As Dorothy Parker almost said: “If all the British heavyweights in history were laid out end to end, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.” And they laughed when Tyson Fury said he was going to destroy Deontay Wilder. They’re not laughing now – as Bob Monkhouse almost said.
In less than 20 minutes in front of a stunned audience at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday night, Fury not only confirmed the dark days for British heavyweights are ancient fistic history but he moved alongside Lennox Lewis in the domestic pecking order and, more pertinently, edged ahead of Anthony Joshua.
Winning the WBC title Wilder had held through 10 defences in the way that he did – by coming at the American like “a raging bull” and stopping him in seven rounds on enemy turf – Fury earned the right to be regarded as the best heavyweight in the world.
While Joshua holds the other three recognised belts he lost in desultory fashion last year to his fat controller, Andy Ruiz Jr, before gaining revenge against an even fatter version of the title holder. Joshua has more belts but he is damaged goods, and that will play into negotiations for the inevitable unification showdown with Fury.
If greed and boxing politics can be parked at the door – a huge “if” – they should meet at Wembley or Cardiff in the summer, unless the desert billionaires of Saudi Arabia come calling again. Sky Sports and BT Sport, with their various American partners, will begin wrangling for the TV rights even before Fury boards a plane in Las Vegas to return to Manchester.
There are obstacles. Joshua is expected to announce this week he will make his IBF mandatory defence against Kubrat Pulev; then he has until 4 June to put his WBO title on the line against Oleksandr Usyk. Both challengers would need big money to step aside; both are dangerous opponents.
Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, is willing to offer Fury an even split of revenues. “I promise you we’ll do everything we can to make this fight happen,” he told TalkSport on Sunday morning. “You can’t take anything away from his value, the pull, the draw, the performances, everything. For the first time, there is a deal to be done, straightforward and simple. The parties involved will say, yes, let’s roll the dice.”
Fury’s promoter, Frank Warren, listened to Hearn’s words and responded: “I’ve said all along, let’s make it a 50-50 deal. I have no problem with that. Now they need Tyson Fury. But in 30 days Deontay Wilder could invoke a rematch.”
That is unlikely, as a third fight would be a tough sell. Warren was right to insist, however: “Anyone who knows anything about boxing knows Tyson is No 1. We will make the fight but at the moment Hearn’s got his nose pressed up against the window looking in.”
Wherever and whenever it happens, Fury will start favourite. Before he stopped Wilder so emphatically, he described the event as the biggest in the heavyweight division since the Fight Of The Century between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden in 1971, forgetting, apparently, both the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974 and the Thrilla in Manila in 1975.
Nevertheless, he delivered. He demoralised the unbeaten knockout monster. From the first bell, he broke Wilder’s rhythm then his heart. He busted his eardrum and his aura. He took away his space and his self-confidence. He dropped him twice, to head and body, and he forced his corner to throw in a bloodied white towel. Inarguably, Fury turned in the best performance by a British heavyweight since … well, take your pick.
Tommy Farr scaring Joe Louis over 15 rounds at Yankee Stadium in 1937? Better than that. Lennox Lewis beating Evander Holyfield in their 1999 rematch? Likewise. Lewis beating a washed-up Mike Tyson in Memphis in 2002? Way better than that. Fury beating Wladimir Klitschko in Stuttgart five years ago? Closer.
Given Klitschko ruled the division for a decade, Fury can claim to own the two best performances by a British heavyweight, certainly away from home. And few were thinking that beforehand – except Fury, and those close to him, including his cousin, Andy Lee. Most pundits – including this one – went with a Wilder stoppage. We were wrong.
There is no fighter like him, although once there was. Fury’s swagger brings to mind another heavyweight of Irish heritage, Jack Doyle, who swung hard, sang beautifully and for a lucrative living in the 1930s, and who loved with enthusiasm, from Cork to Hollywood. He knocked out his share of opponents, then himself.
Doyle, who was in the grip of drink, ill-discipline and a raging libido most of his life, often reminded detractors of his freewheeling existence, “A generous man never went to hell.” He died alone and destitute in a London flat in 1978, 10 years before Fury was born. The new champion, who has battled mental illness and addiction to alcohol and drugs, entered the arena on Saturday to the strains of Patsy Cline’s Crazy. He sang the gathering out with American Pie. Even Bob Arum and Frank Warren sang along.
“A long, long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while …”