Tyson Fury kept the boxing world waiting just 52 days before confirming that he will fight again.
There is currently no date, no opponent, no method, but there is a price tag attached to the event: Fury will get back in the ring for 500 million dollars. It’s just an endless game of fun and names and suggestions.
Nearly 20 years ago, Lennox Lewis walked away from the sport with his reputation, his money and his marbles. He left behind a vacuum and a couple of fights. He set a target, his own personal total, for a return to the ring: “Let them give me 100 million and I will be back,” he said. That number seemed like a fantasy figure back in 2004.
Fighters retire and go into exile for a variety of reasons and stay retired and stay in exile for a variety of reasons. Muhammad Ali was stopped from fighting by the US government, Marvin Hagler refused to fight again because of boxing politics. Hagler’s exile was made complete when he vanished to Italy and went on the missing list.
Big George Foreman listened to his God when he quit and heard the same voice when he started to fight again 10 years later. Floyd Mayweather was carefully picking his opponents long before his retirement from boxing; Mayweather will continue to blur the line between retirement, exhibition fight, real fight, ceremony and event for a long, long time. Mayweather has set the agenda; the others will follow on a circuit of golden oldies.
Foreman was on a boxing mission when he put away his battered bible and chased the glory and the money again; Mayweather fights because it is all that he knows. And, it pays stupid money for no risk.
In the early Sixties there were genuine talks and offers for Rocky Marciano to come out of retirement and fight the heavyweights. Marciano had just turned 32 when he walked away as the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world after his last defense of him in 1955. It was claimed Marciano went back in the gym behind closed doors to shift the weight. He decided against fighting again and it was a wise move; the business had changed. And, Rocky looked very old, very quickly.
As a comparison, the Klitschko brothers had a combined total of 39 world title fights after their 32nd birthdays; Fury is currently 33. Vitali and Wladimir have, so far, resisted every offer to end their retirements; Wlad is 46 right now and Vitali is 50 – they still look fresh. They currently have another battle to fight.
Last year there was a very real rumor that Vitali and Lewis would fight again for a lot of money in some type of exhibition; Lewis shifted some weight and was very evasive when I sat with him last September in Las Vegas and asked about a “comeback.” Fury has even talked about fighting heavyweight legends like Lewis and Mike Tyson in exhibitions. There would be a tremendous appetite for the Tour, trust me. Tyson vs. Tyson is possibly the third biggest heavyweight match that can currently be made.
It would be foolish to rule out any fighter under 60-years-old ending their retirement in a business that defies most rules and regulations. It seems that more people want to see Mayweather against a washed-up UFC fighter, than want to watch most of the world champions currently holding belts in boxing at the moment. The current golden period in boxing is seemingly dominated by the blurred-lines from fights like Tommy Fury against YouTube millionaire, Jake Paul; the pair have a combined record of 13 fights. Fury once beat a man who had never won a fight but had lost 26; Paul has not yet met a professional boxer in any of his five fights.
Their proposed fight in New York in August would be enormous. A Fury vs. Paul fight would be in the big room at the Garden; on Saturday night Artur Beterbiev dropped Joe Smith three times and stopped him in the second round. Beterbiev is unbeaten in 18 fights now, all knockouts, and added Smith’s WBO belt to his WBC and IBF belts. The fight, however, was in the basement at the Garden in front of a few thousand and not the 19,000 expected for Paul vs. Fury.
Just 10 days ago in Miami, I was talking to Shannon Briggs, a world heavyweight champion from a long, long time ago; Briggs has been in a retirement limbo for about twelve years, but he fights again in August. “I’ve still got a big fight in me against the right man,” he told me. Briggs is currently 50, has not fought since 2016 and has only fought nine times in the last ten years.
There are no good arguments for ending retirement. Money is compensation, sure, but a beating for cash ruins legacy and reputation. However, the most savage example of a fighter ending his retirement for the wrong reason took place in 1910 when James J. Jeffries fought and was damaged by Jack Johnson. Jeffries had retired six years earlier as world heavyweight champion when he ran out of “white opponents”. Johnson, the first black world heavyweight champion, won the title in 1908 and it took two years to coax Jeffries out of retirement. It was a fight for racial pride, make no mistake. He had no chance; Jeffries was 35, fat and slow – Johnson was at his peak in their fight in Reno and won the butchery in round 15. It was the only loss Jeffries suffered.
Fury will be back next year in a real fight, this year possibly in an exhibition and then expect that pattern to last for a decade or more. Fury insists that he will be fighting for all the right reasons: Cash and fun. I hope so.