Why has the Gypsy King been uncharacteristically understated in his utterances and actions ahead of Saturday’s meeting with his British rival at Wembley?
On Saturday evening, WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury will make a mandated defence of his title against countryman Dillian Whyte inside Wembley Stadium.
Fury, 33, who was last seen defeating former champion Deontay Wilder last October, comes into this bout as the overwhelming favourite. Challenger Whyte is one of the division’s biggest stars, but has been knocked out twice already in his career (Fury is unbeaten, by contrast) and is a significant physical disadvantage height and reach-wise against the Gypsy King.
In spite of this, the usually braggadocious Fury has been a more considered presence in the build-up to this fight. Quite why this is is difficult to know for sure but, in many ways, this fight is anything but typical.
Tyson Fury hits pads and entertains the crowd during the open workout prior to Fury vs Whyte for the WBC Heavyweight Title (IMAGO/Matt Davies/ZUMA Wire)
Here are three things Fury’s subdued demeanour tells us going into the heavyweight clash this weekend.
This is an unusual situation for Fury
This may come as a surprise to the casual fan, but Fury has never actually faced a mandatory title defence in his career.
Boxing’s various sanctioning bodies have rank standings for fighters, ostensibly on the basis of performance and the payment of sanctioning fees, against whom the champion at any given time is expected to defend his title periodically upon order.
Fury, however, has never stuck around long enough to fulfil this mandate.
Tyson Fury stunned the world in his upset victory over Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 (IMAGO/Norbert Schmidt)
After his famous win over former unified champion Wladimir Klitschko in 2015, the Manchester-born fighter was stripped of the IBF title when he indicated his desire to rematch the Ukrainian rather than face mandatory Vyacheslav Glazkov next.
Fury then infamously went off the boil, opting out of a rematch due to injury before retiring and going on a multi-year alcohol and drug binge. Following his return in 2018, and eventual reclaiming of the WBC heavyweight strap after two fights with Wilder, Fury went on to fight the American for a third time in 2021.
This fight with Whyte, coming after the Brixton boxer’s two-year push for recognition of his mandatory status, will be Fury’s first mandated title defence.
Familiarity breeds respect
These two know each other extremely well, having sparred together as far back as 2010. At the time, Fury, who was the more experienced of the two, was already fighting for the Irish heavyweight title, while Whyte had only a handful of fights to his name as a professional.
Whyte has admitted to BT Sport that he got “outboxed” by Fury during a lot of those sessions, but nevertheless said he “put hands” on the 2.06m tall fighter. This is an allusion to his old claim on Sky Sports that he dropped Fury more than once, an allegation the Gypsy King has yet to corroborate.
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True or otherwise, it appears to have created a dynamic akin to grudging respect on both sides of the table, with the normally brash Fury keeping a lid on his antics and Whyte looking amiable. Not even the characteristic eagerness of Fury’s father John to insert himself into the situation could ignite any ill-feeling, as both fighters moved quickly to quell any fireworks between their respective entourages.
Uncooperative Whyte sparking uncertainty
Fury is usually the master of mind games, but in the lead-up to this weekend’s clash, even he has been kept guessing by Whyte’s peculiar approach.
‘It’s pathetic!” Frank Warren on Dillian Whyte’s absence ahead of blockbuster bout with Tyson Fury
In refusing to do more than is strictly necessary in terms of promoting the fight, the WBC mandatory challenger is protesting the manner in which the bout has been billed. Whyte has frowned at what he believes to be a Fury-centric promotion, and believes his contribution to the flight’s marquee value is underappreciated.
There is also clearly some dissatisfaction surrounding his payment, with Whyte believing Fury’s promoter Frank Warren is underpaying him relative to his standing in the sport and division.
Dillian Whyte believes he deserves more than 20% of the purse split for Saturday’s #FuryWhyte fight
Whyte has in the past headlined and sold out stadiums in the United Kingdom (UK), whereas Fury has not, and so in that sense perhaps he has a point when he insinuates that a reported capacity crowd at Wembley owes something to his name on the card.
Manifesting this grievance by refusing to show up to the introductory press conference for the fight, and also opting against the scheduled open workout session, has kept the Fury camp guessing somewhat as to Whyte’s mindset and intentions. It has also perhaps played a part in the WBC champion’s conciliatory demeanour whenever the challenger has seen fit to put in an appearance.