OPINION: Floats like a butterfly but can Fury sting like Ali?
The respect is there for Tyson Fury, grudgingly it has to be emphasised, but the ridicule is richer than reverence when it comes to comparisons with heavyweight boxing’s greatest of them all, the late Muhammad Ali.
Within minutes of Fury destroying Deontay Wilder with a seventh-round stoppage, some were likening the Gypsy King to Ali, in personality, in appeal and in quality as a heavyweight champion.
Don King, infamous as much as he is famous for being the grandest promoter of boxing’s biggest fights over the last 50 years, mocked those who dared put Fury’s name alongside Ali’s.
“To compare Fury with the legendary, greatest of all time, float like a butterfly sting like a bee, your hand can’t hit what your eyes can’t see, is not a commentary situation. Something is wrong there. I’ll leave it to you. You be the judge people because I can’t understand that. That’s confusion to me, that must be a new disease, a new language that they’re speaking. I don’t quite understand it,” King told FightHub.
The 88 year old TopRank promoter Bob Arum, in Fury’s corner, likens his world champion boxer to Ali in terms of charisma and personality.
“The fans love him. Ali would be great at delivering his one-liners before fights, which everyone loved. Tyson is always entertaining in what he says and does.”
King doesn’t dispute Fury’s spectator appeal, but he refutes emphatically any boxing comparison to Ali. Bernard Hopkins, who won multiple world titles as a middleweight and light heavyweight, shares a similar view.
“Fury is a great salesman,” he told BoxingScene.com. “I think it is Ali (as a salesman), then him. But that is where the comparison ends.”
There is agreement among boxing experts that Fury is a very good boxer and an acknowledgement that Fury can only beat whoever is put in front of him, which is everyone who has fought him in a 29-fight history. Fury’s only blemish is a 12-round draw in the first Wilder fight - an occasion Fury is convinced he won comfortably.
Fury, unlike Ali, is an enigma.
Fury’s story in boxing is unrivalled in coming back from drug and booze addiction and a three-year ring absence to shed 50kg and win back boxing’s most prized championship title. Fury suffers from depression and says he always will have this darkness suffocate his day. It is an ongoing fight he says he can never win. At best, he can manage the illness.
Fury is a giant at 2.06m and his fighting weight of 126kg when he battered the previously unbeaten Wilder is the third heaviest in a victorious heavyweight world title bout.
Lennox Lewis, the last heavyweight champion to unify all the divisions, pre the second Wilder fight said it surprised him that ‘a man that big hits that small’. Lewis said the second Wilder fight would define Fury’s standing in the history of heavyweight champions.
Post the fight, Lewis declared Fury up there as a worthy world champion deserving of applause and recognition.
Fury’s enormous size, his 215.9cm reach and a chin that survived one of the biggest punches from Wilder in the first fight are his obvious strengths, but it’s his ring IQ that has many of the sport’s historians, trainers and participants comparing him to Ali.
Fury also has surprising mobility for one of his size and quickness, but he doesn’t have the speed of an Ali. Then again, no boxer could match the speed of Ali in his prime.
Boxing historians are consistent in rating fighters in three categories: records, common or like opponents and skills/styles, and every historian and Boxrec’s computer analysis, in which every fighter’s every move is recorded and processed, favour Ali at his best to be the best.
Mike Tyson, the youngest heavyweight champion of the world at 20, is recognised as one of the most informed students of boxing. Tyson is a fan of Fury, but he is a disciple of Ali’s.
“Nobody beat Ali, prime against prime not even me,” said (Mike) Tyson. “Ali is a f******g animal. He looks more like a model than a fighter, but what he is, he’s like a Tyrannosaurus Rex with a pretty face. And fast, Lord God, he was fast.”
The late Jimmy Jacobs, who owned the world’s largest fight film collection, measured Ali’s jab by an omegascope and not only was Ali’s jab so much faster than any heavyweight, it was even considerably faster than the legendary middleweight Sugar Ray Robinson. Robinson’s jab took 8.5 frames of film; Ali’s just 6.5.
Comparisons between Ali and Fury, say the experts, are premature because of who Ali fought and who Fury still has to fight.
Ali beat every top 100 fighter he faced, with the exception of Larry Holmes. The asterisk next to the Holmes fight is that Ali was 39 years old and had already been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Ali beat 14 world champions from 1962 to 1978 and won 22 championship fights over a 14-year period. He also made 19 successful title defences and he has a record 11-0 in rematches. Ali also fought and beat 10 of 11 Hall of Famers. Holmes was the exception.
Prime versus prime is the only comparison that can be made with fighters from different eras and generations. Holmes, for example, won his first 48 fights in succession but in his last years was clubbed into submission in four rounds by (Mike) Tyson and beaten by a few more in world title challenges. Tyson was in his prime; Holmes was a spent force.
Ali, according to BoxRec, fought three fighters in the top 10 of all time, 19 of the top 100 and 24 in the top 150, winning 27 of the 29 fights. Fury has fought three in the top 150 and won two of them.
Fury’s size and reach has influenced many a lay person’s belief that he would hammer Ali, but boxing writer Anthony Mason reminded the ill-informed that Ali easily defeated Ernie Terrell, who stood 1.98m and had a 208cm reach.
Speed, as Ali preached, always beats size.
Rocky Marciano, who filmed the ‘computer fight’ with Ali in 1969, described Ali as 'the fastest man on wheels,’ adding ‘no fighter who ever lived was that fast’.
The late Marciano, retired at 32 as the heavyweight champion of the world and unbeaten in 49 fights, said that the young Ali would have beaten “anybody, anytime, anywhere and that includes me”.
Fury’s former trainer Ben Davison rejects the view of those who so easily dismiss the comparisons between his old charge and Ali.
“Once Tyson (Fury) is finished with the sport, he’ll be looked at like Muhammad Ali. Ali and Tyson (Fury) have so many resemblances. In time, people will see that and appreciate it,” said Davison.
Lewis, who beat up an older Mike Tyson in seven rounds and twice defeated Evander Holyfield, dismissed comparisons between Ali and Fury.
Lewis, a three-time world heavyweight champion, a two-time lineal champion and the last heavyweight to hold the undisputed title, conceded that Fury could box and that Fury’s size and style would make him a difficult opponent.
“Fury would have given me some trouble because he’s so big and lanky, but I would break him down, probably by the 10th round, and stop him.”
Lewis has never made such a statement about fighting and beating Ali.