It has been fifty years since a young, brash heavyweight named Cassius Clay, shook up the world by defeating the intimidating Sonny Liston to win the world heavyweight title. The fight ushered in a golden era for the heavyweights with a division characterised by strength in depth something lacking in the modern era.
The heavyweight scene may have lost some of its glamour but the build up to Wladimir Klitschko’s (64-3, 53 KOs) defence of his WBA/IBF/WBO/IBO titles against Tyson Fury (24-0 18 KOs) in Dusseldorf on the 28th November has provided a much needed shot of adrenaline for boxing’s premier division.
Fury, who describes himself as a modern day Muhammad Ali, has captured the public’s imagination making this the most talked about heavyweight fight in recent memory, at least on this side of the Atlantic. He does share some similarities with the most famous heavyweight boxer in history. He exudes supreme confidence and utilises psychological warfare as a key part of his arsenal even if his love for trash talking often takes him into controversial corners.
Despite turning up to the pre-fight press conference in a Lamborghini, dressed as Batman, and proceeding to run riot, knocking out ‘the Joker,’ in front of an audience of journalists before telling Klitschko he would do the same to him when they meet in the ring, it would be foolish to regard Fury as a clown.
Beneath the brash exterior and the exaggerated claims of greatness Fury is a young fighter hungry for success. He genuinely believes it is his destiny to be heavyweight champion of the world. He has taunted Klitschko by calling him an old man, saying he will knock him out and even labelling him a ‘devil worshipper.’ When the fight was postponed last month after Klitschko suffered a calf injury the more cynical boxing fans believed the challenger had got under the skin of the champion and that he was running scared.
For Klitschko this represents his 19th title defence, bringing him another step closer to Joe Louis heavyweight record of 25 defences. For nearly twenty years he has dominated the heavyweight division, as one half of the Klitschko brothers but at 39 years old there are a number of people who are predicting a changing of the guard.
Britain may not have be blessed with a wealth of talent in the heavyweight division but Tyson Fury has done enough in recent years to be considered the best the nation has to offer. He is the former Irish, British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight champion and he has beaten Martin Rogan, Dereck Chisora (twice) and the former world title challenger Kevin Johnson.
Fury may be prone to showboating and playing to the crowd as his last fight a stoppage victory over Christian Hammer demonstrated but he can also turn on the style when he is motivated. When he fought Kevin Johnson he utilised his jab, movement and demonstrated a variety of punches to turn in an impressive performance. In the past Fury has looked fleshy in certain fights raising questions about his training, but in his preparations for the Klitschko fight he looks in the best shape of his career. It has convinced a number of analysts including Sky Sports Glenn McCrory that Fury has a real chance of beating the champion.
Fury represents physically the biggest challenge Klitschko has ever faced in his career. The 27 year old stands at a towering 6’9 and weighs on average 250 pounds. Klitschko, normally the bigger man in fights is giving away three inches in height and a four inch reach advantage to his opponent. Despite the majority of his opponents being significantly smaller than him, Fury has fought four opponents that stand over 6’5 and he has knocked them all out. The most impressive of these individual performances was when Fury stopped the 6’7 Scott Belshaw in two rounds in only his sixth professional fight.
The tale of the tape indicates that Klitschko will potentially have his hands full with the undefeated Fury. In a professional career that stretches back to 1996 Wladimir Klitschko has tasted defeat three times. Each loss has been by way of knockout.
Wladimir’s first loss in 1998 to the unheralded Ross Puritty was as a result of failing to adequately pace himself in his first fight in his home country of Ukraine. His second loss in 2003 came at the hands of the late South African Corrie Sanders. During that fight a short left from Sanders dropped Klitschko towards the end of the first round. He visited the canvas three more times before it was waved off in the second. His third loss a year later to 7-1 underdog Lamon Brewster came as a result of a series of left hooks in the fifth round which resulted in a devastating knockout. Wladimir avenged this loss in 2007 with a sixth round stoppage of Brewster but the blueprint for a Fury victory may lie in the Sanders and Brewster fights.
Fury has outlined his tactics for the fight saying that it will take more than one approach to win the fight. Given his size advantage he could stalk the ring and absorb the champion’s punches hoping for Klitschko to tire as he did in the Puritty fight but this was a novice mistake and is unlikely to be repeated. The best tactics that Fury can employ are to stand within mid-range of Klitschko’s punches, cover up and seize the opportunity when he can to unload left hooks. It proved successful for the smaller Sander and Brewster and it may just be key to a Fury victory.
On paper the odds stack up favourably for Tyson Fury, but before we all get carried away with a massive upset, let’s just consider the Klitschko’s credentials as he is one of the most dominant heavyweight champions in history.
Klitschko may be giving away height and reach advantages to his opponent but in his career he has faced four opponents who have matched him in height and he has knocked them all out. The only opponent bigger than Klitschko was Poland’s Mariusz Wach who challenged him for the heavyweight title in 2012. Wladimir was wobbled in the fifth by Wach but otherwise he dominated the challenger consistently landing the best combination in his repertoire a thudding left jab and a booming over hand right. Klitschko secured a unanimous points decision and demonstrated why his technical ability as a fighter separates him from most heavyweights.
Another reason why Klitschko has been so dominant is the influence of his late trainer Emmanuel Steward. The legendary trainer helped Klitschko rebuild his career in the aftermath of the Sanders and Brewster losses and his tutelage has ensured that Klitschko no longer makes the fundamental mistakes that led to those losses.
In re-watching the Sanders and Brewster losses it is clear than Klitschko was eager to land his power punches, often lunging in and leaving himself exposed defensively. Steward must have made fundamental changes to the Ukrainian fighters style because in the fights since then you will notice that Wladimir will land a combination and then take a half step back out of range. He has also turned into a master of the clinch.
Klitschko has arguably developed a habit of abusing the clinch in fights. In two of his recent title defences against Alexander Povetkin and Byrant Jennings Klitschko was deducted points for excessive holding. It illustrates that Wladimir is not averse to using the dark arts in boxing; holding, leaning, pushing and even wrestling to ensure victory in the ring.
At 39 years old Klitschko has nothing left to prove in boxing, which raises certain questions about his motivation as he enters the autumn of his career. His last defence in April against Bryant Jennings, a fighter who had only taken up boxing six years ago, was considered his toughest fight in a long time. Jennings used his movement to avoid Klitschko’s big right hand while the fight was marred by Wladimir’s excessive holding in the clinch. The timing may be right for Fury to dethrone the champion but rest assured Klitschko will be motivated to deliver a stellar performance in Germany.
Klitschko, who holds a PhD in sports science often gets labelled as arrogant and aloof. On the contrary, Klitschko is an intelligent and proud man and it is apparent that he does not like Fury’s conduct in the build up to this title bout. For a consummate professional like Klitschko, he would view Fury’s face pulling, boasting and controversial comments as dragging boxing down into the gutter. If nothing else the Klitschko’s have restored some class to the heavyweight division in the last twenty years and Wladimir does not like it when his opponents fail to show him some respect.
David Haye paid the price for wearing a T-shirt depicting himself holding the decapitated heads of the Klitschko brothers in the build up to his 2011 fight with Wladimir. Haye was schooled by the Ukrainian over twelve rounds. More recently the Bulgarian challenger Kubrat Pulev paid the price for taunting Wladimir in their 2014 bout which led to him being dropped four times, all by left hooks, before being finally being counted out on his back in five rounds. It was a spectacular performance and shows what Wladimir is capable of when motivated.
Fury will need to be careful as he has never faced anyone with anything near to the power Wladimir Klitschko carries. Fury has been knocked down twice in his career, but in both fights he has come back to win by knockout. His most recent visit to the canvas in a 2013 fight was courtesy of the then 37 year old former IBF World cruiserweight champion, Steve Cunningham, now campaigning as a heavyweight. A looping right hand dropped Fury in the second, but he recovered to stop Cunningham in the seventh with his own right hand. The overhand right is one of Klitschko’s deadliest weapons and Fury will have to be careful to avoid it.
This fight is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing heavyweight clashes of recent memory. Given his size, power and unpredictability, Tyson Fury has a legitimate chance to win the world title. In heavyweight boxing anything can happen, and although many people do not take him serious because of his antics, Fury is a real threat to the champion.
However, Klitschko is one of the longest reigning heavyweight champions in history for good reason. Technically he is one of the finest fighters on the planet never mind the heavyweight division. He knows how to win fights by any means necessary.
There are a number of potential scenarios that could play out during the course of the fight. Fury may mount an early attack or he may settle into the role of counter puncher. Either way expect Klitschko is resort to holding and tying up his opponent in the clinch. He will also aim to use his most effective weapons his jab, right cross and left hook. Fury has only gone twelve rounds twice in his career, he will be in the best shape of his life but whether he can maintain a high tempo for twelve rounds with the champion remains to be seen. His best option may be to use his size and movement and hope he can land a hurtful left hook.
Size matters in the heavyweight division and a good big man will nearly always beat a good small man, only in this case the better boxer is the smaller man. For all his bragging and size it is hard to see Fury capitulating Klitschko in the ring. It should be a tough fight, maybe even controversial at points, but Klitschko is the classier more technical fighter. The most probable outcome is a wide point’s decision in favour of the champion. If Klitschko is really fired up by Fury’s comments in the lead up to this then we may see a late stoppage victory.
Whatever the outcome one thing for sure is that Tyson Fury knows how to sell a fight. He has single handily re-ignited the public’s interest in heavyweight boxing with the simplest of strategies, something he probably borrowed from Ali. Everyone loves a man to hate, the mouth piece, the bully the bad guy. Klitschko is cast as the good guy in this piece of sports theatre and Fury is the villain. It all adds up to a crazy pantomime of violence but one thing is for certain this is shaping up to be one of the most anticipated heavyweight fights in a long time.