.

Further, should a boxer whose reputation has been forged through self-confidence allow themselves to give too much credit to their rival – whether in the fight or before it – the subsequent respect might play havoc with their sense of superiority. It’s why, when boxers are asked to name the toughest opponent they’ve faced, they will – nine times out of 10 – name a fighter they defeated rather than one who beat them.

Fury, unbeaten in 35 bouts before encountering Usyk, simply cannot allow himself to believe he may have lost. Should he do so – particularly with the rematch set for December 21 – then he also loses the bulletproof vest that made him so special in the first place. 

The only way he could have lost, therefore, is if something rather fishy was at play. In effect, the defeat was not his fault, nor was he inferior – it was purely down to circumstances beyond his control. Should he allow thoughts to creep into his mind that Usyk is a better boxer, then he’s likely lost the sequel already.

“I’ve got to get him out of there [in the rematch] because I’m not going to get a decision,” Fury continued, mere months after filming social media videos with Saudi paymaster Turki Alalshikh to promote the showdown with Usyk. “It’s unfortunate because it’s hard enough to win a fight just by winning it, never mind knowing you’ve got to knock someone out.

“I’m confident and looking forward to the challenge. I hear he’s got a broken jaw and a broken eye socket, so get yourself well and I’ll see you in December.” 

Though Fury has been criticized for his bogeyed reflections on the contest, he’s not alone when it comes to heavyweights failing to digest defeat.

For many years Jack Johnson claimed he threw his 1915 fight with Jess Willard, Muhammad Ali vehemently insisted he was robbed by Joe Frazier in 1971 – a battle comparable with Usyk-Fury in terms of significance and the widespread perception that the right fighter won – until he levelled the score in the rematch almost three years later. 

George Foreman blamed all manner of things on his loss to Ali in 1974, but it was only later in life when he gave credit to his conqueror. Larry Holmes infamously raged after he was shocked by Michael Spinks in 1985 and, down at middleweight, Marvelous Marvin Hagler could only come to terms with his defeat by Sugar Ray Leonard by never once entertaining the notion that he might actually have been legitimately outpointed.

Fury, who’s spent most of his adult life crafting a persona of invincibility, is merely doing the same.