Record-setting night cements Tyson Fury’s heavyweight legacy
- • Joined ESPN in 2011
• Covered two Olympics, a pair of Rugby World Cups and two British & Irish Lions tours
• Previously rugby editor, and became senior writer in 2018
LONDON — Tyson Fury announced himself as “The King.” He sat on a throne. And then he got it all done against challenger Dillian Whyte in six rounds and left undefeated and with the British boxing public in his grasp. It was a job done just as he said it would go down.
There’s a thin line between the ridiculous and the impressive with Fury’s ring walks, but in front of a record-breaking crowd at Wembley Stadium, Fury (32-0-1, 23 KOs) had the masses in the palm of his hand — and with it the status as one of the biggest stars in British sport and the face of heavyweight boxing. After brief flash points in the fourth round, it was all Fury as he kept Whyte (28-3, 19 KOs) at bay and floored him with 10 seconds left in the sixth with a right uppercut. Whyte rose to his feet, but stumbled into referee Mark Lyson’s arms who then waved the fight off to send Whyte to his third career defeat.
After his memorable trilogy against Deontay Wilder, this was Fury’s homecoming. And it was also affirmation of the journey he’s been on from the depths of depression to returning to the ring with all the fanfare and delivering to retain the WBC and The Ring world heavyweight title belts.
It was a record-breaking attendance: the official tally of 94,000 fans saw it surpass any previous boxing fight in Europe in history, edging out the 90,000 who attended Anthony Joshua’s career-making victory over Wladimir Klitschko almost exactly five years ago. Officially speaking, on a night records tumbled, it was the highest attendance for a boxing event since the Julio Cesar Chavez-Greg Haugen match, which drew 132,274 in Mexico City in 1993.
When Joshua floored Klitschko in that Wembley classic, he was the star draw in British boxing. It was the fight that announced him on the world stage and cemented him as the one of the country’s most popular athletes. Fury at this stage was out of the sport, as he addressed his mental health. Five years later, and it’s Joshua’s star which has dimmed after his defeat by Oleksandr Usyk in September — the second of his career — while Fury’s victorious trilogy against Wilder saw his popularity soar and planted him bang centre in Britain’s sporting consciousness.
The self-proclaimed “Gypsy King” took over Wembley. His fans turned out in thousands, all decked out in Fury merchandise. This corner of north London had been whipped up in the Fury frenzy all day. Even on Friday there were snaking queues for the weigh-in, but on Saturday the nearby Boxpark venue was packed early, with the first rounds of “Sweet Caroline” reverberating from about 1 p.m. Fury brand drinks were consumed and stamped into the floor. They all came to see their heavyweight.
Every glimpse of Fury on the stadium’s screens grew a tide of cheers, cascading around the ever-filling seats. The first sighting of Whyte — perhaps surprisingly, given he too is a homegrown fighter — prompted boos. The loudest cheers on the undercard were reserved for Tommy Fury, Tyson’s half-brother, who fought while it was still daylight, and for Nick Ball’s fourth-round stoppage of Isaac Lowe. That flurry of punches was met with that combination of sharp intakes of breath, and the grunt of admiration. Klitschko also addressed the crowd in a video message, appealing for donations to aid Ukraine.
But the underwhelming undercard meant the loudest cheers were always reserved for those sightings of the man of the moment. Sandwiched between 90s techno, the smoke machines, the fighters coming and going, Fury kept on popping back on the screen – singing away, pointing to the camera, conducting proceedings from the changing room. Whyte was more reserved, buried in his phone.
And then came those first bars of Gala’s ‘Freed from Desire’, then ‘Sweet Caroline’ and that cocktail which has been so frequently used in boxing matches, and in this stadium for England’s football matches ignited the crowd. The undercard had finished, the seats rammed and thousands of lights were peppered around the stadium.
Whyte’s ring walk was triggered by the theme tune from Jaws, and this then moved into AC/DC’s Back in Black. The man himself had kept quiet all week, opting to embrace the shadows, but he didn’t seem remotely bothered by the spotlight when it came to his moment in the stadium. However, he then had to wait 15 or so minutes for Fury to join him in the ring.
The champion’s prolonged ringwalk started with a special rendition of “American Pie” by Don Maclean with input from Fury, and then a nod to it being St George’s Day as he walked out decked in red and white, the flags of St George on his gloves, accompanied by a group of knights all to the backdrop of Kings of Leon’s “Sex on Fire”. He spent time sitting on his throne, and then he saw off the challenger with that sweet uppercut.
It all ended with him in the middle of his kingdom singing “American Pie” again, and an audience wondering if they’ll ever see him again in the ring. He had said previously this would be his last fight. He promised his wife, Paris, this would be it. “This might be the final curtain for the Gypsy King,” he said in the ring. It was the only act of his that drew boos all night.
If it is his farewell, then it’s some way to go. He’s lived a remarkable life, and had a rollercoaster career. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but his boxing ability is undeniable. His final words, sung, were “this’ll be the day that I’ll die”. It was a farewell only Fury could manage. But it leaves you wondering if this atmosphere and the occasion will prove to be too much for him to walk away from.
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