By Michael Rosenthal
Tyson Fury has never done anything in a conventional manner.
If I were advising the former heavyweight champ, I would suggest he ease back into high-level boxing after his 2½-year hiatus from the sport. If I were Fury, who faces journeyman Francesco Pianeta on August 18 in his second fight since the layoff, I wouldn’t take on a top heavyweight until next year at the earliest.
Fury evidently has other thoughts. While the dickering of titleholders Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder on a potential showdown has produced nothing but bluster and frustration, the brash Fury has marched in and declared, in effect, “Hell, I’ll fight Wilder now.”
The two are negotiating to meet in the ring on November 10 or November 17, probably in Las Vegas.
“He’s called me out and I’ve accepted the challenge,” Fury told BT Sport. “I’ve said, ‘Send me the contract and I’ll sign it.’ I don’t mess around.”
I’m not sure that’s a good idea for a still-rusty, weight-losing version of Fury, who could end up looking up blurry-eyed at the referee as he vigorously waves his arms. I’m also not sure it’s a bad idea.
One (and most important) Fury isn’t fighting for fun, although it seems that way sometimes. He fights for a living. And a matchup with Wilder, the WBC titleholder, would be his first significant payday since December 28, 2015, when he upset Wladimir Klitschko to win the linear heavyweight championship.
Big money is a powerful incentive for Fury to take a risk by fighting the division’s biggest puncher.
Two, if Fury actually fights Wilder, it will reinforce his image as a public figure who does things – and says things – his way, which makes him interesting and more marketable than any heavyweight except Joshua.
And, three, a loss probably wouldn’t destroy him as an attraction. If he ends up being knocked unconscious, he can say with legitimacy, “Hey, I challenged myself, which is more than many fighters do these days,” and vow to make another comeback. Remember: He turns only 30 this Sunday.
Fury (26-0, 19 knockouts) wouldn’t be as marketable with a loss but a fight with countryman Joshua sometime in the following year would still generate tremendous interest – and money – in the U.K. and beyond, particularly if Fury gives a decent account of himself against Wilder.
In other words, I wouldn’t say that Fury has nothing to lose against Wilder but it would be a reasonable – and fascinating – risk.
And let me be clear about something: Fury undoubtedly believes he would beat Wilder. He doesn’t have the power of the American but he is a better boxer, assuming he hasn’t lost too much as a result of his layoff.
I can see the athletic Fury doing to Wilder what he did to Klitschko, keep him at range and off balance with incessant movement and feinting, clinch when necessary and punch just enough to win the fight. I would pick Wilder to win in part because I doubt Fury will be at his best, which is why he should wait, but Fury has it in him to win.
A clash between Fury and Joshua would be enormous now. If Fury fights and beats Wilder, can you imagine how big an all-Briton, heavyweight title-unification fight at Wembley Stadium would be in the United Kingdom? It would be by far the biggest boxing event in the history of the country.
Fury would be smart not to look past Wilder but he undoubtedly has thought about just such a scenario.
While we’re imagining: What if Fury then beats Joshua to become undisputed heavyweight champion? He will have surpassed the status he attained when he stunned the world by beating Klitschko.
Don’t think Fury hasn’t thought about that, too.
Of course, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. I wouldn’t be surprised if Fury and Wilder failed to come to terms for one reason or another. One possibility: Fury could decide in the 11th hour that it would be best to bide his time.
I won’t be shocked if the fight is made and then falls apart as a result of an injury or something related to Fury’s unpredictability.
And it might turn out that Fury will never again approach the ability he demonstrated against Klitschko after abusing his body during his time away from boxing. We didn’t see enough against slightly blown up cruiserweight Sefer Seferi in Fury’s comeback fight in June to draw meaningful conclusions.
Heck, he could lose to Pianeta next week. That’s not likely given Piantea’s limitations but we’ve seen crazier things happen.
The point is this: Fury, assuming he fights Wilder, will have cut through the boxing business muck and seized what he believes is his rightful position at the top of the sport. That’s how it should be done. Other elite fighters could learn a great deal from him.
Michael Rosenthal is the most recent winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism. He has covered boxing in Los Angeles and beyond for almost three decades.