6 Things Tyson Fury Needs to Do to Get a World Title Shot
Tyson Fury returns to the ring this weekend against Joey Abell nearly 10 months after his last outing when he came off the canvas before overpowering Steve Cunningham in the seventh round.
His long layoff was the consequences of David Haye twice pulling out of a scheduled domestic extravaganza, developments that left Fury frustrated and that delayed his desired route to the heavyweight title.
At 25, Fury is still very young in heavyweight terms—by some counts he is the only top-10 heavy under the age of 30. But Fury is confident and ambitious, and perhaps he doesn't have a personality suited to slow, steady progression, so he will be hoping to challenge for the title as soon as possible, ideally this year.
To fulfill that ambition, here are two opponents Fury should try to beat, two things he could do outside of the ring and two things he needs to do inside the gym.
1. Focus on the Jab
At a reported 6'9" with long levers, Tyson Fury has a huge natural reach advantage. Both the Klitschko brothers and Lennox Lewis have been able to rule the heavyweight division by keeping their opponents at range and picking them off.
In two of his best wins against Kevin Johnson and Dereck Chisora, Fury showed that he has a good jab, and perfecting it should be his No. 1 priority.
Fury likes to think of himself as an athletic boxer who can fight in any style—he even boxed southpaw in his 2012 win over Martin Rogan. In his last fight against Cunningham, Fury came into range with his hands down looking to mix it up and was decked hard in the second round before rallying.
Although Fury could get away with unorthodox methods against the aged Rogan and the undersized Cunningham, such liberties will be punished at the top of his division.
Fury seems almost embarrassed to maximize his natural advantages by working behind the jab, perhaps wanting to avoid comparisons with the often boring style of division king Wladimir Klitschko.
Trainer Peter Fury, absent from Tyson's corner against Cunningham because of visa issues, heavily criticized that performance, saying, "He didn't follow procedure, he just went out of control."
That is a sign that the Fury camp knows there is significant room for improvement, and it should come with renewed focus on the jab.
Prioritizing the jab doesn't mean Fury has to be as cautious as Wladimir, but using it to keep distance and wear down opponents should stop him from being dropped early by light-hitters like Cunningham.
2. Beat Dereck Chisora
Tyson Fury and Dereck Chisora met in July 2011 for the British heavyweight title and Fury won a comfortable points win over the badly conditioned champion.
The current expectation is that when both come through their first bouts of 2014 on Saturday's card, they will then sign a rematch for later in the year.
Whoever wins that fight will put themselves in a strong position to challenge Wladimir Klitschko. Promoter Frank Warren has expressed the desire to make the rematch into a world-title eliminator, probably for the WBO who rank Chisora No. 2 in the division.
The early betting odds make Fury a clear favourite to repeat the trick against Chisora if that fight does come to fruition. Indeed, provided Fury uses his range and maintains his concentration, it will be difficult for Chisora to work inside and land telling blows.
Fury was the underdog the last time the two met and therefore any win was a good win. Since then Chisora has been stopped by David Haye and if Fury really wants to make a statement, he should be aiming to replicate that feat.
3. Stay in Shape
Tyson Fury has had issues with his weight over the years, reportedly topping out as high as 23 stone (322 pounds) in the past. With his enormous frame he can carry plenty of weight but his heaviest in the ring—270 pounds against John McDermott in 2010—was certainly too much.
Even for his last fight against Cunningham (pictured), Fury didn't look in absolutely peak condition, coming in six pounds heavier than his previous fight against Kevin Johnson.
Fury has had psychological problems in the past that are linked to his weight and they seemed to rear their head again after Haye pulled out of their scheduled fight for the second time. Fury was photographed looking out of shape and footage from his first camp back after Christmas would embarrass most non-league football teams.
It is understandable that Fury was disappointed with the Haye situation, as he missed out on a big payday and an even bigger opportunity, but he needs to stay professional to maximize his long-term career prospects.
Like Ricky Hatton before him, Fury tries to laugh off concerns about his weight, but Hatton's career path—essentially finished aged 30—provides a salutary lesson.
In the more short term, there is always the chance of being offered a world-title shot at late notice as Ruslan Chagaev was in 2009, and if you aren't in shape all year-round, there is no way you could ever take such an opportunity.
4. Work with Sky Sports
Fury's bout with David Haye was to be his debut on Sky Box Office. Whilst that fight fell through, it is encouraging for Fury that his promoter, Mick Hennessy, was able to cut a deal with Britain's top pay-per-view operator.
It was the strength of projected Sky Box Office money that enabled Haye to negotiate a 50:50 split of the money with Wladimir Klitschko in 2011.
Due to the poor crop of American big men and the failure to implement pay-per-view in Germany, Britain is currently the biggest market for TV revenue in the heavyweight division.
Even if Fury was to win a WBO eliminator, that wouldn't necessarily put him first in line to fight Wladimir because the younger Klitschko brother also holds the WBA and IBF belts and may have to defend against those organizations' preferred contenders.
In recent times Fury has fought on Channel 5, which was excellent for building his profile (up to three million watched Fury-Chisora) but which wouldn't maximize revenue for a title fight.
Fury now fights on BoxNation, which did help fund Chisora's fight with Vitali Klitschko, but there's no doubt that Sky Box Office, with the benefit of heavy coverage on Sky Sports News and promotion across its channels, is the TV cash cow.
The more revenue Fury can bring to the table, the more likely he is to jump the queue of fighters hoping to fight Wladimir Klitschko.
5. Beat Deontay Wilder
There is a route to a world title that misses out Wladimir Klitschko and that is to target the WBC title that his brother Vitali has recently vacated.
It is expected that the vacant belt will be contested by North American fighters Chris Arreola and Bermane Stiverne in a rematch of their 2012 fight.
After those two, the No. 3 ranked fighter by the WBC is Deontay Wilder, the 2008 Olympic bronze-medalist who has scored 30 straight stoppage wins as a pro without facing a serious contender.
Fury and Wilder have exchanged barbed remarks, and a fight between them has been talked up before now. Wilder fought in the UK in April last year, bombing out Audley Harrison in the first round so a showdown could potentially occur on either side of the pond.
Wilder is still a very raw fighter technically, but there is no doubt that he possesses awesome knockout power. None of his 30 opponents have made it passed Round 4. His next opponent, Malik Scott, is his toughest to date and should provide a better measure of Wilder's level.
The more experienced Fury would be fancied to win, but any lapse in concentration in the early rounds and he would likely share the fate of Wilder's previous competition.
6. Cultivate an American Fanbase
Fury made his American debut against Cunningham at Madison Square Garden Theater, and the fight was televised by NBC Sports. It was an entertaining bout with a dramatic finish, and Fury gained some awareness amongst US boxing fans.
It was no coincidence that Fury wore Irish colours—it came after he had fought three of his previous six bouts in Belfast, even capturing the Irish heavyweight title despite having been born in Manchester, England.
Marketing Fury as an Irish fighter in the States makes sense because there has historically been a lot of dollars in an Irish-American fanbase.
Thanks to the money he brought to the table, Gerry Cooney, the last serious Irish-American heavyweight contender, was able to earn 50 percent of the purse when he challenged champion Larry Holmes in 1982, a fight that proved a huge box-office attraction.
More recently, exciting but limited fighters such as John Duddy and Micky Ward have attracted big crowds, with Ward even getting the Hollywood treatment.
A fight with Deontay Wilder on Showtime would offer Fury the chance to truly break America and the long-term financial benefits of that could be fantastical.
As with Sky Box Office, the money that US TV can bring to the table strengthens Fury's chance of landing a bout with Wladimir Klitschko, a fighter whose regular title-defences have been essentially black-listed by HBO and Showtime.