THE LION'S DEN: WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO VS TYSON FURY
No series acknowledging the salient away performances of British fighters would be complete without mention of Tyson Fury. In the lineage of great ‘Lion’s Den’ prevailments, Fury’s recent-history inclusion harks not to 2020’s dethroning of former WBC heavyweight champion, Deontay Wilder – given how it could be reasonably argued that Fury was more at home in the United States than the native champion himself – but back to November 28th, 2015. Yes, dear reader, reminisce with me back to the year when Mayweather defeated Pacquiao, Bruce became Caitlyn and a little known businessman called Donald decided to run for the US presidency; a time when, to borrow IFL TV’s nomenclature, the beef, though still 'raw' but perhaps now beginning to turn, tasted just a little more authentic.
Indeed, to watch IFL videos which date back to around this time (2013-2015) would be to treat yourself to the halcyon days of boxing media’s relationship with fighters and reportage. Less of the cloak and dagger adulteration for likes, access and retweets, less industry sycophancy and insincerity. Here first appears the comfortable repartee between Tyson and Kugan, the latter teasing answers and insight from the former in the relaxed way that two friends would converse over a golf ball. These videos also time stamp and betray insight into the events which preceded the culmination of Fury’s career apotheosis – having his hand raised in Dusseldorf and the acapella singing of ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ – and these events are as follows…
Tyson Fury had been stalking the challenge of Wladimir Klitschko since 2013, when he defeated both Steve Cunningham (KO 7) and Kevin Johnson (UD) in world title eliminator fights. He would regularly taunt Klitschko in both print and video interviews, continually reiterating his intent to face him, whilst also suggesting that the Ukrainian would instead rather retire than live with the inevitability of losing.
Eschewing a chance to fight Kubrat Pulev for the mandatory opportunity to fight Klitschko, in favour of a more lucrative all-British-contest against David Haye, Fury was then twice left frustrated and profane, as Haye would withdraw firstly from a cut received in sparring, and secondly with a shoulder injury which would require extensive surgery - sufficient enough for the operating surgeon to advise him to retire - keep him from the ring for a two year period and from which he would never fully recover.
Fury, thus losing his position in world rankings, was then subsequently forced to face Derek Chisora in a third world title eliminator fight, a rematch of their 2011 contest in which had Fury become British and Commonwealth champion. Winning this rematch via RTD, as Chisora’s corner withdrew their charge at the end of the 10th round, in his typical bullish humour, Fury then used the post-fight interview to smirkingly declare, ‘Wladimir Klitschko, I’m coming for you, baby. I’m coming. No retreat. No surrender,’ though, as his promoter Mick Hennessy soon swiftly caveated, Fury would fight once more before meeting Klitschko, defeating Christian Hammer on the 28th February, 2015 at London’s 02 Arena.
By comparison, Ukraine's Wladimir Klitschko had be busy accruing a substantial professional record, which by the time he faced Fury had already swollen to 64-3. His last professional loss had been to Lamon Brewster in 2004, and he had been an undefeated world champion since 2006. Defences included KO victories over Rahman (50-9-2), Chambers (42-5), Peter (38-9), Mormeck (37-6), Thompson (40-7) and Pulev (28-1), and unanimous decision success over David Haye (28-4), Alexander Povetkin (35-2-1) and, immediately preceding the Fury fight, Bryant Jennings (24-4). Of those 64 victories, 53 had come by way of knockout, earning him, a doctor of sports science with a concussive right hand, the deserved moniker ‘Dr Steelhammer’.
To elide two distinct mythologies, Tyson’s proposed task was to therefore be Herculean, and one which would engender a physical confrontation fought between two warring Goliaths.
The build-up was pay-per-view worthy alone. Fury scorned Wladimir throughout, regularly describing his style and personality as ‘boring’, his dominant record as only ‘reigning supreme over a load of bums’ and his public identity as ‘robotic and manufactured’. We heard anecdotes pertaining to a previously shared training camp, the most enduring of which describing a sauna session in which Fury reflected that he would rather have died than exit before Wladimir, knowing that because the champion had eventually departed first, he had thus already conceded the psychological edge.
Indeed, from the seizure of perceived superiority in this moment, Fury would never relent it. There was a press conference appearance as batman, where Fury appeared to fight off a masked assailant, who emerged from and was previously embedded in the crowd (Hughie Fury, dressed as The Joker), and where he amused reporters with the x-rated soundbite, 'this Klit is getting licked' (for younger readers, please ask your dad to explain what this means, and then watch on in amusement as your mum rolls her eyes and interjects: 'why are you asking him? He's never had a clue!'); the added edge of Klitschko’s long time Hall of Fame trainer, Emanuel Steward’s assertion that Fury would succeed Wladimir as ‘the next dominant heavyweight champion’, a departure from the original fight date as Klitschko injured a tendon in his left calf – an injury Fury claimed he always expected Wladimir to fabricate in order to avoid the fight – and the prescient Klitschko prediction that Fury’s wild behaviour was in fact symptomatic of an underlying mental illness for which he would soon need therapy. And all this occurred before we had even landed in Dusseldorf.
Once there – in the capital of the German state, North Rhine-Westphalia, where Klitschko had fought three times previously, and which, debouching out into the wider country of Germany itself, he had made his home and would eventually fight a total of 50 professional times – we would see Fury sing the song ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ at the public workout, dedicating it to Klitschko and his team, who were present; we would hear how the local scales were rigged to show Fury weighing in light at 17st 9lbs, when in reality he was 18st 4lbs, how Wladimir was wearing platform supports within his shoes to appear as tall as the 6' 9" Fury, how the ring mattress contained an extra five inches of foam, designed to rapidly fatigue Fury’s legs and exhaust his stamina, how Klitschko would already be gloved up on fight night as team Fury representative, (dad) John entered his dressing room to conduct the obligatory cross-team observation of an opponent’s hands being wrapped, and how the gloves given to Fury were not the punchers' gloves he had in fact ordered, but were instead gloves which were ‘like two big cushions’.
Again, a lot of this controversy was caught in real time by IFL TV, who has unrivalled access to this camp. Who could forget the interviews conducted in the hotel days before the fight, with Tyson, Peter, John and Shane? The ringside footage of Mick Hennessy blushed and blustered as he leant upon the apron and angrily complained about the foam beneath the canvas, and the immediate unedited footage of the Fury post-fight dressing room. And then in the days following, back in the UK celebrating with the entire Fury family, including the filmed introduction of Tyson’s grandmother, Patience. It was a remarkable time. The incipient stages of this new, then-unestablished and untraditional form of media really bloomed with this coverage, reaching its high-water mark, before the perversion of imitation and contemporary culture's widespread kowtow to clickbait. Like a fighter entering the Lion’s den, these were the first baby steps into the new wild west of boxing media coverage by a popular primogenitor who is thus now responsible for the bastard proliferation of many entitled offspring.
But onto the fight. 55,000 fans saturated the Esprit Arena to capacity. In the UK, there were 500,000 pay-per-view purchases and in the US, HBO reported an estimated viewership of 1.714 million. Fury’s tactics remained consistent and revealed themselves immediately: boxing off of the back foot and remaining elusive, before finding range and landing quickly, and then manoeuvring out of range again, thus depriving Klitschko of the right to set his feet and reply. Noticing Klitschko’s propensity to clinch when on the inside – a tactic which had afforded him much success against smaller opposition – Fury remained busy throughout, and attempted to continue punching as Klitschko positioned to hold, which meant that he was thus able to endlessly and evidently outpunch outland and thus outscore the champion on both the inside and outside of their engagements.
Fury stupefied Wladimir out of all rhythm and rebuttal. On occasions, he stood before the champion with both hands behind his back; others, he fought out of an unorthodox, southpaw stance. He would occasionally rabbit punch, a tactic for which he was docked a point in round 11. In response, largely out of a valid concern at being countered, Klitschko hardly threw his right hand. He would turn his back on Fury and only appeared to throw prudence to the wind on the insistence of his brother Vitali, who reportedly told him, as Wladimir sat on his stool at the end of the 11th round with a cotton swab damming the laceration above his right eye, that he needed the knockout.
Though the knockout would not come, Vitali’s perspicacious advice instead manifested in a round 12 which was the best of the fight. Fury, rather than continuing to evade, stood and traded with Wladimir, conceding the round 10-9 but treating the crowd to a thrilling finale, though one which would naturally give rise to the groaning lament that the spectacle they had witnessed would have been vastly improved had Wladimir threatened with such audacity earlier in the contest.
As Michael Buffer read the official scores aloud – 115-121, 115-112 and 116-111 – Klitschko raised both hands aloft. No doubt at ringside, in living rooms, pubs, clubs and casinos around the UK, and even within the ring itself, there was felt the instinctual flash of collective anxiety, exploding first in the amygdala, and then travelling via neurons and neurotransmitters from the brain to the spinal cord, and then from this central nervous system to the motor neurons, and racing through these onwards to this fear's final uncomfortable destination, resting as it soon will within the guttural pit of many observing stomachs, and carrying with it the weight of a concern which Fury had articulated prefight: would he be the victim of yet another corrupt decision benefitting the home fighter…?
He wouldn’t. Fury had won via unanimous decision! Derobing in frenzied nonplus, Fury leapt into uncle and trainer, Peter Fury’s arms, before falling to his knees and offering thanks to God. His lifetime ambition has been realised. The mountaintop had finally been summited.
Though consumed by the extraordinary tenor of the moment, the post-fight scenes became as extraordinary as the preceding triumph. Fury treated the audience and his wife, Paris to a centre-ring acapella rendition of Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing – a crooning tradition which has since been repeated against Tom Schwarz and Deontay Wilder (after which, Fury sang American Pie) – and father, John Fury mesmerised all the bleary-eyed media assembled at the post-fight press conference with an impassioned 5-minute rant, where he not only exhorted them to applaud his son’s accomplishment but blasted their previously negative coverage. Indeed, this was long before John was considered the wider cult hero that he is today, before No Context John Fury or the proposed charity fights against former British bodybuilder and doorman, Mick Theo. And as a purely isolated address, it remains captivating, and its excoriating content still articulate and germane, even to this day.
As to the future fortunes of both fighters, they were due to meet again in a contractually obliged rematch, albeit with the IBF title no longer at stake, as the sanctioning body stripped Fury of their version of the world title for not agreeing to immediately face their mandatory challenger, Vyacheslav Glazkov. Charles Martin would instead fight for the vacant version of this belt, defeating Glazkov via a third-round TKO, before eventually losing yielding it in his first defence against Anthony Joshua.
Sadly, Fury and Klitschko would never face each other again. This chapter of Fury’s boxing life ending to the sadder imbroglio of drug and alcohol abuse, depression and existential crisis. He would of course recover, and once again ascend to the summit of the mountaintop, defeating Deontay Wilder for the WBC heavyweight title in February 2020. Those two are due to meet once more in a trilogy fight, despite all the combined casual and hardcore contemporary boxing hopes now instead urging Fury to instead face unified champion Anthony Joshua in what-will-surely-be the era-defining fight of their epoch.
Klitschko would fight once again following Fury. Such is the incestuous, coincidental world of high-class, championship boxing, that his challenge was also against Joshua for the WBA and IBF heavyweight titles. In a thrilling 2017 contest, which included four knockdowns, Joshua eventually prevailed via an 11th round TKO, and Wladimir retired, resigned to the reality that his dominion over the division was now over. As also now, is this piece.