Another year, another Tyson Fury opponent rendered unfit for purpose before the big man has had a chance to lay a glove on them. It is true that, given the limits fighters push themselves to and beyond in training, injuries and postponements have long been accepted as part and parcel of the bloody game. Fate, or its more upbeat brother, destiny, are usually held responsible and the two pugilists take the news on their respective chins and are content to bide their time.
That being said, having seen David Haye’s eye and shoulder, Dereck Chisora’s hand, and now Wladimir Klitschko’s calf all destroy or delay the biggest fights of his career, the giant traveller Fury must be feeling he is suffering more than most from the cruel whimsy of the boxing gods. Fate and destiny are all well and good, but it is beginning to look like a gypsy curse trumps both of them. Through no fault of his own, Fury’s initial swift march towards the heavyweight championship of the world has been slowed to an uncertain, miry trudge.
This latest setback is probably the most sickening body blow Fury has received and he is likely to be at a very low ebb right now. His family and team will be rallying around, attempting to keep spirits high and the temperamental Tyson focused on the task that is still very much in hand. In doing so, perhaps they will recall that some of the most famous, or infamous, heavyweight title fights in history were preceded by untimely deferrals.
By late 1964, Sonny Liston had whipped his fearsome self into the best shape of his life as he sought to win back from Muhammad Ali the heavyweight crown he had lost to Cassius Clay nine months before. But on the evening of Friday the 13th of November, just three days before the scheduled rematch in Massachusetts, a nauseous Ali stumbled towards his hotel en suite and began regurgitating the contents of his stomach.
Following emergency surgery on the incarcerated inguinal hernia, the attending physician at Boston City Hospital explained that a congenital weakness of the stomach lining was to blame. Doctor Liston did not concur, however, and proffered that, “if he’d stop all that hollering, he wouldn’t have a hernia.” Either way, there’d be no fight between the two men for at least six months.
The youthful Ali blossomed in the interim while Liston, rumoured to be much older than his documented age of thirty four, appeared to diminish both physically and mentally. When they did finally meet, Ali was standing over his prostrate foe yelling, “get up and fight, sucker!” barely two minutes in. Liston did neither and the legend of Ali’s anchor punch, or the mob’s phantom punch, was born amidst disgusted chants of “Fake, fake, fake!” careering around St Dominic’s Hall in Lewiston, Maine.
A decade later, Ali was on the receiving end of the postponing. Deep into a hot and humid jungle camp in Zaire, the thirty-three-year-old journeyman and sparring partner to the stars, Bill McMurray, was taking his daily beating at the domineering fists of the heavyweight champion of the world, George Foreman. Somewhere amongst the forlorn attempts to protect himself at all times, McMurray’s elbow sliced through the skin above Foreman’s right eye. The deepish cut, and big, bad George’s pathological fear of needles, conspired to extend the Rumble in the Jungle by a month and a half.
Ali did not take the news well at first and crazy schemes buzzed about his head: let Foreman wear a head guard, get Joe Frazier over to fight instead, he insisted. His lifelong friend and photographer, Howard Bingham, remembers Ali telling him he just wanted to return to the US. “They’ve got ice cream there, and pretty girls and miniskirts,” was the challenger’s logic.
The despondent state was fleeting, however, and Ali was soon his gregarious, jovial self, regaling onlookers with his own unique brand of doggerel and promising anyone who would listen that he was going to dance around the big, bad champion, just as he had done ten years before against Sonny Liston. He kept that up throughout the six week delay, while the whole time secretly concocting the famous rope-a-dope strategy that would undo Foreman at the end of eight historic rounds. How different it might have been had McMurray’s stray elbow not fortuitously opened Foreman’s flesh in that ill-fated sparring session.
The man after whom Fury was named was no stranger to injury-forced delays either. Mike Tyson’s bouts against Bruce Seldon, Buster Mathis Jr. and Evander Holyfield twice all suffered setbacks. Even at his most sedate, Tyson was known to harbour more pent-up rage than Bruce Banner without his morning coffee: basically, it didn’t take much to set the baddest man on the planet off on one.
So who is to say that it wasn’t as much the additional eight weeks he was forced to wait for another bite at Holyfield, as the repeated unpunished head-butts Evander delivered from the first bell, that pushed Iron Mike over the edge and sparked the legendary, carnivorous scenes midway through the third round?
So chin up, Tyson Fury. Perhaps Klitschko’s calf was fated to fail on Friday morning. Embrace the postponement as a mystical harbinger of the greatness that is to come. Just think what the world would have missed were it not for the curse of the heavyweight title fight postponement.
Muhammad Ali might simply be one of history’s top ten boxers rather than the Greatest Of All Time. The iconic image of the young brash Louisville Lip screaming down at the vanquished, monstrous Liston would never have graced student bedroom walls all over the world. And Evander Holyfield might still have the entirety of his right ear attached to the side of his shaven skull.
With precedents such as the above, who knows what Tyson Fury and Wladimir Klitschko will serve up when they do finally meet in the ring?