For many years, the thought of Tyson Fury becoming the greatest British heavyweight of all time would have been unheard of.
As Anthony Joshua rose through the ranks, the antics of Fury looked more like a sideshow for the sport, something to raise a smile at but not take too seriously. Few thought he would win his big fight with Wladimir Klitschko in 2015, but he did... with ease. Since then, Fury has become the closest thing we have to Lennox Lewis in a generation, and with his career still very much on track, so could he become the best ever? To ascertain that, you must understand what the ‘best’ truly is.
Sporting Life suggests Lennox Lewis is the current best British boxer ever. He retired with 41 wins, two defeats and one highly controversial draw on his record, all of which he avenged. He held the world title three times, and reversed both of his defeats, against Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, in strong fashion. As well as his stellar record in the ring, Lewis is also the only British boxer to appear in the top 10 PPV draws of all time, with Bwin’s boxing infographic showing his fight with Mike Tyson in 2002 pulled in 19.5m buys. He is also the last man to unify all the titles after his November 1999 win against Evander Holyfield, a feat he should have achieved earlier after their first bout ended in a disputed draw. Despite outgunning the American, the biased judges were scoring rounds the wrong way. Lewis literally landed double the punches over Holyfield, yet the judges kept giving the rounds to 'The Real Deal', until the decision was met with a chorus of boos from the disatisfied fans in The Garden.
Fury certainly can relate to Lewis, when it comes to controversial draws. His first bout with Wilder should have gone the Gypsy King’s way, instead ending as a stalemate, even though he completely outboxed him for most of the contest, and resulting in a long-awaited rematch, in which Fury got his revenge. By bouncing back from the first fight, he drew further parallels with Lewis and the McCall and Rahman fights, although Fury remains undefeated.
It could be argued that Fury is 11 wins from toppling Lewis, if the ‘greatest ever’ can be measured purely in wins, but are there 11 fighters he could face at his current level? A third bout with Deontay Wilder is coming, but not next. A huge ‘Best of Britain’ unification fight with Joshua certainly looks like the next step, but even if Fury were to be beaten, he could still better Lewis’ overall record. Joshua is 24-1, the only defeat on his slate against Andy Ruiz Jr., whom he then beat quickly in a rematch. In fact, a Joshua and Fury bout might give an indication of which of the two are the heir-apparent to Lewis’ crown.
Fury does have other aspects of his career which make him a real contender for the greatest ever. After defeating Klitschko in November 2015, he spent almost three years out of the ring, lost his condition and desire, but came back as strong as ever. In June 2018, he stopped Sefer Seferi in four rounds, then just two months later won a points decision against Francesco Pianeta before stepping into the ring with Wilder in December 2018. His battle against adversity, and his rapid second ascent, won him a legion of new fans and saw him quickly become the darling of British boxing.
Fury has a little bit of everything: personality, commitment and of course he can box. He moves incredibly well for a 6ft 9in giant, and he boxes with intelligence that belies some of his antics outside the ring. He is a promoter's dream because he sells a fight in the build-up, but delivers the goods when he steps into the ring, too. If a fight with Joshua is ratified and agreed upon, and Fury was to become the first new undisputed heavyweight champions of the world, then maybe he could finally be described as the best British boxer ever.