At long last, Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk are set to battle for heavyweight supremacy.
Fury and Usyk signed contracts for an undisputed heavyweight championship fight in Saudi Arabia, sources told ESPN on Friday, a bout that could take place on Dec. 23 or sometime in January.
This isn’t simply a fight for all four heavyweight titles, though. It’s a generational matchup pitting all-time greats in boxing’s glamour division. It will be a rare meeting of heavyweights both ranked in the pound-for-pound top 10 (Usyk is No 3; Fury No. 6.)
Before he meets his toughest challenge yet, Fury will fight former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou on Oct. 28, also in Saudi Arabia, in what amounts to a tune-up for the Usyk showdown.
Who will hold the edge when Fury and Usyk fight for the heavyweight crown? What happens if Ngannou scores the unthinkable upset? Let’s break it down:
What’s at stake?
Legacy … bragging rights as the greatest heavyweight of this era.
Fury and Usyk are already headed for the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, but what transpires in the ring will go a long way toward cementing their place on the mythical all-time great heavyweight list.
Fury received ample criticism when the Usyk fight fell apart back in March, only for Fury to sign on for a bout with an MMA fighter a few months later. Now, Fury has made good by delivering not one but two marquee heavyweight events months apart.
He can use the Ngannou bout as a way to shake off any ring rust and get into peak shape for Usyk, a smaller, faster heavyweight who will look to beat Fury to the punch.
If Fury can turn back Usyk — he’ll surely be a slight betting favorite to do so — his legacy will be secured as the greatest heavyweight of his generation. Wladimir Klitschko’s run was longer, but Fury ended that reign in 2015 and with a win over Usyk, would add another Hall of Famer to his resume.
For Usyk, a win would be even more monumental. He would follow in the great Evander Holyfield’s footsteps, another fighter who ruled over the cruiserweight division and went on to score a career-defining heavyweight title win, too. Holyfield upset Mike Tyson in a heavyweight championship thriller in 1996 before the infamous “Bite Fight” rematch.
Usyk, with a victory, would make a strong case to claim the ESPN pound-for-pound throne occupied by Terence Crawford.
What about the Fury-Ngannou fight?
Mike Tyson: Fury vs. Ngannou won’t be as one-sided as people think
Stephen A. Smith and Molly Qerim sit down with Mike Tyson and Francis Ngannou to discuss Ngannou’s mindset and strategy going into his first-ever boxing match vs. Tyson Fury.
Ngannou is one of the biggest names in combat sports, and his fight with Fury will only serve to build interest in the showdown with Usyk.
But there’s still some danger anytime a boxer has two fights lined up in succession. No one is giving Ngannou, who’s never boxed before, much of a chance against Fury, an all-time great, when they meet in a non-title fight. But this is the heavyweight division and stranger things have happened.
It’s an incredible long shot, but Ngannou is a massive man (6-foot-4, 257 pounds) with real power in both hands. And if he land a clear shot, who knows what happens.
Far more possible than an Ngannou upset: the prospect of injury for Fury. This is still a fight, and if Fury suffers a cut or injury, that could delay the clash with Usyk, which could take place as soon as Dec. 23.
“Tyson Fury is one of the best boxers of all time,” former UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic told ESPN’s Marc Raimondi. Miocic defeated Ngannou in 2018 but was knocked out in the rematch. “But listen, it’s a fight. Francis hits hard and he moves well. I just hope he shocks the world.”
What about the usual sanctioning body shenanigans?
When it comes to undisputed title fights, the rules of the four major sanctioning bodies usually loom over the proceedings. But no one is going to get in the way of the rich sanctioning fees that accompany such a super fight.
The WBA mandatory was sorted when Usyk survived a low blow to knock out Daniel Dubois in Round 9 in August. WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman has already said Fury has no mandatory at the moment.
Filip Hrgovic is the IBF’s No. 1 contender and is pushing for his shot now, but he will have to wait until Fury and Usyk meet in the ring first.
Zhilei Zhang, following his third-round TKO victory over Joe Joyce in the rematch last week, is the WBO interim heavyweight titleholder. That could land him a shot at the winner in the near future. Like Fury, Zhang is promoted by Frank Warren.
How do Fury and Usyk match up?
Fury is a rare talent, a boxer who can flick a pinpoint jab and box off the backfoot with crisp shots. He’s incredibly light on his feet for a 6-foot-9, 270-pound man and showed off his ability when he outboxed Klitschko in 2015.
Over the past few years, Fury has adapted his style. Now, he prefers to maul his opponents, using his immense size and weight in the clinch to drain his foes and break them down. Fury used the strategy to great effect in the second and third fights with Deontay Wilder — brutal beatdowns of arguably the biggest puncher in heavyweight history.
It’s likely Fury will employ the same approach against Usyk.
Why attempt to outbox a masterful boxer in Usyk when Fury can use what figures to be an extra 50 pounds in weight on fight night? He can lean on Usyk and sap the energy out of his legs.
Usyk, meanwhile, will surely use angles and precise footwork to time Fury with counter shots and stay out of danger. Usyk needs to keep the fight in the center of the ring and avoid being bullied into the ropes. He already has experience fighting a bigger, stronger man from his 24 rounds with Anthony Joshua, who might be a bigger puncher than Fury. Though he’s surely not on Fury’s level as a boxer.
Usyk is a southpaw, too, which has given Fury issues in the past. Look no further than the Otto Wallin fight, where he struggled before scoring a decision victory.
This shapes up as a fight either guy could win, but the slight edge goes to Fury.