Tyson Fury, the WBC and lineal heavyweight boxing champion, is not the physically most gifted heavyweight boxer who ever lived. He's probably not even all that close to being the best.
But he is fast. He does hit hard. He can move adroitly. He has proven he has a strong chin. And then you can't forget that he's a giant, who stands 6-foot-9, weighs around 270 pounds and has an 85-inch reach. When you combine all those factors, you're looking at one of the 10 best heavyweight boxers of all time.
Who is going to beat a guy of that size with those kinds of physical attributes? Nobody among the current heavyweights has done it yet. Fury is 33-0-1 with 24 knockouts. His only blemish was a split-draw with Deontay Wilder in Los Angeles on Dec. 1, 2018, a verdict he avenged successfully twice.
Granted, it's a shallow pool and Fury hasn't met all of the best heavyweights but he has two wins over Wilder, another over Wladimir Klitschko and a bevy of them over solid but not great heavyweights like Derek Chisora, Dillian Whyte and Otto Wallin.
On Saturday, Fury is a -1400 favorite at BetMGM to remain undefeated when he faces former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou in a non-title bout in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Fury showed what he thinks of Ngannou with the stroke of a pen when he signed a deal to meet unified heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk in Riyadh, preferably Dec. 23.
News broke of the Fury-Usyk bout for the undisputed heavyweight title Sept. 29, less than a month before Fury was scheduled to meet Ngannou. Had Fury really thought Ngannou posed a significant challenge to him, he wouldn't have put the massive payday he'll make against Usyk at risk.
"It's an enormous amount," promoter Bob Arum said of Fury's payday for facing Usyk, which has yet to be publicly released (and may never be). "It's a mind-boggling amount."
Boxing and MMA are related, but different, sports and in the few boxing matches we've had where a boxer fought an MMA fighter, the boxers have swept the slate. What we've learned, from Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather to Nate Diaz vs. Jake Paul, is that striking in boxing and MMA is different enough that an MMA fighter simply isn't going to come into another sport without experience and beat a high-level opponent.
McGregor would have destroyed Mayweather had they fought in an MMA bout. He could have choked him unconscious if he'd wanted to. But Mayweather toyed with him in boxing and stopped him.
And it's been the same in all the fights since. Tyron Woodley, an All-American wrestler and a former UFC welterweight champion, was out of his depths against Paul, a social media star who at best is a middling boxing prospect. Woodley got face-planted in his rematch with Paul.
Fury, though, is the ultimate showman and he's not about to concede he's got an easy night's work ahead of him.
"A lot of these journalists, including yourself Kevin, are trying to make out like this guy's never been involved in fights before," Fury told Yahoo Sports. "Of course, he's had fights before. The man's a former UFC heavyweight champion. He knows how to fight. You can't compare Francis Ngannou to some YouTuber playing computer games. Definitely not. The man's been fighting his whole life— fighting for existence, fighting for survival, and now he's fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world. So you've got to respect somebody like that who has that drive.
"Will I get motivated? F*** yeah. I'm getting paid a ton of money to get motivated. And if it's easy for me to knock him the f*** out, then guess what I'll be doing? Knocking him the f*** out easy. ... I've prepared for a 12-round war. And if it's anything less than that, then happy days for me. I'm in for an easy night. I put everything in the camp. I've trained as hard for this as I would for any other fight. I've had the best of sparring. I'm in fantastic shape. Yeah, really ready to throw down."
If you search the internet for any list of the greatest upsets in heavyweight boxing history, there are going to be a lot of familiar bouts on there: Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston. Ali vs. George Foreman. Ali vs. Leon Spinks. Mike Tyson vs. Buster Douglas. Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling.
The thing that all of them have in common is that the winner was a boxer with great experience. Spinks had the least amount of experience of any of them, but he was an Olympic gold medalist who had seven pro bouts to his credit when he fought an aging, out-of-shape and disinterested Ali.
Ngannou doesn't even have that going for him. Fury has a bout for the undisputed heavyweight title in two months scheduled, one that will reportedly pay him close to $100 million. Ngannou has no boxing experience and Fury has motivation, yet there are some who still want to give Ngannou and his punching power a shot.
Ngannou is a hard puncher in MMA and, if he gained boxing experience, he'd be a hard puncher in boxing, too. But he's going from knocking people out with four-ounce gloves to doing it with 10-ounce gloves. It's a big difference.
Fury, though, is doing the right thing by preparing for the best Ngannou he could get. At least he says that's what he's doing. Fury is, as he loves to say, "a fighting man," and nothing is more unpredictable than two big heavyweights throwing haymakers.
"If I went to the local pub and I got a bit cheeky to someone at the bar who's not a boxer, and he drawed on me with a big right haymaker, cheap-shotted me, guess what's going to happen?" Fury asked rhetorically. "I'm probably going to have me jaw broken, and I'd end up on the floor. So that guy's not a boxer.
"So I just don't see how you can underestimate somebody like Francis Ngannou when, in MMA, he punches. It's not like he's a tennis player. He's a kickboxer, an MMA fighter. They punch. So I'm taking him deadly serious, if nobody else is. I've trained so hard. And the fact that he is an MMA fighter has made me train harder because it would make me look s*** if I get beat by him. Yeah, that's the motivation, not to get beat by somebody in his debut."
So Fury will go out and do his thing and get some rounds in before he meets Usyk for the biggest prize in the sport. He's a salesman, and he's going to sell and try to make the show as entertaining as possible.
We've all seen this story, before.
Unfortunately for Francis, we know how it ends, too.