The fly in the ointment: Fury vs Pianeta preview

Luke G. Williams
16/08/2018 8:10am

Tyson Fury defends his lineal heavyweight title against Francesco Pianeta on Saturday night in Belfast with the prospect of a showdown with WBC champion Deontay Wilder to follow. Luke G. Williams previews fight two of the Gypsy King's comeback...

Tyson Fury's return to the ring this year has brought full circle a heavyweight division that was arguably reborn the night the Manchester-born traveller deposed longtime kingpin Wladimir Klitschko in Düsseldorf back in November 2015.

Whatever you may think of the 30-year-old Fury, his life and career - part-car crash, part inspiring sporting drama - certainly lends the division a much needed dose of unpredictability.

At present Fury is still the lineal heavyweight champion - an esoteric status befitting this arch maverick's outsider status within the sport - while his nemesis Anthony Joshua bestrides the division as the undisputed 'mainstream' champion, as endorsed by the WBA, IBF and WBO.

WBC titlist Deontay Wilder completes the current troika of 'world championship' claimants, lurking menacingly and noisily on the sidelines.

The mainstream perception among 'casuals' is that AJ is the man, Wilder the number one contender and Fury an oddball irritant.

Perhaps John McClane's description of himself to Hans Gruber in Die Hard is the most apt summary of how many view Fury: "Just a fly in the ointment, Hans. The monkey in the wrench. The pain in the ass."

(Come to think of it, the parallels between Fury and McClane are legion: ability to triumph against the odds? Check! Suspicion and mistrust of authority and officialdom? Check! A tidy line in wisecracks? Check! Receding hairline? Check!

I suspect, given the repetitive nature of some of his personal issues, that Fury has also - on occasion - uttered the phrase: "How can the same shit happen to the same man, twice?" All we now need him to do is declare: "Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker!" straight after knocking out Pianeta).

But I digress ... If the Manchester-born pugilist can conquer Joshua and Wilder and reclaim the alphabet belts he never lost in the ring (plus one), then it would undoubtedly rank as one of the more remarkable feats in fistic history, not to mention the most surreal.

Fury, after all, is a man who spent nearly three years out of the ring, ballooning to around 27 stone in the process.

A man whose mental demons reportedly drove him to the brink of suicide.

A man who once declared, in a bleak reflection of the nihilism that has often threatened to overwhelm him: "I don't care about life, don't care about death. Nothing. That's the kind of man you are dealing with."

I don't care about life, don't care about death. Nothing. That's the kind of man you are dealing with
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Before a showdown with Joshua can be discussed, let alone brokered, Fury must, of course, first negotiate the challenge of Francesco Pianeta and then - it seems - wrest the WBC title from Wilder, in a contest apparently close to being agreed for later this year.

First things first and Pianeta. To begin with the positives, the 33-year-old southpaw is at least - at 6'5" and 17-stone plus - a genuine heavyweight, unlike the embarrassingly undersized Sefer Seferi, who Fury beat in four dissatisfying rounds in his first comeback contest in June.

The Germany-based, Italy-born heavy's professional record of 35-4-1 and status as a former world title challenger (loss via TKO6 to Wladimir Klitschko in 2013) maintains some cosmetic appeal, while a glance through his CV reveals recognisable names such as Ruslan Chagaev, Frans Botha, Oliver McCall, Johann Duhaupas and Matt Skelton.

However, with the exception of Duhaupas - whose unbeaten record Pianeta removed in 2008 - the Italian's career has largely been built on being fed past their best contenders, or serving as cannon fodder himself for peak or near peak heavyweights.

Furthermore, Pianeta's form line is poor, having lost two of his last three - a TKO reverse to the faded Kevin Johnson in October 2017 and a points loss to Croatian up and comer Petar Milas in June.

If Fury fights as disjointedly as he did against Seferi in his first comeback contest, then Pianeta might well last until the later rounds, or even go the full ten-round distance. However even a below-par Gypsy King would possess too much ring savvy for this limited foe and therefore anything less than a Fury victory is unthinkable.

Fury's own take on the contest, as revealed at a press conference this week, was characteristically entertaining.

"I study my heavyweights and I know he [Pianeta] has fought some good men. He’s a big strong fella and he knows that if he wins he will fight Wilder instead of me. He’s going to try to knock me out. Hopefully he won’t be successful and we’ll put on a show.

“He’s southpaw, which is a lot more awkward because there aren’t many of them in the division, so it’s hard to get sparring. But every southpaw I’ve ever fought I’ve knocked out.

“What you’re likely to see from me on Saturday is a heavyweight Sugar Ray Leonard. Anything less is a failure. Judge me on that comment - a heavyweight Sugar Ray Leonard.”

Several bookmakers rank Pianeta as a 40-1 outsider - or wider - and these odds seem about right as he seeks to become only the second Italian-born boxer to win the lineal heavyweight title (the first, the much-derided Primo Carnera, reigned for just shy of 12 months from June 1933).

As for what happens after Fury vs Pianeta, that remains to be seen.

A Fury vs Wilder showdown is undoubtedly enticing, matching as it does the heavyweight division's most explosive puncher against its best pure boxer. It would also represent a smart chess move by both men, as it enables them to isolate Joshua and portray him as the man avoiding the toughest challenges out there.

For Fury, beating Wilder would validate his comeback and enable him to negotiate with Eddie Hearn with not only a lineal title claim but also an alphabet belt around his waist. Similarly, if Wilder beats 'the man who beat the man' in Fury it would significantly bolster his own negotiating position for a Joshua showdown.

Given his inactivity and ring rust, Fury would surely start as the outsider against the Bronze Bomber.

But then, when has the John McClane of boxing been anything else?