'He takes it away from you mentally, physically -- quickly': What it's like to fight heavyweight champ Tyson Fury

by 24USATVOct. 7, 2021, 3:40 a.m. 16
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Mark Kriegel details the history of the heavyweight trilogy and revisits the unpredictability of the first two fights between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder. (2:05)

Rich Power was sitting on his porch in California in 2010 in the midst of preparing for a fight -- an MMA fight -- when he received a call from his manager. Known to be a fighter up for anything, and one always in shape for a scuffle, Power was intrigued by his manager's question.

"Do you want to fight Tyson Fury?"

This was years before Fury would become one of the most well-known names in the sport -- an "American Pie"-singing, Tom Jones-loving heavyweight champion of the world.

Back then, he was Tyson Fury, an up-and-coming undefeated British boxer. Power was undefeated, too, so he made some calls and asked for advice. Three days before the fight, Power and his coaches jumped on a plane to England.

"We just went in there," Power said. "Knowing he was a giant."

There's really no other boxer like Tyson Fury. He has a combination of size, speed and skill, plus reach, instincts and talent. He also has the mouth and the gift of being able to cut a promo. Add it all together and it's next to impossible to deal with.

Just ask the people who have fought him -- and lost -- over the past decade.

"There are three parts to it for anyone who is going to fight him," said Lee Swaby, who lost to Fury in 2009 and later became a sparring partner. "You have to be a master of PR, you have to be a master of self-belief and you have to be a master in the ring.

"Otherwise, you are going to fail."

Fighting Fury begins well before an opponent is even in the ring. It really begins when Fury decides he might want to fight you. As good as Fury is in the ring, he might equal it in his ability to create prefight hype. He'll start taking digs, trying to bait his opponent into getting into verbally sparring.

"His ability to get in somebody's head is his biggest strength, because right off the bat he starts on that and he works his way in," said Joey Abell, whom Fury knocked out in 2014. "He knows, outside of the ring, it has nothing to do with boxing. He connects with a lot of people.

"He knows what to say, knows what to do, knows how to act, all that kind of stuff."

While verbal back-and-forth is common in boxing -- some of it is part of the show to help build hype for fights -- Fury is better than most. Notable examples: saying in 2019 he lives in Deontay Wilder's head "rent-free" and calling Wladimir Klitschko "boring" and saying he had "about as much charisma as my underpants -- zero, none" in the lead-up to their 2015 fight that gave Fury the WBA, IBF and WBO titles.

Fury gets his opponent to start thinking about him more during training which can, in theory, be a distraction. Fury can do that by not talking, too. Abell went into their first news conference the Thursday before the fight expecting Fury would talk a lot. He didn't say much at all. Then at the weigh-in, he quickly said "I'm going to knock you out," and it caught Abell off-guard. And there's a difference, too, in how fighters do it. Power, who lost to Fury in 2010, said with Fury the talk is never disingenuous. That can be sniffed out quickly.

But when it is real -- or is convincing enough to seem real -- it can alter how an opponent handles it. The two best Power has seen? Fury and Conor McGregor, whom he compared to Drake and Jay-Z as line preparers.

"They believe that if [he] can get under your skin and make you angry, or if [he] can make you worked up or have you constantly thinking about [him] in any manner, it's better," Power said. "And it's going to mess with you more."

What it does, Power said, is create doubt. You see Fury -- all 6-foot-9 of him -- up close and realize it's going to be a different type of fight.

Then he might come out of nowhere with another verbal joust -- like when he told Power, "Do you know I'm going to break your jaw?"

Power responded: "Hey, brah, 32 people turned this fight down. I'm the only idiot who said yes and came over here on three days' notice. I'm going to punch you in the f---ing face and see what happens."

Power felt he learned the key to dealing with Fury's fury: Push back. Don't be nice about it. Respond with the best you've got. If you don't, Power said, it can gnaw at you like when a relationship ends and you know it's your fault -- the feeling in your stomach that just doesn't sit right.

That's what Fury is aiming for. Fighting back correctly alleviates that.

"If you don't match fire with fire a little bit, you're at risk of fading into nonexistence with the press and the fight fans and everybody," Swaby said.

No type of sparring or preparation can get an opponent ready for what they see across the ring on fight night.

"Imagine your first day at school. Imagine that you're a little kid in school and the three-years-older-than-you guy walks up to you and says, 'Me and you are going to fight,'" Swaby said. "Firstly, that's how you feel because you're small in comparison. Even though you're a grown man at this point, you're looking at essentially a guy that is three years above you in school in stature.

"And you're thinking 'Oh my word.'"

It can be less jarring for a fighter like Deontay Wilder, who is 6-foot-7 and has been in the ring with him twice before. But still, even a fighter like Wilder rarely sees a fighter larger than him.

The size is something that takes getting used to, both in prefight and again when the fight starts.

"Just to give you an idea of how big he is, we're both standing up and when I go to wrap my arms around him, I'm hugging his booty," Power said. "I'm like, 'This can't be real. Like how is this man this large?'"

Then there's how Fury uses his size. Somehow, he makes himself seem even longer because of his reach and how he is able to throw combinations, which is rare for a heavyweight.

Fury also doesn't plod like many heavyweights. He's fast enough to throw punches like smaller fighters, while his size and reach are rare even for larger heavyweights.

"I spent the first two rounds trying to figure out how I was going to get close enough to him to try and do any kind of damage because he's throwing his hands all over the place," Abell said. "Showboating type of thing, but then mid-showboating he'd stick a jab and next thing you know, I'd be thinking about it, 'What the hell.'"

Even if an opponent is able to last long enough to try to adjust, Fury continues to present different issues as the fight goes on.

"I felt quite comfortable in the first six rounds, but I was astonished that Tyson was so fast in the second half as well," Klitschko said after their fight. "I couldn't throw my right hand because the advantage was the longer distance he had."

And if things don't go your way against Fury, that can make an opponent change his game plan and try to do different things that are not effective and/or successful.

Deontay Wilder didn't land a power punch until Round 9, when he knocked down Fury for the first of two times.

"I came out slow. I rushed my punches. I didn't sit still. I was too hesitant," Wilder said after the first meeting. "I started overthrowing the right hand, and I just couldn't adjust.

"I was rushing my punches. That's something I usually don't do. I couldn't let it go tonight. I was forcing my punches too much instead of sitting back, being patient and waiting for it."

When Otto Wallin fought Fury in 2019, he felt his strategy was sound. Wallin created two cuts around Fury's eyes and at 6-foot-6 wasn't the size mismatch some other fighters can be. Wallin had the hand speed to hang with Fury and decided prefight he couldn't go in with too much of a defensive mindset.

The third-round cut over Fury's right eye led Wallin to thinking the fight might get stopped at some point. It wasn't -- and Fury rallied for a decision.

"He was coming after me more in the second half of the fight, so he wasn't using his height or reach," Wallin said. "More his weight and power."

If a fighter thinks there's one area he has figured out, Fury deduces what's working and what isn't and switches strategies midfight. Usually a fighter has endurance or heart. Occasionally they have both. Fury's rallies against Wallin, Wilder and John McDermott gave opponents at different stages of his career a window into what he'll do to win.

"He's got courage beyond belief," McDermott said. "His eyes rolled back five or six times when I hit him with jabs and most people would have grabbed or held on, but he just fought back."

Even if you hurt Fury, he's making adjustments. If he has you marked, it won't matter what an opponent does, because Fury will be able to counter it.

"Of course his reach is unbeatable, but it's the way he throws," said Jared Anderson, a rising heavyweight and Fury sparring partner who will fight on the undercard Saturday. "He can pop it. He can throw a strong jab. He's got a variation of a jab, and it's a combination of punches.

"He can go here boom-boom up top, then come to the body and then back up top down. He confuses people."

His height also creates unconventional angles for punches. So if a fighter is used to blocking a jab from a certain angle from a shorter fighter, Fury places it in a different spot. The reach also can lull an opponent into a false sense of semi-comfort. During his fight against Fury, there were times Abell thought he was at a safe distance.

Then Fury landed a punch -- not one with the intention of knocking Abell out, but more a reminder he could reach him there, too.

"Most people when they get rocked or hit, they are going to take a breath or take a step back," Power said. "Dude goes forward and puts massive combinations together. He doesn't even get a second to get in a mode, to get your brain switched like 'oh man, I got an opportunity here'.

"He takes it away from you mentally, physically -- quickly."

And when Fury has beaten an opponent it often sticks with them. For some, like Swaby and Power, it led to jobs as Fury sparring partners. For others, it's been an understanding that the fighter they fought, often on the way up, was going to be something special.

In Abell's case -- it completely changed the way he prepared. Changed how he thought about the entire sport. He'd never faced anyone like that before and hasn't since. He decided to have more sparring partners for future fights to give him different looks and to help him anticipate anything a fighter might throw.

It started because of Fury.

"Expect to see a master class lesson being taught," Abell said. "Because regardless of the way it looks, he's teaching you. It's like doing a math problem. You do it in an unorthodox way, but you still get it done. He boxes in an unorthodox way, but he still gets it done."

Nick Parkinson also contributed to this story

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