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IT’S hard not to warm to Tyson Fury 2.0. In his Vegas poolside interview with veteran boxing scribe Steve Bunce this week, the former heavyweight champion and self-proclaimed lineal champ laid out a vision for the future that was so expansive and ambitious it would have made Alexander the Great tremble with uncertainty.
Fury is fighter at the very top of his powers, popularity and confidence — relishing, you can tell, his re-emergence from the personal hell he resided in for two years after his 2015 victory over Wladimir Klitschko in Germany.
Gone is the anger and rage of the previous incarnation, replaced now with the contented wisdom of a man who, per Nietzsche, has gazed into the abyss and stepped back before the abyss gazed back into him.
Thus when he climbs through (or in his case climbs over) the ropes at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to face Sweden’s Otto Wallin on Saturday night, an undefeated opponent whom no-one has ever heard of, he will do so in expectation of 2020 being a bumper year in his inordinately tempestuous career.
His plan for next year, as he relayed it to Bunce, is to face Wilder twice, followed by an all-British showdown with Anthony Joshua, no matter how the latter fares in his rematch against Andy Ruiz Jr in Saudi Arabia on December 7.
You never know with Fury, of course. Unpredictable and impetuous is his natural state. And, too, his exuberance is that of a man who has never tasted defeat inside a boxing ring since turning professional in 2008.
Perhaps, indeed, his buoyancy is at least partly bound up with the fact he knows that barring some unforeseen force majeure, such as tripping over and smashing his head off one of the ring posts and knocking himself out, his undefeated record is guaranteed to remain intact in what to all intents is, tomorrow night, a glorified exhibition bout.
After his epic draw against Deontay Wilder in December, and under the guidance of co-promoters Frank Warren and Bob Arum, Fury has spent 2019 ticking over rather than testing himself in the ring.
This implies no disrespect to either his previous opponent, Tom Schwarz, or to Otto Wallin, his dancing partner tomorrow night. It’s merely an honest assessment of their calibre and pedigree relative to his. It’s like putting a pair of boxing gloves on a sacrificial lamb.
This being said, though, a Fury fight against any opponent is worth staying up for. The man serves up more entertainment than a travelling circus, and that’s before he even gets into the ring.
From him and his team’s perspective, there is method in his tame choices of opponent in 2019. At 31 he’s a seasoned pro — a heavyweight who with longevity in mind is clearly intent on avoiding needless ring wars against higher grade opposition as he prepares for the major fights he’s got planned for next year.
One vital element that’s feeding into Tyson Fury’s rebirth as an elite fighter is the bond he’s forged with trainer Ben Davidson. Watching them work on the pads (mitts) during the customary media workout earlier this week was a study in synergy, harmony and near telepathic understanding.
Fury appeared as sharp and snappy as he’s ever been in the lead-up to a fight, digging in his shots with frightening precision and more power than you would normally associate with him.
As for Otto Wallin, let’s just hope he’s being paid handsomely enough to make his sojourn into Tyson Fury territory worth it. Because as that legendary chronicler of the fight game, AJ Liebling, once put it, “The fighter who dethrones a Pugilant Hero has a hard struggle to win popular acceptance thereafter. Gene Tunney is belittled to this day, particularly by fans who never saw him, simply because he whipped Jack Dempsey. The man who demolishes a concept is never popular.”
Another way of looking at things is that in giving a fighter like Wallin the opportunity to shine on the big stage, Fury is keeping the romance of the story of the underdog alive. In the process of doing so, however, this is a lose-lose fight for Fury.
He’s expected to win on Saturday and win handsomely. If he doesn’t, if he switches off and catches a few shots he shouldn’t, then his stock goes down. And if he does win convincingly, putting on the kind of performance he did against Schwarz back in June, he’ll be accused of fighting bums.
Probably the most surprising thing we can expect tomorrow is Fury’s ring walk. Given that tomorrow night’s fight falls on the weekend before Mexican Independence Day on Monday, who will bet against him entering the ring with a sombrero on his head?
As to the last word, under the circumstances this honour must go to Don King: “If you want to sell a steak, you can’t just have the sizzle, you gotta have sauce.”
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