NEW YORK — Let’s be honest: Boxing needs Tyson Fury.
It needs his size. At 6-9, 255-pounds Fury is the biggest heavyweight in the game. With the way that unified titleholders Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko have toyed with undersized heavyweights the last few years, it’s clear only a fighter who can stand face to face with one has a chance to beat them.
It needs his talent. The late Emanuel Steward often told me that he believed Fury was the best young big man in boxing.
It needs his mouth. Man, does it need his mouth. Last week, Fury was in Manhattan to promote his April 20th fight against Steve Cunningham. A sampling of his comments to SI.com:
? On the Klitschko brothers: “I think they are p—–s, to be honest with you. They are scared to fight Tyson Fury. I wouldn’t even fight Vitali because he is an old man. I don’t get off fighting old fighters. It would be a mismatch putting a 41-year old in with a 24-year old. The guy should retire. I’ve offered to fight Wladimir a hundred times. When I fight Wladimir, there is going to be glass all over the ring because his jaw is going to be everywhere. When this fight with Cunningham is over, I’m going on a Klitschko manhunt. We are going to hunt this bitch down all over the world.”
? On what makes him different from other heavyweight contenders: “I bring speed, boxing ability, a good brain, I bring it all. I’m the full package. And I love getting punched in the face. It’s what I do. It ain’t about money for me. My family has money. Whoever says you can’t make it if you come from an underprivileged background is full of s—. I’m living proof that you can. I love fighting. I’m a fighting man who comes from a fighting family. You punch me in the face it’s like throwing petrol on the fire.”
? On whether he considers himself Irish or English: “I consider myself one good-looking son of a b—-.”
I know: Boxing has plenty of talkers. Kevin Johnson yaps like Muhammad Ali out of the ring, and does an impressive impression of a punching bag in it. Ricardo Mayorga runs his mouth before every fight, then sticks his chin out during it. James Toney is still trying to convince people he will be a world champion, despite having not won a meaningful fight in nearly a decade.
Blending talent and talk is rare, a category reserved for the likes of Ali and Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather.
Someday, maybe Fury, too.
Cunningham doesn’t think much of Fury. “He wins because he’s big,” Cunningham told me. “Bring him down to 6-3, 6-4 and he’s nothing.” Respectfully, I would disagree. Fury (20-0) doesn’t have Klitschko-like one-punch power, but at his size he has plenty of pop. His punch output is better than most heavyweights and his resume — which includes wins over former title challengers Johnson and Dereck Chisora — is stronger than most top prospects.
“Every fight I’m learning a bit more,” Fury said. “I’ve got some good twelve round fights under my belt. I have fought some good competition and I have fought all kinds of styles.”
Think about it: Who is better heavyweight prospect than Fury? David Price is a month removed from getting knocked out by journeyman Tony Thompson. Last year, Seth Mitchell got clobbered by Johnathan Banks. Bryant Jennings has potential, but you have to wonder just how far a 6-2 heavyweight can go.
Heavyweights are the standard bearers in boxing. Today, we have a couple of hugely popular stars in Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. But go on Google. See how popular Tyson, Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier and Jack Dempsey were back in the day. We are a country, a world, that is obsessed with great heavyweights, and the fact that there are so few is crippling the sport.
Fury has plenty to prove. He will get his toughest test to date against Cunningham, a brilliant boxer who was robbed of a decision against Tomasz Adamek last December. And despite Fury’s criticisms of the Klitschkos, the next person to get in the ring and beat one of them will be the first in nine years.
But Fury is loaded with potential, with the talent to win in the ring and the personality to be the first European heavyweight to be a star in the U.S. since Lennox Lewis.
You remember Lennox, right Tyson?
“Let’s get one thing straight, I’m nothing like Lennox Lewis,” Fury said. “I’m the total opposite. Lennox was scared to say what he thought. Me, whatever is on my mind, I say it. I heard the American people like a good fighter. I’m what they are looking for.”
For boxing’s sake, let’s hope so.
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