Tuesday, December 6, 2022

After Conquering Wilder, What If Tyson Fury Set His Sights On MMA?

In 2016, Tyson Fury was driving his brand new Ferrari at 190 miles per hour when he decided to kill himself.

“I was driving on this strip of the highway where I am and, at the bottom of this five-mile strip, there is a massive bridge that crosses the motorway,” he told Joe Rogan in 2018. “I got the car up to about 190mph and I was headed towards that bridge.”

Only a year earlier, Fury had defeated Wladimir Klitschko to become heavyweight boxing’s unified champion at the age of 27. He had it all. Flashy homes and cars. A loving family. The adulation of fans and pundits alike. 

Tyson Fury Wladimir Klitschko
Tyson Fury and Wladimir Klitschko in their 2015 bout in Dusseldorf, Germany. PHOTO: SKY SPORTS

But having achieved that goal which for so long consumed his every waking thought—dethroning Klitschko—and feeling nothing but emptiness, he descended into a deep, suicidal depression.

“I didn’t care what no one was thinking, I didn’t care about hurting my family, friends, anybody,” continued Fury. “I didn’t care about nothing, I just wanted to die so bad, I gave up on life.”

“And just as I was heading towards that bridge at 190mph in this Ferrari—it would have crushed like a Coke can if I’d have hit it—I heard a voice saying: ‘No, don’t do this Tyson…’”

The Greatest Comeback In Sporting History?

In the depths of his much publicized mental health struggles, Fury had ballooned to over 400 pounds. Many believed he’d never make a boxing comeback, and at the time, Fury had no intention of doing so. He simply wanted to get his life back on track.

But in 2017, after being written off by many, most notably the “big dosser” himself Deontay Wilder, Fury posted a video to Instagram that has since proved prophetic.

“Guess who’s back? The one and only,” declared Fury in the video. “Shout going out to the big ‘Bronze Bomber’ Deontay Wilder. Big respect, for giving me the motivation, telling me I can’t do it and that I’m finished. I’m coming back for you baby. I’m coming back for you!”

Just over a week ago, the “Gypsy King” made good on his promise by defeating Wilder for the second (arguably third) time in their trilogy bout, placing the capstone on one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history. 

Is A Transition To MMA On The Cards?

Now at the summit of boxing, all that’s seemingly left for Fury is to become its first undisputed heavyweight champion in over 20 years by defeating Oleksandr Usyk.

Sure, there’s also potential matchups with the likes of Andy Ruiz, Dillian Whyte and of course Anthony Joshua—who despite his recent loss to Usyk, would still present a hotly anticipated showdown (if he defeats the Ukrainian in their rematch). But in this era in which boxing-MMA crossover fights are becoming increasingly fashionable, will we ever see Fury strap on the four-ounce gloves?

It’s somehow almost comical to visualise Tyson Fury with his back on the canvas, throwing up a triangle. Or swivelling on his heel to send out a question mark kick. But if the “Gypsy King” is anything, he’s a man whose outward appearance belies his athletic abilities. 

Tyson Fury and John Fury
Tyson Fury and his dad, “Gypsy” John. (Photo: Sportsfile – Getty)

With a body drawn upon the lines of a puddle of spilled milk, Fury looks like he should be a slow, flat-footed, plodding giant. Instead, he moves with the agility of a man 100 pounds lighter. His feints, head movement and phenomenal cardio—in addition to a ring IQ that comes with boxing since the age of 10—are what has made him the greatest heavyweight boxer of his generation. 

And it’s this athleticism that his father, “Gypsy” John Fury—whose uncanny likeness to his son could easily see him moonlight as the world’s best Tyson Fury impressionist—believes Tyson could apply with success in MMA.

“With the right training, he’d do very well,” John told Dan Hardy in August. “I’ve seen him excel in different sports like wrestling, so I’ve got kind of an idea what Tyson was from that. I know he can use more than his hands.”

“He’s quick, light on his feet and I do believe, if a top MMA trainer took him on, he could do big things with him—ask Darren Till. The rougher it gets with Tyson, the better he likes it. When he does finally retire from boxing, he’ll probably go to that [referring to MMA] and come back to boxing, but he will engage on that you’ll see.”

Tyson Fury Nixes MMA Switch, But Open To Crossover Fight

Tyson and his dad clearly have different ideas about his boxing retirement plans, however. In June, Fury put paid to any speculation that he’ll make a transition to MMA.

“No, I’ve got no real interest in grappling up and down on the floor and all that sort of stuff,” Fury told talkSPORT. “I’m a stand-up fighting man, I don’t wrestle up and down and grab each other’s arms and sit on each other and all that.”

With the blood of a thousand proud Irish Traveller bare-knuckle boxers flowing through his veins, Tyson seems to be a man for whom the Marquess of Queensbury rules are sacrosanct. The sweaty, gnarly art of grappling, he believes, carries with it little of the nobility so ingrained in the Sweet Science. And while he’s locked in a ring or cage, never the twain shall these two disciplines meet. 

The “Gypsy King,” however, didn’t completely shut the door on a striking-only fight with an MMA fighter.

“I’ve no interest in all that stuff; I like to stand up and fight so would I ever compete as an MMA fighter? Hell no! Would I compete with small gloves on in a cage in a fight? Yes. But no gripping and grappling. The noble art of standing up and what men have been doing for centuries; I don’t see any noble science in wrestling up and down the floor.”

Who Could Tyson Fury Face?

Were Fury to officially declare his openness to a crossover bout, you could imagine that plenty of UFC fighters past and present would throw their hat into the Octagon.

Some, like Vitor Belfort, already have. High on his quick stoppage victory over 58-year-old Evander Holyfield last month, Belfort declared that Fury, in addition to Canelo Alvarez and Jake Paul—basically any boxer, no matter how big or small—can get it. So if there’s a boxing commission on the planet that takes a liberal approach to booking criminally mismatched fights, Fury always has a matchup with “The Phenom” to look forward to.

Tyson’s most likely, and perhaps only realistic opponent however, is Francis Ngannou, who’s traded barbs with Fury in the past, and has often hinted at making the switch to boxing. If Ngannou defeats Ciryl Gane at UFC 270 in January, and with Jon Jones’ extracurricular activities having likely ended hopes of a super fight, he may soon join Fury in that rare club of being the heavyweight with no one exciting left to beat.

It’s unlikely the UFC would ever green light a one-off, striking-only bout under its banner. But given Ngannou’s recent gripes with his employer, he’d surely be keen to land a big payday by stepping into the ring, rather than Octagon, to box Fury.

This month, renowned boxing trainer Teddy Atlas threw a wet rag on hopes that the matchup would deliver anything resembling the edge-of-your-seat excitement of Fury vs. Wilder.

“Let’s be honest with ourselves, if it’s not gonna be based on MMA rules, if it’s gonna be with boxing rules, the guy who’s been boxing since he was 12 years old, the guy who’s had 200 amateur fights, the guy who’s trained in a gym for all those years to be a top boxer, he’s gonna have a huge edge, maybe an insurmountable edge to be quite frank,” Atlas told Submission Radio.

“It would be a big money fight. Would it be competitive? Most likely not… Fury is a pretty complete package, besides having the advantage of years and years of boxing training.”

Still, seeing Fury fight Ngannou—perhaps an even bigger power puncher than Wilder—to decide who is truly the Baddest Man on the Planet, would be a bout to move the needle and capture the imaginations of many.