Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk is no boxing circus act, it’s the real deal

Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk are set to meet for boxing’s undisputed world heavyweight championship on Saturday in Riyadh, and the encounter will make a bit of history, as it is the first time in boxing’s “four-belt era” that the heavyweight division will see one man holding the WBC, WBA, IBF, and WBO titles at the same time.

The 35-year-old Fury (34-0-1, 24 KO) brings the WBC title to the fight, as well as having largely been recognized as the sport’s top heavyweight — when active, at least — since his 2015 win over Wladimir Klitschko, the previous leader of a division that hasn’t had a proper king since the turn of the century.

During his tenure as a top star for the division and the sport, Fury has been in with all manner of opponent, including feared puncher Deontay Wilder, against whom the self-styled “Gypsy King” went 2-0-1 in a trilogy of bouts between 2018 and 2021, knocking Wilder out in the latter two after a highly controversial draw in their first meeting.

Fury has faced tall guys, (relatively) short guys, punchers, novelty novices, legitimate contenders, and unknown paycheck-cashers. He has not, however, faced anyone quite so accomplished or skilled as Usyk, the Ukrainian who has been a pound-for-pound standout since winning his first world title as a cruiserweight back in 2016.

While Fury stands a billed 6-foot-9 that is probably closer to 6-foot-7 in reality, and tips the scales anywhere between 255 and 280 pounds, Usyk (21-0, 14 KO) has not leaned on such obvious physical advantages. Instead, he has become a unified heavyweight champion because he’s simply a great boxer, truly dedicated to his craft, and who has sought out challenges, which is unfortunately rare in the boxing landscape.

One of the great amateurs of his generation, which included an Olympic gold medal in 2012, Usyk became undisputed cruiserweight champion as a professional in 2018. Just over a year later, he was testing the waters as a heavyweight, which is easier fantasized about than done while remaining a top fighter and not an also-ran.

Fury, obviously, will have a significant size advantage in Riyadh. Whatever his true height, he’s significantly taller than the 6-foot-3 Usyk, who has come in just about 220 pounds for his last three bouts as a heavyweight, including two wins over Anthony Joshua, also a much bigger man.

The saying in boxing is that “styles make fights.” Usyk is probably the most skilled man in today’s heavyweight division, a pure boxer without equal among his peers, but he is not invincible. He hasn’t trounced his opponents at heavyweight, but he is slicker, smarter, and sharper than those he’s faced so far.

Then there’s Fury, who for as much as he talks and gets attention being a polarizing figure, is not just bigger, but also a savvy, capable boxer himself, someone who can box the ears off most foes, which then combines with his size to create what has thus far been an unbeatable package.

Questions on the Usyk side are mostly about his height and weight. On the Fury side, there are some wondering if he’s simply past his best days, citing his most recent bout, a 2023 win over Francis Ngannou that came with far more struggle than it should have, given it was the best heavyweight boxer on the planet against a former UFC champion who had exactly zero boxing bouts to his name. The fact that Anthony Joshua absolutely torched Ngannou about five months later just made Fury’s skeptics louder.

It should be expected that Fury, who was visibly not in top shape for the Ngannou fight, is taking Usyk more seriously. Usyk has never been accused of taking any fight lightly, let alone this, the biggest fight of his career, the end goal of end goals from the day he went pro in this sport.

Fury is the favorite, and the reasons are sound. Usyk, though, is a legitimate threat, someone who may have to be perfect (or close to it) to get the win here, but has the talent and drive to do just that, even if Fury is the best he can be at this stage of his own career.

This, then, is a fight not just capturing the public’s interest through marketing, but through what it may actually be between the bells. This is no novelty, and these are not YouTubers or grandfathers feebly rekindling the fires of their stardom from eras long in the past. The two best heavyweights in the world meet on Saturday for all the marbles, and the fight could actually be as good and as memorable as the salesmanship.

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