Road to Riyadh: Fury and Usyk’s long journey to date with destiny

<span>Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk: from amateurs with Olympic dreams to world champions.</span><span>Composite: Guardian design</span>
Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk: from amateurs with Olympic dreams to world champions.Composite: Guardian design

April 2008: Price destroys Fury’s Olympic dream

His eye-catching size and improbable name earned Tyson Fury attention but his amateur career was marked by frustration. Fury fought only 35 times (31-4) and his dream of going to the 2008 Olympics was shattered when David Price – responsible for one of those four defeats – was selected as Team GB’s super-heavyweight for Beijing. After a failed attempt to qualify for the Ireland team, a disillusioned Fury almost quit the sport at the age of 19. “My age of innocence was smashed,” he said. “For a while I didn’t go near the gym because I was so upset.”

December 2008: Fury’s pro career starts with first-round KO

On the undercard of a Carl Froch show in Nottingham, the 20-year-old Fury turned pro to little fanfare, stopping the Hungarian journeyman Bela Gyongyosi in one round. Fury looked raw in his early fights, showing little of the finesse he would eventually display. His fourth fight was notable for Fury punching himself in the face with a wayward uppercut, before he nearly came unstuck in his eighth bout, escaping with a disputed decision over John McDermott, described in the Guardian as “a robbery of the highway variety”. Fury stopped McDermott in a rematch but hardly looked like a future world champion.

August 2012: Usyk triumphs at London Games

Although often in the shadow of his close friend, and fellow Ukrainian southpaw, the brilliant lightweight Vasiliy Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk had an outstanding amateur career. The pinnacle came when he won Olympic heavyweight gold at London 2012 a day before his future opponent, Anthony Joshua, grabbed gold at super-heavyweight. Usyk’s father died later that August. “He watched me become Olympic champion, but I didn’t make it back in time to show him the gold medal,” Usyk said. “When I arrived [in Ukraine] he was already lying in the coffin.” Usyk turned pro after his 350th amateur bout, sporting a remarkable 335-15 record.

Related: Fury v Usyk clash a reminder of the epic days in heavyweight boxing

November 2013: Journeyman Romero dispatched by Usyk on pro debut

At 26 years old Usyk had his first professional fight in Kyiv. In front of an adoring home crowd, the top-knotted cruiserweight finished the Mexican journeyman Felipe Romero with a pinpoint left hand in round five. Given Usyk’s amateur pedigree, he was unsurprisingly put on a fast track to success. In his third contest, he was near the top of the bill when his countryman Wladimir Klitschko defended his heavyweight world titles in Germany. By his fifth fight, Usyk was winning his first pro title – albeit of the WBO interim intercontinental variety – taking his record to 5-0 (5 KOs).

November 2015: Underdog Fury downs Klitschko

Klitschko was unbeaten in 11 years before his world title defence against Fury. The buildup was bizarre with Fury dressing up as Batman for a press conference, pummelling an invader in a Joker mask, before calling Wlad a robot. Klitschko labelled Fury “a genuinely strange man” and few gave the underdog a chance. Yet outdoors in Düsseldorf, Fury rose to the occasion, baffling the champion with his size, movement, unorthodox skills and showboating. After his unanimous decision win, Fury took the mic and serenaded his wife, Paris, with some in-ring Aerosmith before a baffled German audience.

September 2016: Usyk dethrones Glowacki in his own back yard

In only his 10th pro fight, Usyk went to Poland to challenge the WBO cruiserweight champ, Krzysztof Glowacki, who had a perfect 26-0 record. Despite having never gone beyond nine rounds before, Usyk utilised his mesmerising movement and southpaw jab, becoming increasingly dominant as the fight wore on. The crowd in Gdansk came alive in round 12 at the sight of Usyk on the canvas, but it was merely a slip. Usyk won a wide unanimous decision and started what would become a specialism: dethroning champions in their own back yard.

January 2017 – June 2018: Drugs and depression derail Fury

Fury’s life fell apart in the years after his win against Klitschko. He struggled with depression, was informed of a failed drug test for nandrolone – Fury claimed it was from eating uncastrated wild boar – and his weight ballooned. A rematch with Klitschko was postponed multiple times, including after Fury failed another drug test, this time for cocaine. “Cocaine is a little minor thing compared to not wanting to live any more,” he said. For a while it appeared as if he would never return to boxing. By the time he did in June 2018, he had been out of the ring for more than two and half years.

Related: Frank Warren: ‘Fury has overcome demons most people would never have got out of’

July 2018: Usyk unifies cruiserweight titles in near-perfect display

Back-to-back victories over Joshua in 2021 and 2022 earned Usyk global acclaim. But his most flawless display remains the win over Russia’s Murat Gassiev to become undisputed cruiserweight champion. Travelling to Moscow to fight a feared, unbeaten puncher in a bout the bookmakers saw as dead even, Usyk was masterful. He barely lost a minute, winning by scores of 120-108 and 119-09 twice to unify all four title belts and his name joined Evander Holyfield’s in the debate over the best cruiserweight in history. In the ring afterwards, Usyk celebrated greatness in style: by calling out Tony Bellew.

February 2020: Dismantling of Wilder proves Fury’s zenith

Rising off the canvas twice to draw with Deontay Wilder in 2018 marked the start of Fury’s renaissance but his masterpiece was their February 2020 rematch. Few took Fury seriously when he boasted beforehand about walking down the division’s most dangerous puncher. But from the first bell Fury showed previously unseen aggression and power to go with his high ring IQ, bullying the American into a seventh-round TKO. A nonplussed Wilder blamed the weight of his elaborate ring-walk costume for sapping his energy. “Not bad for someone with pillow fists,” assessed Fury, having won back his WBC title.

October 2020: Usyk’s wobble against Chisora

The closest Usyk has come to losing is his narrow majority decision win over Latvia’s Mairis Briedis in 2018. But the fight that put a question mark over his heavyweight credentials came when he was roughed up by Derek Chisora in October 2020. Usyk ate several of Chisora’s roundhouse blows early on and, while he pulled away to win a clear decision, the victor rated his performance a 3/10. That Chisora, enduring a 10th defeat, had made life uncomfortable for Usyk seemed a red flag as to what would occur when he met an elite, super-size heavyweight. His dismantling of Joshua in September 2021 blew that theory out of the water.

February 2022: Ukrainian takes up arms against Russia

In early 2022, the life of every Ukrainian changed with the invasion by Russia. Usyk took up arms, joining a defence battalion in Kyiv, saying: “I don’t want to shoot, I don’t want to kill anybody. But if they will be killing me, I will have no choice.” Eventually he was told by the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, among others, that he could better raise funds for his homeland and awareness of Ukraine’s plight by returning to the ring. The Joshua rematch followed, however Usyk has not boxed in his homeland since 2015.

October 2023: Out-of-shape Fury put down by novice Ngannou

It takes a lot to leave the brash, self-titled “Gypsy King” embarrassed, but getting knocked down by a novice boxer on his pro debut did the trick. A poorly prepared Fury was chinned by a left hook from the former UFC champion Francis Ngannou in a novelty fight designed to promote Fury-Usyk. While Fury got up to eke out a 10-round split decision win, it was – alarmingly – Ngannou who landed the better individual blows. Fury has always fought dramatically up and down to the level of his opposition, but his dire display was put in context by Joshua’s subsequent five-minute demolition of the MMA fighter.

February 2024: First date cancelled due to Briton’s cut

After years of delays and negotiations, Fury v Usyk finally had a date in February 2024: until an elbow in sparring opened up a gash above the Briton’s eye weeks before the event. Conspiracy theorists wailed that Fury had engineered the cut to push back the contest after his tough night against Ngannou, or to bail altogether. A new date in May appeased the doubters, yet Fury has undoubtedly benefited, looking in better condition now than he did earlier this year. Usyk is never in anything but terrific shape. Time to discover the identity of the world’s best heavyweight.