LAS VEGAS — It’s become fashionable to look down one’s nose at modern boxers and say there’s no comparison between them and the legends of the past.
And while that may largely be true, it is decidedly untrue when we’re discussing one Tyson Luke Fury.
What heavyweight in history are you certain would beat this 6-foot-9, 277-pound hulk of a man, who has an uncanny boxing ability, a heart to match his 81-inch frame and an awkward style that is impossible to figure out?
It’s too early in his career and he has too many big fights ahead of him to slap him at the top. But Fury definitely deserves to be in the talks as one of the greatest big men in the sport’s long and sometimes glorious history.
It was a glorious night on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena, as Fury and Deontay Wilder completed their trilogy with the best heavyweight title fight since at least 1992 when Riddick Bowe lifted the undisputed title from Evander Holyfield.
Fury won by stopping Wilder at 1:10 of the 11th round in an epic battle that is up there with the best heavyweight fights ever.
Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier’s epic third fight remains the defining match in heavyweight history. Larry Holmes and Ken Norton put on a memorable battle for the vacant WBC title in 1978. George Foreman outlasted Ron Lyle in a wild 1975 slugfest and Jack Dempsey defeated Luis Angel Firpo in a 1923 bout.
There were others, and it’s personal opinion how you want to rank them, but Fury and Wilder put on a show that will not soon be forgotten. There were five knockdowns Saturday — three by Fury and two by Wilder — in a fight that had a bit of everything. The momentum swings were amazing and left the crowd of 15,820 on the edges of their seats throughout.
“I have never, ever seen a heavyweight fight like this,” said Fury promoter Bob Arum, who has seen more heavyweight fights than most people alive. “Two tremendous warriors.”
Wilder showed incredible heart, absorbing a beating from the fifth round on, but still staying in the battle and going for the home run. Fury, though, was just too good.
But it wasn’t just Wilder he’s too good for. He would have been a match for any heavyweight who ever pulled on a pair of gloves.
There, I said it.
Does he beat all of them? No, but his sheer size alone would create problems for most of them.
Fury was diplomatic and would only say he was the best of this era, which is unquestionably true. But there is little doubt he’d have been one of the elites no matter what era he boxed in, and he might have been the best of many of them.
“That’s the greatest fighter we’ve seen in a long, long time,” Arum said.
Fury’s confidence was never shaken, even when he was dropped by one of the hardest punchers in the history of the sport. The defining moment of the first fight, on Dec. 1, 2018, in Los Angeles, came when Fury rose Lazarus-like from an all-but-certain knockout to not only finish the fight, but to finish it in control.
On Saturday, he got up and fought on after being dropped twice in the fourth. That’s what the great ones do and it is massively short-sighted to not consider him one of the best who has ever done it.
“There have been so many great champions, even the guys from today like Anthony Joshua, Oleksandr Usyk and myself,” Fury said. “Without trying to sound too sharp and clever, I’d place myself right on the top of the pile. I believe I could beat anyone in history. Any man born, I believe I have a really good chance of beating him.
“There is a way to beat Tyson Fury and I’ve said it very, very clearly: You have to knock me spark out. If you can’t do that, I’ll win.”
He walked to Wilder’s corner after the fight and Wilder wanted none of it. Fury said that Wilder told him he didn’t respect him.
Wilder made a lot of unsubstantiated allegations about Fury, but saying that might have been the worst of them. How can one not respect a man who has done what Fury has done and competed as hard as he has?
“I went over to shake his hand and say well done, but he said, ‘No, I don’t respect you,’” Fury said. “How can you say I cheated when you know in your heart, your whole team knows, you just got beaten by a better man? He’s just a sore loser in boxing. I’m sure he’s not the first and he won’t be the last one. But I’ve acted like a gentleman throughout my career and that’s all I can do as a man.”
Wilder made a number of changes after losing the second fight to Fury 20 months ago, including hiring his one-time opponent Malik Scott as his trainer. He was unquestionably better than he was, but it still wasn’t enough.
Wilder, who was taken to a local hospital for a precautionary exam, couldn’t put his finger on where things went wrong.
“I did my best, but it wasn’t good enough tonight,” Wilder said. “I’m not sure what happened. I know that in training he did certain things, and I also knew that he didn’t come in at 277 pounds to be a ballet dancer. He came to lean on me, try to rough me up and he succeeded.”
The thing is, Wilder has nothing to be ashamed of, because he fought bravely and hard and pushed a great fighter to the brink.
He was beaten by a better man, but in that regard, he has company. When you run the list of great heavyweights, Fury is going to stand tall, literally and figuratively, in relation to most of them.