Oleksandr usyk plays it cool

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By: Sean Crose

One of the most entertaining (or annoying, depending on how you look at it) elements of today’s fight game is the TYSON FURY SHOW. Make no mistake about it, the towering Englishman has a way of drawing attention to himself (as does his cantankerous father). It’s hard to ignore a loud, nearly seven foot tall individual with a distinct swagger, after all. Yet on the eve of his fight with Oleksandr Usyk for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world, Fury finds himself with lots to prove, so much to prove, in fact, that he seems to have lowered the volume of his schtick a bit.

For starters, there was Fury’s miserable performance last fall against UFC great Francis Ngannou. No one expected Fury to end up on the mat while facing a mixed martial artist making his ring debut, but that’s exactly what happened. To make matters worse, fellow Englishman Anthony Joshua went on to make brutally easy work against Ngannou a few months later. Sure, Fury defeated Ngannou by a controversial split decision, but Joshua made Ngannou look like the victim of a tsunami – that’s how hard Ngannou was bowled over. Again, Fury has much to prove when he steps inside the ring in Saudi Arabia Saturday to face the undefeated Usyk.

To this credit, however, Fury is truly looking lean and mean heading into this weekend’s bout. Training footage shows a man who, despite his showy personality, its taking matters quite seriously. That certainly didn’t appear to be the case when he fought Ngannou. In short, Fury, who calls himself “The Gypsy King,” looks ready for action. He is, however, still Tyson Fury. “Good, bad, indifferent, fat, skinny, whatever, drunk, I’m still going to turn up and fight,” he recently old IFL TV.

In sharp contrast to Fury is the serious Usyk. Not that the Ukrainian isn’t funny at times. He certainly can be. What Usyk is for opponents, however, is an extremely skilled, very intense competitor. To understand just how how focused on this weekend’s task Usyk is, check out his recent words to Frank Warren’s Queensbury Promotions: “I’ve prepared for this fight for 22 years. It’s a big event for Ukraine.” Considering the fact that Ukraine remains engaged in a bloody war that began when the country was invaded by Russian forces in 2022, it’s easy to grasp why Saturday’s fight is so important for Usyk.

Unlike Fury, Usyk is a steady presence in the sense that you generally know how he’s going to behave at all times, and that’s in a confident, professional manner. Yet the WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight titlist has made it clear that he’s making it a point to not let Fury into his head. “I understand Fury,” he admitted while conceding “it’s (a) little bit hard because (of his) British accent.” It’s difficult to verbally joust with someone who will simply not engage. Not that it may bother Fury. Still, it’s obvious that consummate professional Usyk isn’t letting Fury get to him as Fury has other fighters.

In short, Oleksandr Usyk is playing it cool.

Will that prove to be enough against Fury, though? It’s a tough question, as it’s hard to see which direction this fight may travel. Perhaps it will all come down to whether or not Usyk can employ angles on Fury the way he did against Anthony Joshua. Or perhaps it will all come down to Fury being able to smother the smaller man (though I have a hard time seeing that happening). No matter what, one thing is nearly certain – the battle will be won by performance rather than outside the ring mind games.

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