Tyson Fury stood in the hallway of Wembley Stadium flanked by dozens of team members and even more people dressed like knights ready to play a part in his theatrical entrance. Inside the arena, a video of Don McLean performing American Pie spliced together with Fury’s career highlights played as 94,000 people sang along. From the hallway where Fury and his team stood, the breadth of the singalong couldn’t be fully appreciated, but the Fury squad had their own.
All the while, Dillian Whyte was standing in the ring being cooled by the crisp London air. As he did A and B Skips in place, a popular track and field warmup, he was no doubt pondering one last time how he was going to approach his giant of an opponent. Fury and his trainer SugarHill Steward, shirtless under his robe in solidarity with his fighter, had theirs mapped out. Footage of Fury and Steward warming up aired on the television broadcast showed Fury standing tall and firm, less fidgety than usual, feinting with his feet and throwing check hook after check hook. The plan was to turn Whyte with hooks, test the integrity of his guard with jabs and right hands, and wait for the opening for the knockout shot. A simple, effective game plan that showed supreme confidence in Fury’s ability—nothing more than the basics would be needed.
Whyte came to the opposite conclusion. What he was used to doing in the ring wouldn’t be enough to best Fury. As round one began, he came out fighting southpaw, something he has scarcely, if ever done in his career. It’s true that Whyte often fights with both feet pointing forward and his torso square, but rarely is his right foot out front. In the moment, it might have seemed like another in a line of decisions made by Whyte in the preceding week to appear unpredictable, such as not showing up at certain press events, or swapping hats with Fury at the weigh-in. But when the two finally came together in the clinch minutes into the fight after Whyte struggled to land anything of consequence, and Whyte franctically tried to swat Fury behind the head, it indicated something entirely different. Whyte wasn’t trying to make his opponent uncertain of what he was going to do—he didn’t know what exactly he should be doing to connect with consistency.
Which is no slight towards Whyte whatsoever. Any potential game plan formulated against Fury has the potential for disaster. Try to outbox him and you’ll find yourself at the end of an 85-inch reach. Try to pressure him and you may be frozen by feints and outmaneuvered by feet faster than you anticipated. Slug it out with him and you’ll be on the end of a near-300 pound colossus who has morphed into a concussive puncher over the years.
After the fourth round, Steward had the path to the knockout figured out already. He told Fury to start coming around Whyte’s guard, throwing hooks and right hands with a bit of a bend. Whyte had been trying to simply block Fury’s shots, but had also taken up the practice of trying to duck under them with his guard up as well. By making Whyte consider shots landing on the side of his head, Steward concluded that he might start to move his hands outwards to overcompensate, and with his instinct to fall inward, could open up for an uppercut.
At the end of the sixth round, the shot presented itself and Fury struck in an instant, stepping back and landing an uppercut that flattened Whyte for the picturesque finish.
"He was preparing to block the straight," said Fury at the post-fight press conference, miming Whyte's high guard. "So I was touching him there, touching him to the body with the uppercut to the body. And I just slipped to the side and bang, beautiful peach."
American Pie, which Fury also sang after the fight, was clearly chosen for a reason beyond just being one of the tunes Tyson likes to sing at karaoke. The song has produced many interpretations over the years, but in general, it’s a song of nostalgia, of longing for a prior time. Whether you think it’s about the loss of Buddy Holly or the loss of innocence, it’s saying goodbye to something. For Fury, it was an ode to his career, which he suggested could be over.
His talk of retirement had to be taken seriously to a degree, both because he brought it up before and after the fight, and because he has shown in the past that he can walk away from the sport. Also, Fury is just generally capable of doing unpredictable things. Either he was just pulling another Furyesque trick for the sake of adding to his own mythology, something he’s done to great effect throughout his career, or he was preparing as if it could be his last fight, even if he wasn’t sure. He brought back his first boxing coach, Steve Egan, the man who first showed him the ropes at his gym in Wythenshawe, to be in his corner, the ultimate full-circle moment.
But even as he was discussing retirement and trying to sound as convincing as possible, there were always qualifiers. This “might” be my last fight. “If” this is it. In speaking about his growth as a fighter with Steward, he said he’s “becoming” a better fighter, not that he had become a better fighter, avoiding using the past tense. Even Fury’s wife Paris, by whom Tyson is purportedly influenced to retire, told BT Sport following the fight that "the only (thing) would bring him back is the unification fight."
It’s also clear that Fury loves being an entertainer, and no matter how much he fancies singing, he won’t sell 94,000 tickets for a night of his renditions of rock classics. Fury repeatedly insists that money doesn’t matter to him, but reading between the lines, it would appear that performing for people does.
After the final decision was read and the cursory celebratory photos were taken, Fury was leaning over the ropes chatting with his former trainer Ben Davison when he was handed a cell phone by Carl Moretti with his American promoter Bob Arum on the line. In a moment captured by BT Sport cameras, still in the ring, standing in his underwear and a tie, Fury gushed to Arum. After a quick congratulations, Fury immediately asked: "What did you think about the ring walk? It was unbelievable, wasn't it?"
Fury then told Arum that he would be in Las Vegas in two weeks for a few months. Never far from the fans, the cameras, nor the temptation to have another mega-fight—should he actually need the enticement.
Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman