Why Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk, years in the making, is almost a pick 'em

If you need to see a little blood flowing to get excited for a heavyweight title fight, don’t worry, John Fury has got you covered. If, on the other hand, you’ve been excited to see Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk square off ever since this clash of unbeaten big men began to seem truly inescapable, there’s good news for you, too.

The fight for all the heavyweight titles is set for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday (2 p.m. ET, ESPN+), and the matter of first blood has already (sort of) been decided. The irony is that it was the elder Fury who did it to himself Monday, cutting open his own forehead when he headbutted a member of the Usyk entourage. This, he explained later, was in response to offenses that included standing too close to him and uttering the name “Usyk” while Fury Sr. was busy shouting, “Fury!” So clearly, you can see why the lad had it coming.

And so we’re off, hurtling headfirst toward the fight for all the heavyweight titles. You don’t need to know much more than that to get you excited for a bout like this one. Fury brings the size and the personality. Usyk brings the smoldering intensity and genuinely impressive athleticism. Neither of them brings a single professional loss on his record, though Fury did walk right up to the line of losing in his last bout against former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou last fall.

For Fury, that fight lingers like a bad smell. It was a little over six months ago that he got dropped flat on his backside by an Ngannou hook in a fight that was supposed to be just another easy payday. This was Ngannou’s first professional boxing match, mind you. How absolutely absurd to think he stood a chance against arguably the best heavyweight of this generation. Fury showed up as a 14-1 favorite and then eked out a split-decision win by the skin of his teeth.

The victory, such as it was, would age poorly. Ngannou’s next fight saw him get thoroughly outclassed and obliterated by Anthony Joshua inside of two rounds. It was the kind of performance that made people think maybe his strong showing against Fury wasn’t proof that the big man from Cameroon was a boxing savant. Instead maybe it was proof that Fury was slipping.

In fairness, there were at least some indications that Fury didn’t take that fight as seriously as he should have. One is that he’d already booked this fight with Usyk before he even stepped in the ring with Ngannou. Another is that he gave himself only two months off between the two.

Boxing - Tyson Fury v Oleksandr Usyk - Press Conference - HERE at Outernet, London, Britain - November 16, 2023  Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury face off during the press conference Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge
At BetMGM, Tyson Fury is a -120 favorite to become undisputed heavyweight champion Saturday in his clash vs. Oleksandr Usyk, who is -110. (Reuters/Andrew Couldridge)

That plan derailed once and then again and now here we are, finally ready to find out whether that version of Fury was an underprepared aberration or the new normal for the longtime king of the heavyweights.

There are no such concerns about consistency with Usyk. All he’s done is win fights amid a blur of fast hands and technical mastery. He’s waited ever so patiently for this moment, his chance to prove himself against the biggest name in the division, who also happens to be one of the biggest humans in the division.

A year ago, Usyk would have been at least a 2-1 underdog in this fight. But with these little hints of Fury on the decline all while Usyk has continued his steady march toward heavyweight domination, those odds have shifted. Now the fight is almost a pick 'em at BetMGM (Fury -120, Usyk -110), with great potential for all manner of heavyweight weirdness.

Maybe an act of random headbutt violence is, in fact, the perfect way to kick off this kind of fight week. It’s a solid reminder that anyone who’s too certain they know what’s about to happen next is a species of fool. Therein lies the appeal, and the source of all the anticipation for this fight. Even if you think you see it coming, you still can’t say for sure what it will actually be like when this particular carnival rolls into town.