April 15, 2024

The eye-opening nature of Tyson Fury’s one-punch knockout of Dillian Whyte last weekend in front of 94,000 fans in London reminded boxing fans of two things: “The Gypsy King” remains the face of this renaissance heavyweight era regardless of how many titles he has and Fury could be on his way toward inclusion among the sport’s greatest in history.

Just how historically relevant Fury has become, however, is a topic undergoing much debate this week in and around barber shops and boxing podcasts alike.  

Fury (32-0-1, 23 KOs) defended his WBC and lineal crowns with relative ease against the battle-tested Whyte (28-3, 19 KOs), finishing him off with a beautiful right uppercut in Round 6. The performance fully showcased the champion’s continued evolution from pure boxer to power puncher under the tutelage of trainer SugarHill Steward and only raised the excitement levels for Fury to eventually face the winner of this summer’s Oleksandr Usyk-Anthony Joshua rematch for undisputed supremacy.  

The victory was also just another feather in the cap for Fury, a native of England, whose life and career arc have become almost Paul Bunyan-esque for how improbable they truly are.

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Look no further than Fury’s lost weekend throughout 2016 and 2017 when he vacated his trio of world titles after upsetting Wladimir Klitschko and ballooned up to 400 pounds amid depression and substance abuse. The fact that Fury even recovered from that, let alone returned to capture the heavyweight title feels like a tall tale of its own. Add in the fact that Fury fights like a middleweight despite his 6-foot-9 frame while sporting a full-time “dad bod” only adds to the growing legend of this atypical prize fighter.  

So, it would only be fair that the 33-year-old Fury’s case for potential inclusion into boxing’s upper room of greatest heavyweight champions would be just as abnormal.  

At first glance, no, it remains far too premature to include Fury in any kind of top 5 or 10 list because of just how lacking his resume is on elite names since turning pro in 2008. The demolition of Whyte certainly pairs nicely for Fury with his upset of Klitschko and his 2-0-1 record against Deontay Wilder (including two by stoppage) as career highlights. But supporting wins against Steve Cunningham, Dereck Chisora (twice) and a tougher-than-expected affair against Otto Wallin simply aren’t enough.  

Fury’s career up to this point might be just as notable for the fighters he didn’t end up fighting than the ones we are lucky enough to have seen.

In addition to the three-year gap between the Klitschko and Wilder fights, he lost 2019 to soft matchmaking before sitting out an additional 18 months during the pandemic between the second and third fight with Wilder. Even before he fought Klitschko, Fury lost most of 2013 when a scheduled challenge opposite former champion David Haye fell apart multiple times due to Haye’s injuries.  

And then there’s the Klitschko rematch from 2016 that Fury initially pulled out of due to a sprained ankle until it was later revealed he had failed a pre-fight drug test for cocaine. Fury was also suspended after testing positive for a banned steroid in a 2015 test that wasn’t made public until after he announced he was quitting the sport.  

Although the division is deeper than it has been in two decades, Fury’s side-trappings prevented him from facing a number of title contenders and former champions that could’ve bolstered his case, like Luis Ortiz, Alexander Povetkin, Joseph Parker, Andy Ruiz Jr., Carlos Takam and Kubrat Pulev, just to name a few. Fury somehow even never fought his trash-talking rival David Price, a 6-foot-8 puncher who defeated Fury in the amateurs and once held big promise as a pro prospect until his chin issues forced retirement.  

Fury may have been masterful in his biggest wins, particularly in his stretch after his lengthy exile, but that doesn’t change how inconsistent he was in his initial rise to the title as both his weight and commitment regularly fluctuated.

Heavyweights considered among the best of all-time

*Fighters are listed in no particular order

Muhammad Ali

56-5 (37 KOs)

Joe Louis

66-3 (52 KOs)

Rocky Marciano

49-0 (43 KOs)

Wladimir Klitschko

64-5 (53 KOs)

Lennox Lewis

41-2-1 (32 KOs)

Jack Dempsey

64-6-9 (5 KOs)

Jack Johnson

68-11-11 (34 KOs)

Joe Frazier

32-4-1 (27 KOs)

George Foreman

76-5 (68 KOs)

Evander Holyfield

44-10-1 (29 KOs)

But that’s only half of the debate. And while the other side of the coin is a bit more of a hipster argument given the unknowns at play (and the imagination one needs to rely upon the eye test), Fury’s case is still pretty strong as far as any mythical matchups are concerned.  

Forget the debate of whether a 6-foot-9 heavyweight with quick feet and an 85-inch reach could compete in any given era. Fury is a unicorn even by the standards of the current super heavyweight era, which former champions like Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe helped usher in during the 1990s.

Fury can switch stances at will and outbox an opponent just as capably as he can rely on his toughness to stand in and trade against bigger punchers. If there was ever a weakness in Fury’s game beyond his self-sabotaging tendencies outside of the ring, he has even patched up that hole by improving his power and figuring out how to become a knockout threat.  

The juxtaposition of Fury’s size mixed with his pound-for-pound great skill and IQ means he would be a handful for just about every heavyweight from Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey to Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali, even if you don’t outright favor him to win each one. That’s a currency that goes a long way within boxing debates and could help Fury’s long-term chances, particularly if he should retire unbeaten.

Rocky Marciano once pulled off the same feat when he retired in 1956 at age 31 with a 49-0 record and has routinely sat within the top 10 of history’s best heavyweights. Yet at 5-foot-10 and only 188 pounds, no one is going to believe Marciano could ever compete against modern stars that are so much bigger.  

It’s a problem Fury simply doesn’t have, which is why he needs to be focused from here on out and trying to equal or exceed the resume of the greats like Marciano he would need to pass for entry into heavyweight immortality.  

Which brings us to Fury’s most recent flirtation with walking way again. While his intentions of keeping a potential promise to his wife Paris to retire seem pure, it’s just difficult to believe Fury would ever go through with it.  

A fighting man to his core who claims to be a descendent of bare knuckle champions within his Irish Traveler heritage, Fury is too much of a competitor to vacate his titles after coming this far only to watch somebody else become the first undisputed champion of the four-belt era.  

Fury appears much more interested in going the exhibition route, likely for the suspected windfall of money that could come from a mixed rules bout against UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou. But somewhere along the way, Fury will need to make his own decision about completing the unfinished business still in front of him.  

While he can do nothing to change the past about who he has fought, Fury could improve his all-time argument so much better by committing a few years to active competition in order to add as many elite remaining victories as possible. That starts with the undisputed championship bout that simply can’t be overlooked as a negative strike against him should he decide to hang it up.  

Knowing Fury’s history of going against the current, his next move is truly anybody’s guess. But make no mistake, he’s on the cusp of history thanks to his recent run and he might be the only one who is able to derail that should he decide against maximize his time remaining.  

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