Alan Hubbard

These are heady days for heavyweights. 

Not since those halcyon times when Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes and co-were kings has there been as much genuine fascination with the big guys of boxing mix’n’matching it with each other.

And British sluggers are to the forefront of the fray.

Olympic champion Anthony Joshua has claimed redemption by regaining the three world heavyweight titles he lost ingloriously to a podgy pug named Andy Ruiz Jnr.

AJ is now gearing up for a mandatory title defence against Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev,possibly at Tottenham Hotspur‘s new ground in June.

Meanwhile The O2 is sure to be filled to capacity for the tastiest all British dust-up for many years when the unbeaten new young British heavyweight champion Daniel Dubois faces the Olympic silver medallist Joe Joyce. 

Both are unbeaten and have knocked out all but one of their opponents respectively.

It is a true super-fight which has taken promoters some time to get together. 

What is certain is that one of them will emerge as another British world title contender.

More immediately however the spotlight will be on Las Vegas on Saturday week when the Brit who is now leading the charge for heavyweight domination once again struts his inimitable stuff.

Tyson Fury has won over America. Now all he has to do is win over IN America by ripping the WBC world heavyweight belt from the tapered 34 inch waist of Deontay Wilder and bringing it back to the UK.

Can he do it in the most eagerly anticipated heavyweight championship bout since the days when his slam bamming namesake Iron Mike ruled the ring roost?

Deontay Wilder is hoping to retain the WBC heavyweight world titles later this month by beating Tyson Fury in Las Vegas ©AFP/Getty Images
Deontay Wilder is hoping to retain the WBC heavyweight world titles later this month by beating Tyson Fury in Las Vegas ©AFP/Getty Images

Astonishingly, like the bookies in London the oddsmakers in Las Vegas – where the bout will be held at the MGM Grand – obviously think so, making him the marginal favourite.

No doubt this is because of his bravura performance in Los Angeles 14 months ago when awarded a draw in a contest in which only Wilder himself and a handful of others, unfortunately including two of the three ringside adjudicators, erroneously believed he had not quite beaten the American.

Yet it may also be because Fury has made himself arguably the most popular British fighter ever to appear in the United States. 

It has been a shrewdly calculated campaign jointly orchestrated by Fury himself and the world’s two most venerable and prestigious promoters, American Bob Arum, 88, and Britain’s Frank Warren, 67, who between them have over 90 years’ experience of big-time fisticuffs.

Fury, the once reviled bete noir of boxing. reinvented himself both in his native Britain and now the US, where he has not only fought his last three contests but has become a major star of the celebrity circuit, jesting as well as jousting as only he can.

The Gypsy King has morphed into the Clown Prince and as we know America loves a clown. Especially one with charisma and clout who can charm an audience. President Trump is living testimony to that.

Not only has Fury become the most popular British protagonist since Ricky Hatton and his Mancunian army invaded Las Vegas but he is also more popular in the United States than Beijing 2008 Olympic bronze medallist Wilder, now an undefeated world heavyweight champion who can bang and box, yet is not exactly a household name over there outside of his own hometown in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

While I’m not brimming with confidence that Fury can stop the never floored –and barely flawed – Bronze Bomber, which he may well need to do to get the verdict, one advantage that he will have is that this time he is able to put on a few pounds rather than shed a ton or two as he had to do last time they fought.

At least this may put a bit more beef into his own armoury.

We know that Wilder carries unpinned grenades in both gloves so Fury must keep out of harm’s way which he did not quite manage to do in LA, having to amazingly pick himself off the floor to gain that well deserved draw. 

Indeed he was given absurdly short shrift by two of the three judges, including Briton Phil Edwards, a fellow Lancastrian who lives just down the road in Preston not that far from Fury’s Morecambe home.

In his 12 year career 31-year-old Fury has been a relentless self-salesman, spreading himself far beyond a traditional boxing audience.

His claim earlier this month to be preparing for the Wilder rematch by masturbating seven times a day was typically outlandish and entirely in character. 

No one truly believes it, least of all Fury himself – but he knew it would grab the headlines on both sides of the Atlantic.

Tyson Fury is hoping to win the WBC world heavyweight title belt from Deontay Wilder after their initial meeting was a controversial draw ©AFP/Getty Images
Tyson Fury is hoping to win the WBC world heavyweight title belt from Deontay Wilder after their initial meeting was a controversial draw ©AFP/Getty Images

Earlier in his career he would go wildly and frequently irritatingly off script to project himself, often incurring the wrath of officialdom. 

Nowadays with his more reformed persona he is probably the most in demand British sports figure for media interviews and is surely the most loquacious (some might say mouthiest) figure in boxing since Muhammad Ali.

As Frank Warren says “This is a guy who can talk as well as fight. 

"He is very engaging. very intelligent and articulate.

"It was just a case of getting him onto platforms to show that.”

He can also be fascinatingly introspective, reflecting at length and in depth about the depression, addiction, infidelity and weight gain that kept him out of the ring for two and a half years after his tremendous triumph over Wladimir Klitschko in Germany in 2015.

Now his eloquence has been successfully transferred to the US. 

“I just tell him: Be you. They are going to eat it up,” says Bob Arum.

“The American public have found him humorous and outrageous – they wrapped themselves in his personality, his ringwalks and costumes, his singing – he has sold himself brilliantly to the public over here.

“ Prince Naseem Hamed, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton brought their UK fan bases with them but they never became great American attractions” says Arum.

"But Tyson – you let him loose and he is drawing a tremendous American audience.

"The late night TV talk shows have a great appetite to get him on because they know he will be controversial and entertaining. 

"They need a guy like him who cannot only attract an audience but keep an audience.”

Warren adds: “Working with him is like it was in the early days with Naz who was great fun if not to everyone’s taste. 

"But it was fun promoting him. 

"It is like that with Tyson. 

"You never know what to expect but one thing you do know it is never going to be dull.”

This will be confirmed by British audiences this week when ITV begin a three part series on Thursday which delves deeply into Fury’s complex personality and boxing career. 

These shows which start next Thursday will also go behind the scenes of his preparations for the upcoming contest and shine a spotlight on his family life and battles with mental health.

It is said to be the most complete and intimate portrait of the Gypsy King ever seen and will be an absorbing build up to the a fascinating Febuary 22 fight which is to be screened live on BT Box Office in the UK.

Meantime, boxing fans can celebrate that the heavyweight division is once again alive and punching.