The countdown is officially underway. On February 17th, rival champions Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury will meet in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and boxing will finally crown an undisputed heavyweight champion.
Usyk and Fury have been in each other’s company a few times over the years. WBC champion, Fury, has hugged, praised, dismissed and ridiculed his rival but despite his best efforts, he has been unable to get much of a rise out of the Ukrainian.
At the official launch press conference, the pair came face to face for the final time before fight week and - once again - Usyk sat quietly and let Fury talk.
The IBF, WBA, IBO and WBO heavyweight champion hasn’t taken offence at Fury’s attempts to rile him up. For him it is all part of the business.
“Yes, of course I respect Tyson Fury as a boxer and a man, but it’s just respect,” Usyk told Sky Sports.
Asked if he feels ‘The Gypsy King’ respects him in return, Usyk doesn’t know and doesn’t particularly care.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said.
We are still three months away from crowning the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis beat Evander Holyfield back in 1999.
Elite fighters like Usyk are masters at knowing exactly how to time their fight preparation so that they answer the first bell in as good a mental and physical condition as possible.
As the weeks pass, the large figure of Fury will begin to dominate Usyk’s thoughts and every days training activities will be focused on finding a way to beat the 6ft 9in tall switch hitter. For the time being however, Usyk isn’t wasting too much energy worrying about Fury specifically. He is mentally gearing himself up for the hard, gruelling work he knows is to come.
“I’m not thinking of Tyson Fury and I‘ll tell you why. I have an extraordinarily difficult camp ahead,” he said. “I’m not thinking of the fight, I’m thinking of the sparring I have to go through. The swimming, the running and all the other things I have to go through in training camp. I don’t think about Tyson Fury and the only reason I have him in my mind is because I see him here, walking through the corridors.”
Usyk may be able to banish Fury to the back of his mind until he decides the time is right to summon him forward but he is convinced that Fury won’t be able to do the same.
“I am already in his head. You’ll have to ask him why to be sure but I’m probably singing and dancing in his head.”