Tyson Fury concedes he’s a diminished fighter but pledges to beat Usyk with experience in Saudi undisputed boxing clash

The last time Tyson Fury fought a former cruiserweight world champion, he found himself flat on his back, staring up at the bright lights.

The “Gypsy King” brought the braggadocious persona now familiar to fight fans around the world to New York for his US debut at Madison Square Garden Theater in April 2013, against Steve Cunningham, who had been IBF king at 200lbs a year earlier.

Fury goaded his opponent before shipping a monstrous overhand right in the second round. There were more tough moments to follow but, just as American scribes were dusting off their best jokes about horizontal British heavyweights, Fury found a sledgehammer right via some roughhousing with the forearm to score a seventh-round KO.

Embarrassment was averted but it was not the coming out party envisaged. If you’d told anyone in attendance that Fury was a mere three fights away from befuddling and dethroning long-reigning heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, you’d have invited some quizzical looks.

Then again, the WBC champion has always delighted in proving the doubters wrong. There are once more a growing number of them as he prepares to face IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight ruler Oleksandr Usyk. The undisputed title and sporting immortality is on the line for the first time since Lennox Lewis beat Evander Holyfield 24-and-a-half years ago
, and the passage of time is on Fury’s mind.

WATCH: Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk, live on DAZN

“I was probably better back then,” he said of the Cunningham slugfest. “I was younger, in my early 20s, now I’m in my mid 30s. I was a better fighter 12 years ago, I had the fountain of youth — now I have the wisdom instead. 

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“My youth has evaded me and my experience has to take over. I’m no spring chicken. If you look at the greats, when they were 35 they were said to be finished and over the hill. I’ve got to put youth to one side and use my experience and mentality.”

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Pre-fight kidology and Fury’s penchant for wild contradiction mean any such claims should be consumed with a heavyweight helping of salt. But taking the 35-year-old at his word, this fight should have been happening closer to his peak.

Usyk was in the ring after Fury’s one-sided and entirely unnecessary trilogy fight against Derek Chisora in December 2022
. Negotiations for a meeting in 2023 collapsed amid claims and bitter counterclaims from both fighters’ teams. It was only Turki Alalshikh — the 21st Century fight game’s genie and fairy godmother all rolled into one — entered the scene that a vital fight moved closer to reality.

Alalshikh and the Saudi Arabian state have enough money to smooth the edges of any ego, even those in elite boxing. So the match was made, tentatively for December 23 last year. 

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In October, boxing novice Francis Ngannou followed in Cunningham’s footsteps by sending an under-cooked Fury to the canvas for the seventh time in his career
. Fury’s battered pride after a split-decision points win wasn’t as much of a problem as his bruised features, so the fight with Usyk was put back to February 18. Then there was the Briton’s infamous sparring cut
, which brings us finally to a long-delayed fight week.

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Despite this tumult, Alalshikh holds Fury close as “the most beautiful diamond” in his Saudi boxing revolution. If this fight was happening in Las Vegas, you might suggest Usyk was trying to beat the house. In a press conference to promote the undisputed fight in Fury’s hometown of Morecambe, England in April, Alalshikh declared: “We want Tyson for five, seven, 10 fights more.”

Not always noted for his activity, Fury knows this workload would bring a change of intensity to the later years of his career.

“Five years have passed like that, 2019 feels like yesterday,” he said. “My daughter was a little girl and now she’s massive. When you’re doing something and doing your thing, years pass by quite quickly. 

“If it’s 10 fights over the next five years then I want them quickly. If I’m going to have them, let’s rack them up quickly.”

Tyson Fury - Francis Ngannou

(Mikey Williams/Top Rank/GETTY)

WATCH: Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk, live on DAZN

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In that answer, Fury also dismissed his concerns regarding “the negative stuff about staying around and boxing,” but that is not coming from a position of ignorance.

If Fury vs. Usyk catches fire and their contracted rematch enthralls, this era of heavyweight talent will belatedly deliver on its promise. Should a rejuvenated Anthony Joshua get to finally tangle with either or both for Fury and Deontay Wilder, that would be even more true.

But great generations in this division come with cautionary tales. Consider the greatest of them all, Muhammad Ali, and how damaged he and some of his most fearsome foes were in the years after they hung up their gloves.

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“I believe every time you go in the ring you leave with less than you had when you went in,” said Fury, who dominated his three fights with Wilder but was floored four times by arguably the biggest heavyweight puncher of all time. 

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It takes a little bit more out of you, but it’s a good job I live for today and don’t think about the future otherwise I’d be screwed. There is no tomorrow; as Apollo Creed said to Rocky.

“In my faith, there is no tomorrow. Jesus said he’d come back like a thief in the night, no time, date or hour so be prepared and live for today because tomorrow ain’t promised. 

“There are a few people I’ve known who went to bed and didn’t wake up, so every day is a blessing. I take that and enjoy every day. Whenever people ask how I am, I say I’m alive, which is a good start.”

Irrespective of how he has tried to play it down at various points, it’s unlikely that Fury — a fighting man to his core — will ever have felt more alive than in those final, adrenaline-spewing moments before walking to the ring to face the magnificent Usyk and a long-delayed date with destiny.

“It’s always been one fight at a time, every fight is a big fight,” he added. “I remember when I became novice ABA [British Amateur] champion with under 10 fights — that was a big moment for me. Then, when I became senior champion, that was a big moment. Then English, British, European — so I suppose this is a big moment also.”

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