Alan Hubbard

"I am the greatest!" That famous phrase, with its familiar echoes from more than half of the century ago, came as a throaty roar from Tyson Fury as he celebrated his catch-your-breath conquest of Deontay Wilder to finally conclude their terrific trilogy in Las Vegas last weekend.

Some 24 hours later Fury had modified his boast to claim that in fact he was the greatest of his generation.

Good judge, Tyson. Great as undoubtedly you are, you are not the greatest heavyweight of all time. At least not yet. To my mind - and most others who have been around the boxing scene for more years than we care to remember - there is only one Greatest. The one - and only -Muhammad Ali.

I maintain that the Ali forced into exile at his zenith in 1968 as an undefeated 27-year-old surely would have beaten any heavyweight champion who ever lived, from John L Sullivan through to Fury.

This is not to diminish Fury’s achievements in any way. He is a fantastic fighter, truly the best heavyweight of his time.

"The Gypsy King" is now right up there on the plinth of heavyweight giants in every sense.

As one who witnessed the majority of Ali’s title fights I believe he would have been too fast, too clever and too intuitive even for both Tysons, Fury and "Iron Mike", as he was for George Foreman, Joe Frazier, even Joe Louis, Jack Johnson and co. But what contests those matches would have been, especially Ali versus Fury. The result, particularly if they battled over 15 rounds, as Ali did in most of his championship bouts, would have been a close call. But for me Ali would have nicked a points verdict, perhaps even a split decision.

Tyson Fury, left, underlined his status as the dominant force in heavyweight boxing by beating Deontay Wilder for the second time officially - and third in the eyes of many ©Getty Images
Tyson Fury, left, underlined his status as the dominant force in heavyweight boxing by beating Deontay Wilder for the second time officially - and third in the eyes of many ©Getty Images

Alas, we can only dream of such a happening. Like Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren, who helped bring Fury back from the depths of depression to stand high among the fistic legends of the past, remarked: "You would pay good money just to see a pre-fight press conference between the two, let alone an actual fight."

True, Fury would have matched Ali stunt-for-stunt and word-for-word as they tried to psyche each other out.

Indeed, though sadly Ali is no longer with us there remain some striking similarities between them. Both built careers on being blatant exhibitionists with the gift of the gab as well as the jab; both came from humble, though not impoverished, backgrounds, never hungry fighters in the literal sense.

Both, too, had to fight prejudice - Ali as a young black man living in America’s Deep South and Fury with his traveller background. They also committed themselves to religion, Ali in famously converting to Islam and Fury a proselytising Christian. Moreover both went from being loathed to loved, and became the Pied Pipers of pugilism followed and idolised by fans wherever they went.

They shared a penchant for big families - Ali had nine kids and Fury is now catching him up with six!

They also shared an orthodoxy and an ability to shock and amaze us.

Both were massive underdogs when they first won world championship belts, Ali against the ogre Sonny Liston and Fury stunning the ageing yet enduring Wladimir Klitschko.

They do not call Muhammad Ali "The Greatest" for nothing ©Getty Images
They do not call Muhammad Ali "The Greatest" for nothing ©Getty Images

And now both have the distinction of being triumphant in three at pugilistic classics, which go down in history as arguably the best ever, Fury v Wilder III like Ali v Frazier III dramatically ending in the penultimate round.

I may be of a certain vintage but I like to think I’m not one of those rheumy-eyed old-timers who thinks everything was rosier in the good old days. That ain’t necessarily so! But I do believe the "Thrilla in Manila" just had the edge over the pulsating punch-up in Las Vegas last weekend.

When debating greatness between heavyweight giants we should remember that this was only Fury's fourth world title fight: Ali had 22 in his 61-fight career. Of these 14 were against former world champions.

The time may come when Fury truly can declare himself to be the greatest heavyweight of all time but he is 31 now so he will have to get a move on. Meantime he will continue to confound, amuse and entertain us in the ring and out. He is right up there in the pantheon of legends. But unlike some of his contemporaries he is very much his own man so ultimately he will dictate who and when he fights.

My suspicion is that he will not linger longer than he feels is necessary. Maybe just two or three more contests - if you can term them that such is his present superiority.

With that much hyped all-British blockbuster with Anthony Joshua currently out of the window after "AJ" surrendered his various belts to fellow former Olympic champion Oleksandr Usyk, next up for Fury is likely to be Dillion Whyte, the Briton who is the mandatory challenger for the World Boxing Council title so brilliantly retained by the ever Lazarus-like Tyson despite two lockdowns.

Oleksandr Usyk, right, may be the only active heavyweight able to out-think Tyson Fury ©Getty Images
Oleksandr Usyk, right, may be the only active heavyweight able to out-think Tyson Fury ©Getty Images

Joshua, if he has the stomach for the fight, could still get that mega-match with Fury by beating Ukrainian Usyk in their scheduled return, but I would not put my house on it. Another win for slick Usyk puts him in the frame for a Fury fight. This is one I would love to see for I believe Usyk is the only one around who might be savvy enough to frustrate Fury, despite the disparity in size and weight, for the ex-world cruiserweight kingpin is nippy, boxes with craft and intelligence and most importantly can absorb a good whack as he showed when taming a timid Joshua.

With no American heavyweight of substance around now that Wilder looks broken beyond repair after that 11th-round stoppage lying face down on the floor, Britain really does rule the ring in the heavyweight division and yet another Londoner, Joe Joyce, is right up there in the mix. The silver medallist from the Rio Olympics five years ago awaits a possible upgrade to gold with the exposure of rigged judging which may have affected his final against Frenchman Tony Yoka, which he seemed clearly to have won.

Joyce is a nominated contender for the winner of Usyk v Joshua II but it would not surprise me to see him facing Fury in London some time next year.

Almost anything is possible in boxing these days but the one certainty is that Tyson Fury is the one with the world at his fists.