In September Tyson Fury showed up late to a press conference with Wladimir Klitschko dressed as Batman. After circling the room to awkward laughs, he then scuffled with someone wearing a Joker costume before shouting at Klitschko and his trainer and departing to applause. The publicity stunt, delivered with Fury’s brand of clumsy mischief, inspired mixed reviews, though it brought levity to what would have been an otherwise staid proceeding. Later, after Klitschko called a suit-and-tie clad Fury “a clown,” the Britisher made a show of posturing fiercely, only to be subdued by his father, a man who knows the cost of losing it in public. Fury’s display of temper appeared designed to suggest that had John Fury not been there to restrain his son, Klitschko may have had something to worry about.
Weeks later we’re left to ask: does the champion have cause to worry in advance of Saturday’s fight in Düsseldorf? For his part, Klitschko (64-3) appears calm and ready after a calf injury forced the bout’s postponement, while the colossal Fury (24-0) spews apocalyptic dictums, homophobia, and calls to legalize steroids. Maybe the challenger’s theatrics are a ploy, undertaken to strengthen Klitschko’s assessment of him as a “bipolar psychopath” needful of therapy. Or perhaps Fury is just using his newfound platform to work through the issues plaguing his brittle psyche. Whatever their root, none of his antics will be relevant on fight night, when the hype Fury has engineered cedes to the reality of boxing someone whose abilities are vastly superior to his own.
How did Fury even get here? He is undefeated but boasts no sensational wins, his greatest victory having occurred one year ago over a terrible version of Dereck Chisora, a fundamentally mediocre fighter whose stature was possible only by a glaring void of talent at heavyweight. As always, there are reasons for Fury’s rise beyond his exploits in the ring. His presence is partly a matter of personality. He’s an accomplished talker who swallows up camera time and spits out sound bites. His behaviour—a playful aggregate of earnestness, belligerence, self-mythologizing and self-laceration—fuels much of the interest in his career.
His presence in Düsseldorf is also a matter of circumstance. The heavyweight division, which is showing glacial signs of improvement, has been mostly good to the ‘Gypsy King’. He’s distinguished himself in a weak field by maneuvering his way to a clean record, albeit with none of the viciousness that might prompt genuine fear in the Klitschko camp. Fury’s level of competition is not his fault, for he’s both the beneficiary and victim of a bad era; despite his willingness to fight anyone, he’s been granted few chances versus the elite. Two years ago he was slated to perform in a genuine British superfight against David Haye, who eventually pulled out with an injury. Fury has competed on only three occasions since, spending much of his time politicking for a title shot and disparaging Haye and trainer Adam Booth.
Does he stand a chance on Saturday? During the Cotto vs Canelo pay-per-view, HBO, who will broadcast the fight in North America, advertised Fury as a ‘British powerhouse.’ This is deliberately and unquestionably misleading. In spite of his size, Fury is anything but a powerful heavyweight. He doesn’t punch violently, earning stoppages more through attrition than by landing concussive blows. And, while he’s promised repeatedly to knock Klitschko “spark out,” this is difficult to envision. Klitschko’s chin has been subject to mockery but don’t expect him to be rocked by single shots. It’s easier to envision Fury moving inside where he can abuse Klitschko at close proximity in the hope that, as the rounds compile, the champion’s stamina will betray him.
Employing this plan may be the challenger’s only hope. Fury prides himself on foot movement and his ability to switch from orthodox to southpaw on a whim and this may work against a lesser boxer like Christian Hammer, who Fury stung with combinations that were both precise and ungainly. But it would be unwise to launch bombs from long range versus “Dr. Steelhammer,” who will time the challenger and then tee off on Fury’s questionable chin with his devastating jab-power right combination. Fury’s jaw is a far bigger question mark than Klitschko’s, given the fragility it showed after being walloped by light-punching cruiserweight Steve Cunningham, and it is inevitable that it will be checked on Saturday. Only after absorbing harder and more sharply delivered punches than he’s ever felt before will we know if Fury’s durable enough to threaten a man who has ended 53 professional fights with his opponent’s scalp in hand.
But what if Fury somehow wins? It’s a tantalizing prospect, despite its improbability. It would bring more attention to the heavyweight division, even if Fury—who is no better than the middling Deontay Wilder and has far less potential than Anthony Joshua—would be as likely as not to lose his title in his first defense. Most importantly, it would be fun, and the anticipation for Klitschko vs Fury is in some respects more exciting than that what it was for Cotto vs Canelo, a fine but unmemorable fight between two excellent boxers with subdued personalities. Whether it be an unconscious Fury or a shell-shocked Klitschko, there is greater potential for drama here, with a splendorous European stage and a genuine maverick as one of the main actors. At its worst, if the fight becomes a tedious contest of holding, mauling and referee warnings, it cannot be more ugly than some of Wladimir’s recent performances.
Belief in Fury winning might be delusional, but what would be prizefighting without delusion? After all, it is delusion that stokes the fire of Tyson’s faith, self-deception germinating self-belief as every piece of objective evidence argues forcibly against his conviction. With disadvantages in technique, power, and experience, nothing suggests Fury should be the bettor’s choice, though if he’s to be done in, the betrayal will come from his abilities, not his heart. What will make Fury competitive is the degree to which he believes his own lie, as truth is ultimately subjective. And this is where he can seek inspiration in the words of George Costanza, who said, so presciently: “It’s not a lie if you believe it.” —Eliott McCormick