Fury Too Flawed For All-Time Greatness, But Perfectly Flawed For Fan-Friendliness

Tyson Fury is the ultimate “1 of 1” heavyweight champion. There’s never been, and presumably will never be, another like him.

He’s listed at six-foot-nine, has a dad bod even at the end of a great training camp, has the hand speed of a middleweight, can get knocked down by blown-up cruiserweights or by MMA dudes boxing for the first time, can get up from Deontay Wilder’s best two-punch combination, displays the fleet-footed grace of Muhammad Ali one minute and the oafishness of Primo Carnera the next — and this is all before even mentioning his personality.

As a boxer, Fury has been an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a spare tire. And as such, it’s been tricky, for much of his career, to assess his potential place in history. Even over the course of an 8½-year reign as the lineal heavyweight champion of the world, opinions ranged from “we’re watching one of the best ever to do it, a man who could be favored over all who came before him,” to “he’s a bum just dying to be exposed.”

This past Saturday in Riyadh, the highest point on that wide range got erased from the equation.

Fury is still a future Hall of Famer, no doubt about it. He’ll probably lumber in on the first ballot, and if not, he’ll at least get a plaque in Canastota eventually.

But the term “all-time great” denotes a more elite group, a VIP section roped off within the VIP section. It’s trickier to define, with a blurrier cutoff point. “Hall of Famer” eventually becomes a factual yes/no equation for every boxer. There’s no such certainty with “all-time great” inclusion.

But for me, in the storied heavyweight division, to be an all-time great, you have to be someone at least considered for inclusion in a ranking of the top 10 ever to do it. And after his last two results — a near-defeat to neophyte Francis Ngannou, who was subsequently squashed in two rounds by Anthony Joshua, and an actual defeat on Saturday to Oleksandr Usyk, an all-time great pound-for-pound fighter but probably not many people’s idea of an all-time great heavyweight (at least not yet) — the die has been cast. Tyson Fury is not an all-time great.

Maybe he could have been, if he’d trained harder more consistently, if he’d taken every second of every fight more seriously. But in recent fights, and particularly against Usyk, his flaws caught up with him. The undertraining, the showboating and clowning, and the availability of his chin and the subsequent degradation of that chin’s sturdiness all conspired to bump Fury from all-time-great-heavyweight consideration.

And it’s those very deficiencies that have turned him into one of the most thrilling, drama-producing heavyweights we’ve ever known.

Fury has now participated in three all-time heavyweight classics over the last six years. The third fight with Wilder, a five-knockdown affair named 2021’s Fight of the Year by pretty much everyone, may have been the best heavyweight action fight of this century. The first clash with Wilder featured the most iconic finish of any heavyweight fight in decades and offered edge-of-the-seat intrigue all the way. And the Usyk fight saw Fury on the wrong end of one of the most dramatic mid-fight pendulum swings we’ve ever seen and finished as a one-point fight to determine the undisputed heavyweight championship.

Neither Klitschko brother had three fights that thrilling. Lennox Lewis didn’t either. I’d even make the case that Mike Tyson, considered an action fighter, didn’t have three fights better than those.

That’s not to say Fury is the most exciting heavyweight champ in history — certainly not. His body of work doesn’t stack up with Evander Holyfield’s, Rocky Marciano’s, Joe Frazier’s, or with the best of Ali (though when he wasn’t in classics, Ali was frequently in total stinkers).

Fury is definitely not No. 1, but he is now established as somewhere high on the all-time list for heavyweight drama.

Will he be remembered as the top heavyweight of his generation? Maybe, maybe not. But he has been the proverbial straw that stirs the drink in the division for quite a while now. If this is to go down as a fondly remembered heavyweight era — and I expect it will — Fury will deserve an oversized slice of the credit for making it so.

He’s been knocked down eight times in his career. He’s gotten up (or, in the case of the Usyk fight, stayed up after falling into the ropes) all eight times. Boxing is a sport but it’s also a form of entertainment, and the very qualities that have limited Fury’s boxing greatness have made him one of the game’s genuine entertainers.

It’s worth pausing to ask: Can the 35-year-old Fury possibly still do something to achieve all-time great status?

I tend to think not, that the 1-2 punch of disgracing himself against Ngannou and coming up short against Usyk keep him from being mentioned in the same breath as Lennox, as Frazier, as Marciano, as Holyfield, as Larry Holmes, as Jack Johnson — as any of those all-time greats who sit outside the Ali/Joe Louis top two but still land in most people’s top 10. Even though he beat Wladimir Klitschko head to head, my sense is that many will struggle to rank Fury ahead of Wlad in the history books.

Don’t get me wrong, avenging the loss to Usyk in a rematch would lift Fury’s legacy. It would make him just the sixth man to regain the lineal championship. It would improve his case for being the best heavyweight of his era (which he may be anyway).

But I still suspect his shortcomings will stick with us too much to permit the lofty distinctions many were once projecting for him.

The resume is a bit thin, but the conversations were happening anyway, particularly after Fury was so brilliant in brutalizing Wilder in their second fight. That was the sort of performance that made folks wonder if any heavyweight in history could have hung with him that night. He said he was going to walk Wilder down and beat him silly and we all thought that was a misdirect because nobody could be stupid enough to brawl with a pure puncher like Wilder. And then Fury did exactly what he said he would.

At that point, as the world locked down for COVID, all-time greatness seemed in reach for him.

But he never looked quite that spectacular again.

Well, except maybe in rounds four, five, and six this past Saturday. Fury had all his tools and tricks on display as he repeatedly rapped Usyk to the body, caught him coming in with right uppercuts time and again, got on his toes and jabbed, left Usyk flinching on each of his feints, and leaned his 262 pounds on Usyk in clinches exactly the way he was supposed to.

Fury looked for all the world like an all-time great. But he couldn’t keep it up. Usyk made adjustments — a couple inches to the right, a couple inches closer, finding the range to land the left — and Fury didn’t adjust to those adjustments, didn’t react in time, forgot about punching to the body, and soon found himself a human pinball bouncing off flippers and bumpers.

Disaster struck, and he was brave and gutsy in the face of it. But he was not great. Definitely not all-time great.

OK, let's do the devil’s advocate thing: What if Fury beats Usyk in a rematch and defeats Joshua in one of the biggest boxing events ever staged?

Under those circumstances, he would have wins on his resume over Klitschko, Wilder, Usyk, and Joshua — all the best heavyweights of his time.

It’s an “if” upon an “if,” but I guess it would be excessively stubborn of me to suggest that Fury wouldn’t warrant a re-reassessment if that scenario played out.

Still, “all-time great” is a rare thing. Among current fighters, the three men presently locked in a pound-for-pound triple threat match — Usyk, Terence Crawford, and Naoya Inoue — are there. Throw Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in there too, probably, although his star power is essential in getting him over that hump. Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez likely clears the bar. Maybe Vasiliy Lomachenko too, although the win-loss record will suggest otherwise to many. Ignoring the too-soon-to-tell crew — like Shakur Stevenson, Gervonta Davis, and David Benavidez — that’s about it. Five or six fighters whose primes came in the last 10 years get all-time great status conferred upon them. It’s a highly select club.

Usyk didn’t quite knock Fury out, but he did knock him out of this conversation.

And I’m pretty damned confident Fury will never get back into that conversation. Should he prove me wrong, well, that’d be his greatest revivification following a knockdown yet.

Eric Raskin is a veteran boxing journalist with more than 25 years of experience covering the sport for outlets such as BoxingScene, ESPN, Grantland, Playboy, Ringside Seat, and The Ring (where he served as managing editor for seven years). He also co-hosted The HBO Boxing Podcast, Showtime Boxing with Raskin & Mulvaney, and Ring Theory and currently co-hosts The Interim Champion Boxing Podcast with Raskin & Mulvaney. He has won three first-place writing awards from the BWAA, for his work with The Ring, Grantland, and HBO. Outside boxing, he is the senior editor of CasinoReports and the author of 2014’s The Moneymaker Effect. He can be reached on X, LinkedIn, or via email at