By Peter Silkov
When Tyson Fury faces Steve Cunningham on April 20, at New York’s legendary Madison Square Garden, he will be facing the most important test of his career. The stakes could hardly be any higher for the 6′ 9″ giant from Manchester.
Not only is the fight an IBF eliminator towards a future shot at the World Heavyweight title holder, Wladimir Klitschko, it also gives Fury the chance to firmly establish himself as Britain’s number one Heavyweight contender. Britain currently has a refreshingly lively heavyweight scene, which might even make an American sigh with envy at the moment. On one hand, there is both David Haye and Derek Chisora, both recent points victims to the Klitschko brothers ( Haye losing to Wladimir and Chisora losing to Vitali.) But, each still potentially in the title picture. Then there is Tyson Fury, who actually holds a points victory over Chisora and David Price, who are each vying for a shot at one of the Klitschko champions. David Price, the British and Commonwealth champion, is Fury’s arch rival, with both boxers being at about the same stage of their careers, as well as being close in age and physique. Price is six feet eight to Fury’s six feet nine. Until recently, David Price had been considered the premier heavyweight of the two fighters. Much of this opinion being built upon the fact that in 2012 Fury vacated the British and Commonwealth titles rather than defend them against Price. Since then, the feud between the two fighters has built up to a simmering intensity that has at times overflowed with public taunts from both sides. Talk of the two finally facing each other in the ring has become a constant, will-they-wont-they cliché.
However, this rivalry and the heavyweight scene as a whole, was turned onto its head recently, when Price was shockingly KO’d in the second round by veteran Tony Thompson. Price’s loss delivered a severe dent to his reputation and career momentum and has given Fury the chance to place himself above his rival in the pecking order for a world title shot. Providing that Fury can get past Cunningham. This is no easy task.
Steve Cunningham is a clever and tough Philadelphia veteran, who has held the cruiserweight world title and is coming off a very controversial points defeat to fellow top contender Thomas Adamek. If this match were to be measured on pure ring technique and experience, then Cunningham would be a clear favourite over the far greener and less skilled Manchester fighter. Cunningham’s main problem and Fury’s main advantage, going into this clash, is the huge size difference between the pair, with the Philadelphian giving away six inches in height and an expected three stones in weight. Added to that, Fury at twenty-four years old, is twelve years the junior; the sort of age difference that may work in the favour of the younger fresher man in what could be a long and grueling fight.
Fury is one of the new breed of six-feet-seven-plus heavyweights who seem to be sprouting up in all sorts of odd places in Europe and Eastern Europe at the moment. It is this size that he will have to capitalize upon against the cagey Cunningham, if he is to overcome his opponent’s superior experience and all-round ability.
In the lively pre-fight build up Fury has promised to be the first man to stop Cunningham, a result which certainly would make his American audience look up and take notice of the Manchester man. One surprise that could be in store for Cunningham, is that Fury, despite his size, when in top shape, is surprisingly mobile and fluid. Fury has a relaxed style and a decent jab that makes good use of his height and reach. In his last bout, Fury beat American Kevin Johnson by employing his jab and movement, and duly out-boxed the placid Johnson over 12 rounds. It was a victory that, while not Earth-shattering, built Fury up to this title eliminator. Now at the legendary home of boxing, Madison Square Garden, New York, Tyson Fury has a tremendous chance to make a real name for himself in the U.S.A. and place himself within touching distance of a world title shot.
The Klitschko brothers dominate the Heavyweight championship at the moment. Despite their undoubted ability, they fail to excite the public at large, certainly outside of Germany where they reside and fight.
Over the past decade, the heavyweight division, as a whole, has fallen into the doldrums. America, the former home of the heavyweights, seems unable to find a real bonafide threat to the Klitschko’s monopoly. The result has been stagnation and growing disinterest for the division, especially in America. Ironically, it seems that Britain is one of the few places outside of Eastern Europe, where heavyweights are flourishing. A defeat for Fury, against Cunningham, however, would be a severe blow to Britain’s heavyweight resurgence. In the wake of David Price’s recent loss, Fury finds himself with much to win, but also a lot to lose on April 20th.
The heavyweight division needs a new star who can capture the imagination both in and out of the ring. Is Tyson Fury that man? Certainly the man himself has been boasting that he is that man in recent months. Out of the ring, Fury is a bit of a split personality. He can be quiet, almost shy, and surprisingly charming in interviews at times. Yet, he can also be outspoken and loud, and has been prone to take to Twitter with derogatory comments regarding his fistic rivals; behaviour which recently landed him with a £3000.00 fine from the British Boxing Board of Control.
Fury has had to deal with turmoil in his private life. Most notably, when his father, who guided his early pro career, was jailed in 2011 for blinding a man in a street fight. The incident left the fighter in a tailspin for a time and may have been one of the reasons for his avoidance of a Price showdown in 2012. If Fury has a suspect temperament, then this fight, on the biggest of stages, will certainly test that temperament. Tyson has been talking a good fight, in fact at a recent press conference he hardly allowed the much quieter Cunningham to get a word in edgewise. But this is the fight where Fury really has to walk the walk that he’s been talking.
Fury has already stated that after he beats Cunningham he would like to take on Price’s conqueror Tony Thompson, and show Price ‘how to deal with granddads.’ Victory over Cunningham would put Fury just one or two fights away from a shot at the IBF World Heavyweight title. An impressive performance would see Tyson make a real name for himself in America. Defeat though, would drop Fury back down to where David Price is now, derailed from world title contention, and back to fighting within the domestic scene. With his Irish heritage, Fury has the chance to go down well in the States. It is no coincidence that his U.S. debut is being staged at the historic Madison Square Garden, where so many ring legends of Irish heritage have fought before him. Fury has shown America so far that he has the gift of the gab, even if he sometimes stumbles a little over his own pre-fight trash talk. He is certainly entertaining, sometimes in a manner in which he seems unaware of (look out for him with one of his baseball caps hanging from the side of his head). If Tyson Fury can show on April 20 that he can fight, as well as talk, then he could become a far more frequent flyer to the American shores and this date at Madison Square Garden may perhaps be the first of many such visits.