The announcement, recently, that Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk had agreed to fight was a pleasant surprise.
Most of us had started to think that Fury-Usyk was never going to happen, but Fury proved once again that he has the capacity to continue to surprise. You can never predict his next move. I know it concerns some that there hasn’t been confirmation of a time or place, but I suspect that’s because they can’t announce it until after Fury has fought Francis Ngannou.
Fury-Usyk finally happening is huge. The health of boxing is often determined by the heavyweight division, and this is the biggest that can be made. When fights aren’t agreed when they should be one of the two fighters often gets beaten in another fight, reducing their appeal, so it’s so important that this fight is happening at the right time.
I’ve seen and heard suggestions that Fury will look to lean on Usyk and make it a scrappy fight, but I’m expecting entertainment. Stylistically, for me, it’s a fight that works – and both Fury and Usyk want to be the leading heavyweight of the modern era, and also remain the best two heavyweights in the world.
Fury still has to be considered the favourite. He’s very hard to pick against. The affects of his time out of the ring – it’ll be close to a year when he fights Ngannou – can be judged when he fights Ngannou, but using Ngannou almost as a sparring partner on October 28 could be a smart move. He can get into shape and flow straight into the Usyk fight – particularly if it happens on December 23. Usyk, who so recently fought Daniel Dubois, has also been busy, but Fury’s the natural heavyweight, and if he’s in shape should prove too big for him.
To get so close to having an undisputed heavyweight champion and then for the IBF to make noises about stripping the winner to make a fight between Filip Hrgovic and Otto Wallin is a real shame. They could have mandated Hrgovic to fight the winner within 120 days. If the winner was stripped after refusing to do that it might be more understandable from the IBF, but to potentially do so so soon undoes something really valuable to the entire sport.
Hrgovic, particularly, has earned a title shot, and could also have been given a better chance of fighting the winner, instead of Wallin. He was lacklustre recently against Demsey McKean, but he’s been forced to wait a long time for a title fight, which could have contributed. For the right occasion he’d have greater motivation – Hrgovic-Wallin is a good fight.
There are those who would rather see Anthony Joshua in Hrgovic’s position, but Hrgovic beating Zhilei Zhang was more impressive than anything Joshua’s done recently. Look what Zhang has since twice done to Joe Joyce – popularity shouldn’t mean Joshua getting any favours.
At the very opposite end of the heavyweight division, Triller announced that James Toney would be fighting Donovan “Razor” Ruddock in Jamaica. How does a fight like that even make money? Who would be interested in watching it? Maybe Toney and Ruddock need money – I’d be happy for them to earn some if they did – but fights like these are never a good idea. Their health is again put at risk, and they can also tarnish their reputations – how can either of them possibly look good? My mind was blown when it was announced. It’s like Triller are deliberately trying to fail.
I fondly remember watching Ruddock fight Mike Tyson and knocking out Michael Dokes when I was young. He was a dangerous, fun heavyweight with an uppercut-hook that knocked out a lot of opponents.
Toney’s a hall of fame fighter. He could stand in front of opponents and make them miss, and had terrific hand-eye coordination that meant he could stay in the pocket and watch and react to his opponents, which he did with great timing. I learned so much from watching him – and he was also very entertaining for the way he could stay in range and box. Neither will look anything like they once did.
This weekend Zhanibek Alimkhanuly fights Vincenzo Gualtieri for the IBF and WBO middleweight titles in a fight in Rosenberg that’s at risk of falling below the radar. Being a unified champion will be really positive for both the winner and the middleweight division, which is going through a quiet period. A unified champion might even succeed in attracting bigger names to 160lbs.
People have been impressed by Alimkhanuly, but he needs a statement victory. This could be a fun fight. More relevantly, it’s a chance for one of them to grab the division by the horns.