Tyson Fury nor Oleksandr Usyk have encountered a microscope quite like this before. Tonight, as they collide for the undisputed heavyweight championship, the scrutiny will be as unforgiving as it gets. 

Though neither fighter will admit it – exuding carefree confidence is very much the order of the day – they will both feel the weight of expectancy on their shoulders to not only win but also to place a mark in boxing history of which the current era – their era – will be forever proud. 

That’s not to say neither has experienced the pressure that comes with a huge fight before. Both are well seasoned in the art of thriving on the big stage.

Fury notably did it in 2015 when, as the underdog, he became the first man in a decade to beat Wladimir Klitschko. He did it, too, when he proved the doubters wrong three years later as he somehow woke up after being thwacked into dreamland by Deontay Wilder. Two subsequent stoppage wins over Wilder in Las Vegas (2020-21) and humbling Dillian Whyte (2022) in a sold-out Wembley Stadium provide further evidence of the Briton’s ability to hold his nerve.

The same can be said for Usyk’s finest performances. The title wins at cruiserweight on foreign soil could not budge his inbuilt blinkers and his greatest victory at heavyweight – when he defeated Anthony Joshua at a football stadium in London – occurred in front of his opponent’s adoring fans. Yet even his previous undisputed clash, down at cruiserweight when he outboxed Murat Gassiev in 2018, could not possibly have compared to this.

For both Fury and Usyk all those fights were leading here, to the biggest stage of all. Win here and one could argue there is nothing left to achieve. Win here and stand atop the banner division, with no argument whatsoever, not only the best of their time but one of the greatest of all time.

Lose, however, and everything changes for the first-time loser. The man they will see in the mirror is no longer the invincible man who for so long stood before them. They’re now merely the man who just lost the biggest heavyweight title fight of the century, the man who failed when it mattered most. So, for all the chitter chatter about it being just another fight, just another rival, just another eye-watering pay day, the truth and implications are far from. 

Yet the notion that either is attempting to play any mind games – for too long a factor that is analysed ad nauseam during fight weeks – would appear wide of the mark. Usyk is always Usyk; focused in camp and indifferent to the noise outside of it, irrespective of who happens to be making it.

“I don’t think about Tyson Fury,” Usyk said. “I do my work, that is what I think. I think about sparring, my work. I only think of what I have to do. I don’t think about my opponent until I am in the ring with them.” 

And Fury is always Fury. What comes out of his mouth rarely spends much time percolating in his brain beforehand. He is instinctive, reactive, and therefore, he says, not quite the master of psychological warfare that many have labelled him to be.

“I’ve heard a lot about Tyson Fury getting in people’s heads,” he said. “I’m not Dr X, I don’t have mind control. If I could get in your head, I must be an alien. 

“I don’t buy into these mind games – he said, she said – it’s a load of bullshit, really. It all comes down to on the night and the fight, that’s it. Whatever I say or whatever he doesn’t say has no effect.” 

Whether he’s realised, after spending time in Usyk’s company, that such warfare is pointless is also worth considering. 

“I don’t care about getting in his head – I just want to get my fist into his face.”

His stomach too, no doubt. Whereas fights are never won or lost by words that are exchanged in the build-up, a smartly placed blow to the body can indeed be the deciding factor. Particularly on a smaller man who writhed in discomfort after taking a full-blown whack from Daniel Dubois somewhere between his belly button and the root of his privates last August. No, he sure did not like that.

Yet are we now to believe that Usyk has somehow negotiated his way through his 21-0 (14 KOs) career, against leading cruiserweights and heavyweights, and kept this glaring weakness a secret? Suddenly, we’re being led to believe that all Fury must do to win is put his weight behind a hook downstairs and Usyk will turn to dust. I’m not convinced.

But he was hurt by a Joshua body shot too! And he got dropped by body shots as an amateur! 

Okay, I hear you. But will the 6ft 9ins Fury, not exactly a natural body snatcher, really be so preoccupied with this theory that he’ll forsake his advantages in height and reach to put it to the test? Perhaps, if the opportunity arises. Though it seems unlikely to be the ace in his gameplan or, frankly, that Usyk is any more vulnerable down there than the next man.

Usyk getting winded is one common prediction. Another is that Fury will get stopped on cuts. He was left a bloody mess by Otto Wallin in 2019, a wound above his right eye that appeared to reopen as recently as February. Fury, in the final stages of camp, walked away from an exchange with sparring partner Agron Smakici nursing a cut above his right eye and the initial February 17 date had to be postponed.

“If he’s got his head screwed on that’s what he’ll do because if he can open the eye up and get the referee to stop the fight that’s his chance to win,” Fury conceded about Usyk targeting the eye. Regardless, it won’t change his approach in the fight nor play on his mind, even if Usyk does hit the claret jackpot.

“It’s only a bit of blood isn’t it,” Fury went on. “Even if it pours down my face and on to the referee’s shirt and on to the floor, it’s only a cut. It’s not the end of the world.”

Some experts have suggested that three months is not enough time for the cut to heal to the extent it’s not likely to rip open again. Yet one wonders if the referee, Mark Nelson, will really step in and end a fight as ginormous as this on a cut. In the end, should Usyk’s peppering blows land on target frequently enough, he might be left with little choice. Again, though I’d venture it’s more likely than Usyk being taken out with a lung buster, it’s a possibility rather than a cause for concern.

More worrying for Fury, or it should be, is that he’s never faced anyone as talented, nor so in tune with their own self-belief, as Oleksandr Usyk. He’s never faced a man as determined or intelligent as Usyk, either. How Fury copes, should that become glaringly apparent, remains to be seen.

The overriding narrative here is that this is the first time all the belts have been on the line in 25 years, when Lennox Lewis defeated Evander Holyfield in 1999. The truth is that it’s been even longer. Because though we must recognise that the WBO heavyweight title wasn’t seriously regarded in 1999, to say the WBO were not already a major player in other weight classes would be false. Therefore, the last time all available world titles were up for grabs in one fight would be in February 1989, when Mike Tyson halted Frank Bruno in five rounds. 

One wonders if there will be regret in the aftermath that it all took so long. Specifically, one wonders if Fury, 35, or even Usyk, 37, will reflect on the contest as one too many. After all, in the current era, these showstopping fights take so long to get over the line that, too often, one or both combatants are past their best.

Out of the two, the evidence points more to Fury being in decline than it does Usyk.

The Englishman, 34-0-1 (24 KOs), looked atrocious while squeaking past debutant Francis Ngannou last October. Even if he was complacent and hadn’t taken it seriously one would think, if still somewhere near his best, he’d still have found a way to make it an easy night. Dropped in round three, he struggled to assert himself on an opponent having his first professional fight. Whether Fury deserved to win or not after 10 rounds is a matter of opinion, that he did not resemble a world heavyweight champion in the process is a matter of fact.

The evidence for Fury being past his best is starting to build: He is 35 years old; 

Fury has been notoriously unkind to his body for large chunks of his adult life; he endured some serious trauma during the first and third Wilder fights; his weight has frequently ballooned between training camps; he looked slow and out of ideas against a debutant seven months ago.

It is therefore perfectly feasible that the best of Fury is gone forever and his latest crusade to get in shape – at 262lbs he’s at his lightest since 2019 – may have only weakened him further. 

One must also consider his lack of top-level competition since 2022. Before that struggle with Ngannou came 10 rounds of target practice against a washed-up Derek Chisora. Usyk, meanwhile, has twice beaten Joshua and dominated – aside from the disputed low blow – Dubois. The momentum would appear to be with him going into his most formidable test yet. Furthermore, his weight has been consistent (he’s a little stockier at 223lbs, compared to his usual 221) and he looks after himself between camps.

Only an idiot would completely write off Fury, however. He’s a man who has always come alive in the face of his sternest challenges and it would not be a surprise to see him use his size to good effect, not allow Usyk to escape from his spidery grasp and box his way to another memorable triumph. Nor is it beyond him – or would it have been beyond the best of him – to time Usyk with a looping blow and win inside schedule.

But one can foresee the Ukrainian having success early, raiding up close, plotting his escape to make Fury look clumsy and, as the fight progresses, increasingly desperate. 

The feeling here, then, is that Usyk will win – and win big. 

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