Fury Withdraws, but What Next?
By: Eric Lunger
Last year in late November, Tyson Fury shocked the boxing world by out pointing the long-reigning heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko at the Esprit Arena in Dusseldorf, Germany. It was a strange fight, with Fury taunting the champion, bobbing and jerking with his giant 6’ 9’’ frame, dropping his left had to his waist, doing everything he could to baffle Klitschko. And he did. It was a bizarre fight, not exactly a pretty one, but in its own strange way, a brilliant performance. I don’t think anyone doubted that Tyson had won.
Saturday, Tyson Fury shocked the boxing world again, this time by withdrawing from the rematch against Klitschko for a second time. In a press release, notable for its vagueness and passive voice, his camp stated that Fury “has been declared medically unfit to fight” and that unspecified “medical specialists advised that the condition is too severe to allow him to participate in the rematch.” There is no mention of what “the condition” might be. Some British media outlets began at once to speculate that the condition was a mental health issue, more specifically depression. Some have, without attribution, already alleged that Fury checked himself into a clinic, despite the fact that Fury was ringside for the Crolla vs. Linares fight on Saturday evening.
Fury has been a bizarre champion and is difficult to like. He presents an odd combination of bluster and confidence mixed with self-pity and resentment. He wears his Irish Traveller heritage with pride, but also as a source of perceived hatred and persecution. He has embarrassed himself with some homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic comments. But most baffling for American boxing fans is the Traveller aspect of Fury’s identity. Travellers are “gypsies,” or more properly Roma. The Roma originate from continental Europe while Irish Travellers arose as a separate community in Ireland. Roma and Travellers face widespread and pervasive discrimination in most of Europe, where they are stereotyped as thieves and petty criminals. Added to this mix in the person of Tyson Fury is a Pentecostal Christianity which fuels some of his more reactionary statements, about the place of women in society, for example.
All of this is not to disparage Tyson Fury or to claim to know what is going on in his mind. But it does illustrate the fact that he is not a marketable kind of champion, certainly not for the jewel of the boxing crown, the heavyweight division, and certainly not for the current climate where boxing struggles to compete with other combat sports. This brings us back to the withdrawal from the Klitschko rematch. If the fight is truly off, the next question is this: will Fury be stripped of the two belts he still holds? Then things get interesting. Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sports (who promotes Anthony Joshua, the IBF champion) told SkySports on Saturday that his team wanted the winner of the rematch, and more specifically wanted to fight Tyson Fury. Why? Pretty obvious that a unification bout between two British fighters — the odd and controversial Fury from Manchester vs. the charismatic and popular Anthony Joshua — would be a incredible fight, especially in the UK and especially for British fans.
But Hearn also tweeted on Saturday that he had already contacted the Klitschko camp on the possibility of a Klitschko vs. Joshua fight on Joshua’s open November 26th date. Wouldn’t that be interesting? Complicating matters further is that fact that the IBF mandatory opponent for Joshua is Joseph Parker (20-0, 17 KO’s) from New Zealand. Would Eddie Hearn really want to put Joshua in the ring against Klitschko, at this point in AJ’s career? He is only 26 years old, and his last two fights against an unimpressive Charles Martin (1st round TKO) and an overmatched Dominic Breazeale (7th round TKO) were certainly not world-class level.
Other questions abound. Where is Luis Ortiz? The slick and powerful Cuban southpaw may lack the visibility of the British heavyweights, but he is a dangerous opponent with 22 KO’s in 25 professional fights, has a brilliant skill set, and is fun to watch. Though Ortiz is 37 years old, he currently sits 4th on The Ring Magazine’s heavyweight ratings, one ahead of Anthony Joshua, for what that’s worth. He dismantled Bryant Jennings (19-1) in December of last year, but has had nothing but a stay-busy fight since then.
And finally, what about Deontay Wilder (37-0, 36 KO’s) who currently holds the WBC belt? The Bronze Bomber, an Olympic Bronze medalist from 2008, has only boxed twelve rounds once in his professional career, beating Bermane Stiverne in a unanimous decision in January of 2015. Wilder is powerful and athletic, but one wonders what kind of defense he has. Has he really been tested? Hailing from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Deontay would be a favorite with American fans, and his backstory is as inspirational (and genuine) as they come.
But if the center of gravity of the heavyweight division remains in the UK, American fight fans, as well as Luis Ortiz supporters, may be facing a long wait to see their men in the mix. But one thing is for sure, Tyson Fury has roiled the boxing waters once again.