January 29, 2023

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The BN Preview: Tyson Fury and Derek Chisora are friends reunited

IN TERMS of attendance figures alone, Tyson Fury taking on old rival Derek Chisora at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday night will surely be one of the biggest fights of the year. But in a nod to the chaotic, make-it-up-as-you-go-along nature of boxing scheduling, it’s also the matchup that has drawn the most criticism from hardcore fans in 2022.

The irk is twofold. Firstly, it’s a bout that is not remotely warranted in a heavyweight division loaded with infinitely better options. Though it’s understood to a degree that Fury can’t battle an elite opponent every time, a third fight against someone he comfortably outpointed in 2011 and thrashed three years later is barely a fight at all. Secondly, and arguably more pertinently, it’s on BT Sport Box Office. So, in the midst of a dire economic crisis, it will cost a record-high £26.95 for the privilege of seeing what looks almost certain to be mere target practice for “The Gypsy King”.

One can certainly empathise with those who have taken to Twitter to announce they’re going to boycott it altogether when this particular target – the 38-year-old Chisora – is riddled with so many holes it defies all logic that it’s still there to be shot at.

However, while the fans’ view should always take precedence – they’re the ones who pay and in turn those who will ensure the sport’s future if they continue to do so – it’s only fair to attempt to put yourself in the promoters’ shoes, however ill-fitting they may be. In the current climate, whether 32-0-1 (23) Fury fights Oleksandr Usyk, Derek Chisora or Derek Trotter, there will unfortunately be an extra price tag attached.

Plenty of the annoyance already described stems not necessarily from the choice of an ageing gatekeeper as challenger-cum-stopgap for the WBC belt-holder, but from the fact that Fury has already beaten him twice. Luis Ortiz, for example, wouldn’t exactly be a mouthwatering alternative, but at least it wouldn’t be going over old, moss-encrusted, ground. However, can anyone seriously suggest that when it comes to selling the spectacle – the most important role of a promoter – someone like Ortiz would have been more appealing to British ticket-buyers, the majority with only a passing interest in boxing, than Chisora?

We must also consider the timing. Fury announced, and then repeatedly reaffirmed, his retirement following his six-round shellacking of Dillian Whyte at Wembley Stadium in April. At the beginning of September, he confirmed his plans to fight again. Though Tyson seemed to think that all he needed to do at that point was record a few video callouts to the likes of Usyk and Anthony Joshua, post on social media and – hey, presto! – they’d all come flocking, finding a fitting dance partner before the end of the year was always going to be a difficult ask.

Fury’s options were also limited by his inability to travel to the USA as a consequence of an old business relationship with Daniel Kinahan. Should sanctions against the notorious Irishman not have been imposed by America, it’s fair to assume that Tyson would have made his return to the US long ago, where Chisora would not have been a frontrunner.

But in London, at an open-air stadium in the middle of winter, the promoters could not have run the risk of matching Fury with Frank Sanchez, Martin Bakole or even Luis Ortiz-type challengers. Better fights, certainly, but unquestionably harder sells. While we all count the pennies, those in the expensive suits have books to balance, too. However, it’s a matter of opinion if Chisora, 33-12 (23), was the only marketable opponent available.

Though we were told Joe Joyce was on holiday, he’d made it quite clear he was willing to take on Fury in December before packing his suitcase. Daniel Dubois, an altogether more appealing opponent than Chisora, fights on the undercard. But a get-out-jail-card would be that neither Joyce nor Dubois hold WBC rankings because they are in possession of secondary straps with the WBO and WBA, respectively.

However, Frank Warren used the independent BoxRec ratings – “the ones everyone uses” – when attempting to justify Chisora as a worthy opponent. It was pure spiel; given the amount of ratings that are in existence, it doesn’t take much research to find one set that will suit the narrative you’re rolling out on any given day. But even in the eyes of the WBC – and remember, they don’t rate Usyk, Dubois or Joyce – Chisora is only ranked at No.13 (BoxRec, for the record, has him at No.10, while Chisora is unranked by Boxing News). The truth is, once Usyk and Joshua had ruled themselves out, 34-year-old Fury’s number one choice was his buddy, Del Boy. At that point, his promoters had little choice but to run with it.

Though victory for Fury looks a foregone conclusion, the safety and long-term health of his war-torn opponent is nothing of the sort. The loveable veteran has taken some serious licks while winning just one of his four most recent bouts and losing seven since he last encountered Fury. Without wishing to dwell too much on a deeply depressing subject, that we can still showcase fighters who tick every box when it comes to being at high risk of brain damage is not a good look for the sport or its dated protocols.

But Chisora is a fighter by choice and, regardless of what happens in the future, his current existence has unquestionably been enriched by the trade that defines him – something we must all cling to when struggling to justify our own addictions to this sport. The sentimental fan could even make a case that after Chisora’s long and gruelling career, a shot at a major belt is the least he deserves. And for all the misgivings about this contest, be sure that he’ll give this everything he’s got. For now, he is fit, ready, and, given all the negativity surrounding his chances, quietly determined to prove a lot of people wrong. By all accounts, his training camp in Finchley with longtime on-and-off coach Don Charles has been a good one.

Even so, making a case for Chisora to win is borderline impossible at this juncture. Though his record reads like a who’s-who of the current scene, he’s lost to most of them, including Whyte (twice), Joseph Parker (twice) and Usyk in the past six years. Yes, he won a split decision over the 41-year-old Kubrat Pulev in his most recent bout, but it’s not difficult to come to the conclusion that Chisora is on a downward trajectory. Fury, in sharp contrast, appears to be at the top of his game.

Perhaps because the selection of Chisora was his own idea or perhaps because, deep down, he too knows that victory is all but assured, Tyson has reacted furiously to the notion that his old friend is a bad opponent. That he’s therefore talking up Chisora’s chances should come as no surprise. All it will take, he says, is for Del to launch one of his famed overarm right hands to the side of his mush and it’s lights out. But if Chisora couldn’t hurt Fury in 2011, or get near him in 2014, what can he do differently in 2022?

Well, though it’s a stretch, the manner in which they both fight now could present the rank outsider with a better chance of landing clean than he had previously.

In 2014, Fury was perfecting his hit-and-not-get-hit style that saw him decision Wladimir Klitschko the following year. However, though it worked for large chunks of the first outing against Deontay Wilder in 2018, it still saw him pull his head back to such an extent it almost got socked into oblivion in the last round. A rethink soon followed and Fury Mark II was born ahead of the rematch that saw the Traveller turn from a boxer-puncher to artful slugger.

Chisora has changed, too. He still scurries after his opponents – squint, and he looks like Joe Frazier trying to recapture his old form against Floyd “Jumbo” Cummings in 1981 – yet he hurls his blows with such ferocity (and desperation) these days, they can be more damaging than they once were. Those punches are also awkward to defend against. If he can get close, avoid being manhandled on the inside, attack the body and hurl his honey punch over the top, well, he may even land one or two. Chisora – even this Chisora – won’t make life easy for anyone.

What he’s facing in Fury, though, is a fighter of extreme intelligence who possesses some of the finest recuperative powers in heavyweight history; one who now knows how to get the most from his gargantuan dimensions and one so adept at finding the right punches, he can turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye. If Fury’s jab, uppercut and straight right are in working order, victory is a formality, irrespective of what Chisora can muster by way of return. Because, let’s face it, if Whyte could find the opening to knock Del out, if Parker could whack him silly and Usyk handily outboxed him, it’s going to take a malfunction of epic proportions for Fury to lose.

It’s feasible that Tyson can end this whenever he pleases. Whether he’s planning on doing so in the opening rounds, and therefore proving right all the critics who label this a diabolical mismatch, is another matter. As such, predicting when and how this all comes to an end is no more than guesswork.

What we do know is that the Fury who demolished Wilder in the rematch, went to hell and back in fight three, and then thrashed Whyte this year was very much a man on a mission. Whether he’ll want to summon such savagery against Chisora, a man towards whom he bears no malice, is a worthwhile consideration.

Chisora, for all his war wounds, is not a boxer who goes down without a fight, either. So a victory inside three or four rounds for Fury seems unlikely. Though we shouldn’t rule out Fury, in an effort to spare Chisora from hurt, picking and poking his way to a decision, or even making this all appear more competitive than it should be, we hope his instinct to impress on a big stage will prevent either scenario.

The guess, then, is for Chisora to be typically game in the early going, for Fury to take more chances than is his custom, before the favourite’s accuracy and power makes it all very one-sided. Whether coach Charles or the referee is Chisora’s saviour, we don’t expect this one to go much past halfway.

Daniel Dubois, 18-1 (17), takes on South Africa’s Kevin Lerena, 28-1 (14), in chief-support. His secondary WBA strap is on the line. Lerena’s first 26 bouts were down at cruiserweight where, as the IBO belt-holder, he went one better than Fury and stopped Sefer Seferi in three rounds. In his next defence, he pummelled 49-year-old First Arslan to defeat in six. He’s also known for testing positive for clomifene, the same banned substance found in Conor Benn this year, ahead of his 2019 win over Dmytro Kutcher. The IBO cleared him of any wrongdoing after clomifene was discovered in his wife’s fertility pills and Lerena apparently chugged one back by mistake. Whoops-a-daisy, indeed.

Lesson learned, Lerena later moved up to heavyweight in 2020 and has beaten Patrick Ferguson (rsf 5), Bogdan Dinu (ko 4) and, this September, Marius Wach (pts 12).

Though 30-year-old Lerena, who has been sparring Martin Bakole, is a stocky and determined southpaw, Dubois is 1/12 favourite with good reason.

The 25-year-old is improving quickly under the tutelage of Shane McGuigan and since his 2020 loss to Joyce, he’s demolished Dinu (ko 2), Joe Cusumano (rsf 1) and Trevor Bryan (ko 4). Lerena looks a level above Bryan and could make this interesting in the early stages.

Dangerous on the inside, the underdog is nonetheless careless on the attack and could find it difficult to get close to Dubois. The Englishman’s jab is key; if it’s firing, he’ll set up the required openings to get Lerena out of there in the first half of the contest.

In the best matched fight on the card, French veteran Yvan Mendy, 47-5-1 (22), defends his European lightweight title against 34-year-old Denys Berinchyk, 16-0 (9). The Ukrainian won silver at the 2012 Olympics and the Worlds the year before.

As a professional, he’s made slow but steady progress since turning over in 2015 but could still make his mark in the paid code. We expect him to win this one on the cards after 12 rounds.

Also appearing are prospects Karol Itauma (light-heavyweight) and lightweight Royson Barney Smith, while former British 175lbs champion Hosea Burton continues his rebuild at cruiserweight, and super-featherweight Isaac Lowe, Fury’s cousin, looks to bounce back after losing two in a row.

THE VERDICT: A little like staging a second leg of England-Iran at the World Cup Finals.