Trainer Talk: Breaking Down Fury vs. Usyk

Ahead of the undisputed heavyweight title fight in Riyadh on Saturday night between WBC champion Tyson Fury and WBA, WBO and IBF champion Oleksandr Usyk, BoxingScene spoke to three leading trainers to talk about how the fight could be won and lost.

The International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Teddy Atlas has worked with countless champions, including the first southpaw heavyweight world champion Michael Moorer, who – as a former light heavyweight champion – like Usyk had moved up from a lighter weight class, Shane McGuigan, the 2023 British Boxing Board of Control trainer of the year, and Robert Garcia, who works with the WBC super-flyweight champion Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez, but who has also worked with Fernando Vargas, Anthony Joshua, Brandon Rios, Joan Guzman, and dozens more. 

How excited are you ahead of the fight?

Teddy Atlas: I’ve been in boxing too long. Fifty years. I know the reality of it. It’s something to feel good about for the sport and the fans – that you’re going to have one heavyweight champ, but I also know that 10 minutes later they’ll be stripping someone. Sometimes it’s hard for me. My friend [journalist] Jack Newfield, who I miss very much, he felt sorry for me, because he wished I lived in a fictional world once in a while instead of a non-fictional world, where I could escape some of the things that wear you out a little bit. I feel good, but you don’t want to always be that pessimist or cynical – but boxing does it to you. It’s almost like it’s hard to avoid. You try. 

I’m glad what’s happening in Saudi, that they’re making it possible – that these fights are happening. It didn’t seem like we could do it ourselves. I’m more curious than excited [about the fight], because it’s a very interesting match-up.

Shane McGuigan: I’m excited because it’s an undisputed heavyweight fight, but do I think it’s going to be an amazing fight that goes down in history? I don’t believe so. I think it will be a technically interesting fight – it will be a fundamentally exciting fight to watch in terms of from a technical aspect.

Robert Garcia: If I have nothing to do with it and I don’t have any future fighters involved I’m not that excited, but I am looking forward to the fight. I can’t say I’m excited about the fight, but it is going to be a good fight – it is a fight I want to watch, and definitely I want to see who becomes undisputed. The last time we had one was many, many years ago.   

Which fighter would you rather be working with going into this?

Atlas: It’s funny. I always take the opposite of most people. I always take the guy I think I can add to from a technical standpoint. They’re both very good and solid in a lot of areas, but that would probably be Fury because Usyk, with all the amateur experience that he has, he’s pretty much where he is. He’s technically solid and they’ve done a great job with him. Tyson Fury has been a work in progress for years. He didn’t really have the formal training you’d automatically assume that he did. He beat [in 2015, Wladimir] Klitschko, but he beat him with his natural abilities. He’s very agile; he’s very athletic for a big guy, and he’s shown a propensity to be able to box and use his legs, which is not common for a big man – to move as well and with as much agility. But he can also come and get you and press the fight when he has to, and show great heart – great resolve – which they both have. 

It’s harder to add to a guy that’s had 400 amateur fights and [Usyk] has had that formal training.

McGuigan: In terms of where they are in their career, I would rather work with Usyk. Fury has a great chance in the fight. I think only until the [Francis] Ngannou fight everyone thought he was going to win it. But I just think if it’s a technical fight that Usyk is the fresher athlete and I think he’s got far more to his game. 

If you boiled Usyk down into a middleweight, he’d be a very effective middleweight, where if you boiled Tyson Fury into a middleweight with his style and lack of power per-weight almost, he wouldn’t be as effective at another weight, so I would be more excited to work with Usyk.

Garcia: One hundred per cent Usyk, because Usyk’s a hard-working man. When I had my gym in Oxnard before I moved to Riverside, that’s where he trained in my gym and he’s a very dedicated person; very disciplined; hard worker; a great person also, with the fans and his family. He’s a great person. One hundred per cent Usyk. 

Fury is a world champion. A world-class fighter – to perform the way he performed against Ngannou, that was embarrassing. He lost a lot of respect for doing that; not training; not even trying for that fight. I think it was disrespectful for boxing.

Who would you make the favorite?

Atlas: Fury. Probably Fury. Very close. I think they probably had him favorite before the Ngannou fight and now they’re going back and forth and they’re being influenced by that. I’m influenced by that too, but in a different way. I think that helps Fury. I think it was a wake-up moment, I think he took a lot for granted in that fight and wasn’t mentally ready. Ngannou had a great performance but I don’t think Fury was really prepared for the real fight that it became and he got dropped in the third round and it’s hard to change gears in midstream when that happens – when you go in there not really expecting that kind of fight. It woke him up. I think he’s truly committed to the training for this – maybe more so than if that didn’t happen.

There are variables that weren’t there. It’s making me think of [Muhammad] Ali and [George] Foreman in Zaire [in 1974]. It’s got connotations of that, because that fight got delayed [Foreman and Fury were both cut and the bouts were delayed] and I think it changed the direction of that fight. Foreman was really ready in Zaire, and he didn’t like it over there, and then he was forced to stay [after being cut] and it was much more comfortable for Ali because he was so well embraced over there where Foreman wasn’t. It influenced the course of that fight, and I think this will be influenced [by the delay] – I don’t know which way exactly. It makes it a hard fight to really predict. Going in I liked Usyk, and when the fight was postponed, I’m more up in the air.

McGuigan: I’m leaning towards Usyk, in winning the later rounds and holding form. I think it will be quite even down the stretch. I think he might just be picking up rounds with his activity late on in the fight.

Garcia: Usyk. I think if it’s a very tough decision, because Fury’s so big and so heavy that it’s going to make it so difficult for Usyk because if Fury is in top shape, Usyk could be in trouble; because Fury is a very experienced fighter, he knows how to use his body. He knows how to use his weight; he’s got a long reach. It’s a tough one. Maybe being biased because I want Usyk to win – I think Usyk will pull off a decision but it’s not going to be easy.

What type of fight do you expect?

Atlas: It’s up to Fury. Usyk’s going to box; try to make him miss; counter; use his legs; angles; control range; be smart; show an IQ; he’s a well-rounded guy. If he has to fight with you, he will, but I think he’ll look to use his legs; set traps; counter and I think it’s up to Fury. 

Does Fury use his size to try to impose himself and his physicality on him, being the bigger guy? Or does he use it in a way he controls the outside, which I would, with the jab? He forces the shorter man to take chances – to gamble – where he has opportunities to catch him before Usyk can catch him because of the reach. It’s more in the hands of Fury, where he’s at mentally and where their game plan is, how he approaches it.

McGuigan: They will both have enough power to knock each other out, but I think they have enough power to keep each other honest and get each other’s respect. And if that’s the case, Fury’s going to try to long-arm him and slow the pace down as much as possible, put his arm out and try and use that size and stand over the top of Usyk, and it might take Usyk a few rounds to really fire off that, but once he learns how to fire off it – create an angle and go to the body and stuff – it might become a volume game where it’s Usyk who is throwing more punches. He’s working at a higher tempo – there’s no way Fury can maintain an output to keep up with Usyk. 

Garcia: I don’t think it will be a thriller. I think it will just be Usyk fighting smart, working angles, and hopefully he doesn’t tire out so he can do it for 12 rounds. That’s what I mean. Fury’s so heavy – so strong – so big that Usyk could tire out because he needs a lot of footwork; he needs a lot of movement to be able to do that for 12 rounds. It’s not going to be easy.

What does Fury need to do?

Atlas: [Asked whether Tyson would box long and lean on Fury when he closes the gap] I don’t have any of my guys lean on anyone when they get close – I have them fight when they get in close. That’s me. Fury can only do what he’s trained to do and what he’s comfortable doing, I don’t like that stereotypical analysis where if you’ve got a big guy you lean on him. No – if you’re inside you fight. If the other guy has the edge fighting inside, then tie him up – to me that’s what matters. I’d look to see if I could control with the jab, maybe make him anxious to come in and make him make mistakes and if Usyk stays at the end of the jab, set the table with the jab and eat with the other punches. Look to control the range where it’s always hard for him to get in. If he tries to get in, make him pay a price. Tyson ain’t great in this one area, but I’d definitely set up this training camp to work to the body. If you didn’t set that up, I don’t know… You’re missing something. 

McGuigan: Everyone says target the body, but if you started counting against Daniel Dubois and when Usyk went down, if the referee hadn’t started counting I believe he [Usyk] would have got up. Yes, he was hurt from the body shot, but if you’d started counting, he would have found a way to get through it. Is he vulnerable to the body? Potentially. But, it’s finding it. It’s finding that perfect shot and how many people has Fury dropped to the body? 

Daniel, I worked with him, he’s a fantastic body puncher and could generate power from short range which I just don’t think there’s enough in the shots Fury throws to the body to be done effectively. What Fury’s got to learn to do is constantly drop back and try to walk him [Usyk] on to shots, leave that lead hand out there, touch, touch, touch and then he will have to start pressing the fight because if it’s just an arms battle Fury’s going to win. Once Fury starts creating the angles and can shoot in, he has to be very responsive, drop back and land, whether it’s a right hand or left hook, just to keep him there, but that’s a high-energy output and I’m not sure that Fury, at 35… Even though Usyk is slightly older, I think he’s a fresher athlete and a better athlete than Fury.

Garcia: Fury needs to make it an ugly fight; a difficult fight for Usyk; push him. I don’t want to say dirty, but Fury already knows and is very good at that; he works with his hand open; he knows how to rub the gloves in the face – the eyes – he knows how to use the elbows and how to use his weight as an advantage, so that’s definitely what I would prefer for Fury, maybe to win an ugly fight. 

And 100 per cent he should go to Usyk’s body as well. Usyk, since the amateurs and we’ve seen in one of his recent fights that he had, he doesn’t take body shots very well, so I’m pretty sure Fury is working on that. But to get in close and work the body he will have to sacrifice his height and reach. It’s not going to be easy. Usyk is  smaller than him and a left hander so it won’t be easy, but the body work is probably one of the main things, but I just think an ugly fight, using his body and weight, use those advantages to pick up the win. I want to watch and see who becomes undisputed, because that’s something big.

What does Usyk need to do?

Atlas: Do what he does. Be a winner. He’s one of the greatest winners we’ve ever seen. The guy knows how to win. People don’t think of that as a talent or a quality. It’s a great quality and ability. That’s the best thing he does. He wins. He knows how to win and he always has. I would have him do what’s worked for him, which is being versatile; be really solid technically; being smart. If you watch the [Anthony] Joshua fight, he countered the bigger man; he made him miss; he countered him and made sure he uses that southpaw advantage. Which is one thing to be a southpaw; it’s another thing to make sure you’re always doing southpaw things to give an advantage to yourself, which is moving to your right where you can use that jab, and it’s harder for him to get an angle to jab for an orthodox fighter. The jab would be a big part of it. I would not lose that fight because Fury is going to do something which is possible for him to do, which is out-jab me. That would not happen. I would make sure we’re not getting out-jabbed, whether we have to slip our head, get inside his jab, whatever it is, get the angle on him where we can impose our jab on him as a southpaw, step out of range, let Tyson miss his jab and then counter the jab. Whether it’s to lower the sight of the jab and jab to the chest of Fury, to disrupt his rhythm and find him. I always make a list when I go into a training camp and that would be on top of the list, we’re not allowing this guy to win the fight with the jab. We’re going to take his jab away. 

McGuigan: I believe it’s not try to load up – fire two or three shots to get you in rather than one slip and a big shot. Lots of head movement. Get underneath him; create lots of head movement and shoot your legs in, and when you’re on the inside, you can’t let him lean on you; you can’t let him impose his size; you’ll have to slip, get round him and I think he’s very good at those little tricks on the inside and then not try to knock him out with one shot; just land and keep the output high; force Fury to fight at an unrealistic pace. All he wants to do is slow the pace down all the time; get into his rhythm; get into his comfort zone. Lots of feints; lots of movement, and then just firing off those angles and I think if you keep that up, out of the two of them he can sustain it for a longer period of time and I believe that is one of the reasons why he will nick a close, points decision.  

Garcia: He’s got great footwork; great angles; work on that all night but whenever Fury holds on or uses his body, I would tell Usyk not to use any weight on him; not to use any strength on him; just to relax his body. If Fury is using his body to his advantage, I would tell Usyk not to wrestle with him; not to use strength on him because that will also tire him out, so I’d let the ref break it up; do his job and then continue with his footwork and angles. I think angles, footwork and combinations are going to make a big difference.