Lack of context does Fury a disservice

Luke G. Williams
01/12/2015 3:09pm

Forget Bruno, Haye, Hide et al, Tyson Fury is only the third British-born boxer to win the world heavyweight championship in the gloved era. To not recognise his achievement as such is to do him – and boxing history – a huge disservice, argues Luke G. Williams

Tyson Fury’s achievement in dethroning Wladimir Klitschko has attracted many column inches in the national press. Predictably, much of the praise afforded him has been of the grudging ‘it wasn’t like this back in the era of Ali’ nature with which the mainstream media typically greets most boxing news.

More surprisingly though, the specialist boxing media - of whom I expect better - have also displayed a worrying lack of historical perspective when evaluating Fury’s achievement in being crowned world heavyweight champion.

Let’s be clear: Wladimir Klitschko may not have entered Saturday’s fight in possession of the WBC heavyweight belt, but anyone who did not recognise him as the true world heavyweight champion prior to his showdown with Fury was living in cloud cuckoo land – better known as the land of shameless boxing governing bodies and extortionate sanctioning fees.

Wladimir may not have been the ‘man who beat the man who beat the man who beat John L. Sullivan,’ but an 11-year long unbeaten streak, during which time he vanquished all relevant (and not so relevant) contenders left little room for doubt. The WBC and Deontay Wilder be damned – no one sane can doubt that the lineage of the heavyweight championship resided firmly in Klitschko’s robotic grip.

Until, that is, Saturday night, when a Manchester-born Goliath of Irish traveller heritage seized it from him with a performance of perfectly calculated boxing skill, extraordinary self-belief and no little bravery too.

Commentators both in and outside the boxing press have been quick to label Fury as the fifth British-born heavyweight champion. The BBC website, for example, describes him as Britain’s fifth “bona fide heavyweight champion”, which only goes to show that the Beeb needs to brush up on its Latin.

Yes, I suppose that Frank Bruno and David Haye did win ‘world’ heavyweight title belts during their careers, but the painful truth of the matter is that those belts they strapped around their magnificently proportioned waists had about as much relationship to genuine world championship status as a black leather strap you can pick up in the Marks and Spencer menswear section for £6.99.

Haye and Bruno were courageous and hard-hitting boxers who I admire greatly, but neither of them - at any stage of their careers - had even a halfway decent claim to be considered the Heavyweight Champion of the Whole Big Wide World.

Even more laughably, some insist – citing Herbie Hide, Henry Akinwande and Michael Bentt’s WBO title ‘reigns’ - that Fury is the seventh, or even eighth British-born World heavyweight Champion.

Quite simply, they are all wrong.

The facts are these: the first British-born heavyweight champion of the world was Bob Fitzsimmons, the second was Lennox Lewis and the third is Tyson Fury.*

To pretend otherwise is to demean the history of boxing and the achievements of the likes of Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali, as well as Fury himself.

Claiming that Fury is the fifth British-born heavyweight champion is an extension of the same idiotic thinking that insisted Klitschko was ‘closing in’ on Louis’ record number of heavyweight title defences, when in actual fact around half of his ‘defences’ hadn't been defences of ‘the title’ at all but merely of ‘a title’.

As far as heavyweight boxing is concerned, the definite article should always matter. So take a bow, Tyson Fury, because you have achieved something truly extraordinary. It’s just a shame most people don’t realise or acknowledge quite how extraordinary it is.

*Incidentally, despite all three men being British-born, some might argue that Fitzsimmons was more New Zealander or American than Brit, Lewis more Canadian or Jamaican and Fury more Irish … however, let’s not even get started on that!

Luke G. Williams is a writer and boxing historian. His acclaimed book Richmond Unchained: the biography of the world’s first black sporting superstar (2015, Amberley Publishing) is out now.