Let’s make a few things clear.
I admire, respect, and yeah… I even like Tyson Fury.
The British big man boxed Wladimir Klitschko’s ears off in a fight I never thought he’d win. He rose from a Deontay Wilder combo that I thought had surely stopped him. And he fought through a mask of bloody adversity on Saturday night that would’ve caused many other men to cede their superiority.
He’s a heavyweight stud on the highest of levels these days.
But while we’re at it, let’s make another thing clear as well.
He’s not the heavyweight champion.
Regardless of how many times Top Rank writes press releases or creates graphics that say so, or how many times clueless ESPN SportsCenter anchors read it from teleprompters – it’s simply not the case.
Oh, he certainly was at one point.
In the moments following the herky-jerky clinic that vanquished long-reigning Ukrainian behemoth Klitschko back in 2015, he was a microphone-grabbing, Aerosmith-bellowing master of all he surveyed.
But then he wasn’t.
When a series of physical, personal and sanctioning demons consecutively combined to snatch his health, his wellness and his collection of gaudy hardware, and forced him to the sidelines for more than 30 months – or 924 days, to be exact – he relinquished any claim to be the king of the division.
Was he still a world-class fighter? Of course.
Did he still warrant legacy consideration for a title shot? Definitely.
But to suggest that he could simply walk away – voluntarily, or not – and return after such a long absence as if nothing at all had changed is patently ridiculous.
Don’t think so?
OK, imagine if the same sort of logic held true in other scenarios.
Peyton Manning exited Levi’s Stadium in February 2016 – a couple months following Fury’s defeat of Klitschko – after winning Super Bowl 50 with the Denver Broncos, then retired. Would he have still had a right to claim world champion status had he decided to come back with the Broncos last season?
Pete Sampras won the 14th Grand Slam singles title of his tennis career at the 2002 U.S. Open, then strode away into competitive inactivity. Had he returned a few years later among the Federers, Nadals and Djokovics of the on-court world, would he have been given an automatic berth into slam finals?
Here’s a hunch… your answers were no, and no.
So why then, is boxing any different?
As it happens, no less a biblical authority than Ring Magazine – yes, the oft-proclaimed savior of all things gloved – has a laundry list of ways via which a fighter it deems a champion can lose his status.
And items No. 3, 4 and 5 on that list happen to stipulate the following:
3) The Champion does not schedule a fight in any weight class for 18 months.
4) The Champion does not schedule a fight at his championship weight for 18 months (even if he fights at another weight).
5) The Champion does not schedule a fight with a Top-5 contender from any weight class for two years.
Lest anyone forget, Fury falls flat on all three requirements.
So, by doing so – regardless of the reason for his absence, or the presence of a worthy successor upon his exit – he abdicates the throne. And if it’s good enough for Ring, it’s good enough for me.
Still, Top Rank and ESPN continue to bang the nonsensical promotional drum.
As the Sunday morning SportsCenter crew fell over itself heralding Fury’s night-before defeat of Otto Wallin – the world’s 26th-best active heavyweight, by the way – the silliness reached epic proportions.
A post-fight list suggested Fury was one of a handful of elite heavyweights who’d defended his title five times while maintaining an unbeaten record.
But while you’re busy contemplating where the Brit belongs among historic names like Holmes, Marciano, Tyson and others, also remember that his other title “defenses” came in wins over the forgettable likes of Sefer Seferi, Francesco Pianeta and Tom Schwarz, and a draw against Wilder in which exactly one of three judges gave him a scorecard nod.
Seferi, a 40-year-old Albanian who’ll fight for the IBO cruiserweight title this weekend, was ranked 50th among heavyweights – according to the Independent World Boxing Rankings – when he got in with Fury in June 2018 and weighed 210 pounds to the so-called champion’s 276.
Pianeta, incidentally, was ranked 69th and Schwarz was 48th when they got their “shots.”
They were 82-5-1 collectively. But had never beaten anyone ranked better than 89th.
Not exactly the Murderers Row of modern big men.
And in other words, the next time Fury defeats a top-10 heavyweight – actually, make that a top-25 heavyweight – in a nearly four-year post-Klitschko run as “champion,” it’ll be the first time.
Now, I can’t pretend to speak for Bob Arum or Jimmy Pitaro, but I’d like a little more from my top guy.
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This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
IBO cruiserweight title – Kempton Park, South Africa
Kevin Lerena (champion/No. 5 IWBR) vs. Sefer Seferi (No. 30 IBO/No. 46 IWBR)
Lerena (23-1, 10 KO): Fifth title defense; Decision wins in five of eight 12-rounders (8-0, 3 KO)
Seferi (23-2-1, 21 KO): First title fight; Never a lost a fight at 200 pounds or less (12-0-1, 11 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Betting on 40-year-old Albanians to win title fights is rarely – if ever – a wise strategy. So, while Seferi has a resume that tops all Lerena’s foes, it likely won’t matter. Lerena by decision (65/35)
Last week's picks: 3-0 (WIN: Ponce, Munguia, Navarrete)
2019 picks record: 73-14 (83.9 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,084-357 (75.2 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.