Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk will be a fight for the ages

Britain's Tyson Fury (L) and Ukraine's Oleksandr Usyk (R) stand on stage during the official weigh-in on the eve of their heavyweight world boxing championship fight in Riyadh on May 17, 2024
Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk face off for the undisputed world heavyweight title - Getty Images/Yasser Al-Umari

After all the hype – and a fiery weigh-in last night – the biggest fight of the century so far is here. Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk are the central protagonists after a 25-year wait for the fractured belts and rival sanctioning bodies to come together.

It has been a special week for boxing ahead of a contest that pitches two diverse characters, both unbeaten, against each other for the coronation of the king of boxing.

Fury, unbeaten in 35 contests with 24 knockouts, meets a former Olympic champion from Simferopol, Ukraine, who is unbeaten in 21 fights, with 14 knockouts. Usyk dominated the cruiserweight division, unified it, and then came up to heavyweight to defeat Anthony Joshua in two stirring performances.

As the two came together for the final face-off before the fight, Fury put his head on Usyk’s and then shoved his foe. The two men were quickly separated by a phalanx of security guards with Fury taking to the front of the stage pumping his arms triumphantly – a stark contrast to Thursday’s muted press conference. “We’re ready to rock and roll. Fireworks tomorrow night,” Fury said on the stage.

There are sub-plots aplenty to this fight. Like Fury’s cut eye which he sustained in sparring just under two months ago, and how he may be affected by that. How much sparring the 35-year-old will have been able to get involved in for the last seven weeks is one talking point; conversely, so too the fact that Usyk has completed back to back to back training camps due to the postponement of the contest twice, and that he may have been worn down mentally by the wait. All important in these contests.

As for Fury’s eye, it will be overseen by cutman Frank Hopkins, the 78-year-old from Portsmouth who has been in the corner since the Dillian Whyte fight at Wembley in April 2022. Hopkins has dealt with boxers “whose eyes are completely shut” and after several decades in the sport he carries the same calm composure whether it is a four round fight at the York Hall, Bethnal Green, or a world title fight.

Hopkins does admit, though, that going into his 40th world title fight, it is “the pinnacle” of his career. Hopkins’ career – he was once a car and horse dealer – began with his nephew Tony Oakey many years back. His experience may prove invaluable.

Fury has spoken of being trapped in an exposed world, of enjoying being in solitary when he returns to Morecambe, enjoying the privacy of secret places to walk his dog, and alone. But that place is long away right now, as the ‘Gypsy King’ – his alter-ego, as he has always called it - comes to the fore..

Frank Warren, Fury’s promoter, knows the fighter intimately, and has overseen the careers of a group of the greatest British boxers for four decades: Frank Bruno, Naseem Hamed, Amir Khan, Ricky Hatton, Joe Calzaghe. Like his fighters, Warren is an arch survivor, and now 72, believes Fury is the most successful of the lot, inside and outside the ring.

“Think of all the records. He’s part of the highest-grossing heavyweight fight ever to take place in Vegas. At Tottenham [Hotspur Stadium] selling out 60,000 tickets for an open-air show with Derek December. Come on. That’s what he is... remarkable.”

“We get a lot of mail sent to us and we open it before it is sent on to him and you wouldn’t believe how many people Tyson has inspired. The public identify with him. He has had three No 1 bestselling books, a Netflix series. Somebody must like him.”

Promoters Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren (right) during a weigh-in at BLVD City Music World, Riyadh. The IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO heavyweight title fight between Tyson Fury v Oleksandr Usyk will take place on Saturday 18th May
Frank Warren says this fight will be the biggest night he has experienced in boxing - PA/Nick Potts

How Fury stays motivated is key in Warren’s mind. Telegraph Sport understands Fury will earn £80 million compared to Usyk’s £35 million, with a rematch on offer for the autumn when Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh season begins again.

“Lots of boxers have gone off the rails. It’s tough,” added Warren. “Tyson needs a goal and an aim. He’s boxing mad and I’ve told him, ‘When you retire you should stay in it as a manager or mentor or whatever that may be.’ I’ve said to Tyson that he will be interested in his legacy when he retires, because everywhere he will go, if he does the business, he’ll be called ‘The Man’.”

So is Fury the best British fighter ever? “Yes. He will have done something no one has ever done and unified all the heavyweight belts. It’s my biggest, night, too, the best night because of where it has all come from, the story of where he was, the size of him overweight by 10 stone, how low he was, and how hard he has worked to get back to the top. Whether you love him or hate him, one thing about Tyson is he leaves everything in the ring. He’s guts and British grit personified.”

Looking at Usyk, his laser focus, his shape, and his record, Fury will need all that grit and gut.

It seems likely both fighters will have a feeling out process in the opening four rounds, before one or the other attempts to change the pattern of the fight. They may well, given their skills, nullify each other and it could truly become a challenge of physical chess.

Fury will use his size and reach to dominate; Usyk, from the southpaw stance, will employ his exquisite footwork to move in and out and find angles. Fury may ‘rush’ his 37-year-old opponent in periods, and go to the body, a perceived weakness of the Ukrainian. But they will dance, they will struggle, and it ought to be an epic encounter.

Fury winning on points is the most probable outcome, yet Usyk cannot be written off. A controversial draw would be no surprise either. In other words, no one really knows how these 12 rounds will play out. And that is what makes this fight for the ages even better.