Boxing: Fury or Usyk, 25 years later, who will be the sole heavyweight king?

The event only occurs once every 25 years. On Saturday, the boxing world will have its eyes on Riyadh to crown its new undisputed king of the premier category: Tyson Fury or Oleksandr Usyk. On the one hand, the Briton has held the WBC heavyweight title since 2020 and the second of his three epic fights against Deontay Wilder. On the other hand, the Ukrainian has worn the WBA, WBO and IBF belts since he dethroned the British Anthony Joshua in 2021. The winner – if there is a winner – will become the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis, crowned in 1999 in Las Vegas. That year, eleven years after his Olympic title in Seoul, Lewis reached the Holy Grail following his points victory against Evander Holyfield. Twenty-five years later, it is in Saudi Arabia, in Riyadh, which has become the world capital of boxing, that the prestigious fight will take place.

“Once in a generation”

A force of nature of 2.06 meters, the 35-year-old Mancunian remains on a sluggish, not to say embarrassing, victory against converted MMA fighter Francis Ngannou in October. But he has since shed his excess weight and has the best physique of his life. At 37 years old, Usyk, former undisputed light heavyweight champion, also Olympic champion in 2012, gives the Briton 15 centimeters but has already triumphed over taller opponents, notably twice against the imposing Anthony Joshua.

Not afraid of superlatives, promoter Frank Warren described this fight as “the most important of the 21st century”, the kind of fight that “only happens once in a generation”. The outcome of the match is in any case debated, with some leaning towards the “Gipsy King” Fury, tall and cunning, others towards Usyk, capable of relying on his exceptional arm and leg speed. “Tyson Fury should win on points,” Lewis predicted to the BBC. “The larger of the two has longer arms and a greater capacity for movement.” But Usyk is “the purest and best boxer that Fury will face in his life,” warned Tony Bellew, the Ukrainian’s latest victim at light heavyweight. “There are boxers and then there is Usyk,” he said.

“Let’s make history”

The final preparations were as unpredictable as the two fighters. After the chaos caused by the headbutt given by Fury’s father to a member of Usyk’s entourage, the boxers were rather calm and respectful during the press conference, organized Thursday in stifling heat in the upscale neighborhood of Ryad Boulevard. Fury refused to engage in the traditional face-to-face, while Usyk scribbled a poem. “Let’s make history,” said the Ukrainian simply.

Criticism of “sport washing” from Saudi Arabia, often accused of using high-profile sport to distract from its human rights record, has been virtually absent, with promoters and fighters alike striving to praise the conservative kingdom. Fury and Usyk, who have a rematch clause, are expected to make considerable profits from this fight, and according to some estimates the Briton would pocket at least 100 million pounds (116 million euros).

Before their duel, the boxers both had an impeccable record: 34 victories and a draw for Fury, compared to 21 victories in as many fights for Usyk. But the two men also share unique, even extraordinary, life paths. The British juggernaut with a tortured soul, from a lineage of Irish gypsies adept at bare-knuckle boxing, has experienced the heights, but also the descent into hell, often speaking of his bipolar disorders, his addiction problems and his depression. Usyk saw his life and career turned upside down with Russia’s invasion of his country in 2022. Briefly engaged at the front, he has since taken on the role of emblem of Ukraine at war. On Saturday, the winner will join an elite group of big names in boxing, from Jack Dempsey to Mike Tyson, Joe Louis and Mohamed Ali.

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