Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk prediction roundtable: Who is the true king of the heavyweights?

Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk are hours away from fighting for all the heavyweight marbles.

For years, Fury has been the default answer to the question of “Who is the baddest man on the planet?” but right now, it’s Usyk carrying the lion’s share of the gold. After Saturday, there will be no doubt as to who is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.

So who gets the job done in Saudi Arabia? Will it be the “Gypsy King” coming off of a narrow win over MMA star Francis Ngannou that made Fury look mortal, or will Usyk snuff out another British star?

MMA Fighting’s Jed Meshew, Alexander K. Lee, and Shaun Al-Shatti gather at the roundtable to figure out who leaves the weekend as heavyweight’s king of the ring.

Usyk v Dubois Boxing Fight

Oleksandr Usyk
Photo by Andrzej Iwanczuk/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Meshew: This fight rocks. Seriously, I’ve changed my mind a half-dozen times about it already since it was first announced and I’m not even sure I’ll still feel this way come fight time. But at this moment, I’m going with Usyk.

I understand all the reasons why Fury can win. Up until Wednesday, I even agreed with most of them, but after going back and re-watching both of their past few fights for the 12th time, two things have crystalized for me.

First, Usyk is just so good at winning fights. I’m not talking about his skills, I’m talking about his ability to win. The man is arguably the greatest cruiserweight ever, and if he’s not, he’s No. 2, so you know he has a plethora of skills. What impresses me the most is how he always has another gear to elevate to when he needs it. Go back and watch the Anthony Joshua fights. When A.J. starts to build momentum in the middle rounds, Usyk comes back the next round and takes it all back. It’s the mark of a true, world-class champion, and Usyk has it in spades.

Second, I cannot get the Francis Ngannou fight out of my head. Yes, Fury pretty clearly did not take Ngannou seriously, and yes, he is in spectacular shape heading into this fight, but still. Ngannou is not good at boxing. Anthony Joshua proved that authoritatively and Fury damn near lost to him. That’s tough for me to move past.

Ultimately, I think we’re looking at a close fight either way. Both men have a habit of putting up close rounds and the way they match up stylistically makes me think this could very much be an “eye of the beholder” fight as far as judging goes. But I favor Usyk’s speed, footwork, and shot selection to narrowly edge this on the scorecards.

Lee: Fury took a lot of flack for looking past Ngannou and you know what? He deserved it. Because he did. Because this is the fight that he was looking ahead to. That doesn’t excuse his lackluster outing against the UFC’s lineal heavyweight champion, but it should give you some idea of what to expect Saturday.

Simply put, Fury is one of the best big-game fighters in the world when he’s locked in, and they don’t get much bigger than this. Fury’s recent dalliance with Ngannou and his inability to book a bout with Anthony Joshua have left just enough of a crack in the door for the Usyk truthers to rush in. There are plenty of hungry Usyk supporters out there who have been waiting for their man to get the chance to silence The Gypsy King, and you can bet Fury has heard all the chatter. If Usyk hopes to see the best version of Fury, he’ll get it and then some.

Size matters, and Usyk is going to have to deal with some draining clinch work in the early rounds. That strategy assumes Fury can effectively cut off Usyk’s angles, which is no easy feat, but one that Fury will patiently implement even as the crowd begins to stir from the lack of meaningful action. It’s in the latter stages of the fight that Fury will show his true mastery as the ever-so-slightly-slowed Usyk begins to find it more and more difficult to avoid Fury’s power punches.

Usyk has proven he can take a punch and that durability will serve him well here, but Fury’s inimitable combination of impact and volume will break down his defenses. While Usyk searches for openings for combinations, Fury will bear down on him with all of his might and continually push him to the ropes.

It’s going to be a humdinger of a fight, one that Fury wins by TKO in the 10th.

Boxing In Riyadh: Tyson Fury v Francis Ngannou

Tyson Fury
Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Al-Shatti: This is such a magnificent fight. I know that’s cliche to say, but truly, it’s worth stopping for a moment to savor history sometimes when we’re on the precipice of witnessing greatness. Like Jed, I too have wavered to-and-fro for much of the past few years about this result. If you asked me in May 2022 or even May 2023 to call my shot, I would’ve confidently told you this is Fury’s bout to lose, if only for all of the usual refrains.

Standing a towering 6-foot-9, the English big man is simply an anomaly of heavyweight history. His physicality is too often overwhelming, particularly for heavies who trend toward the smaller side. At his best, he’s smothering — an outlandish mix of slop and style, tub and technique, with the ringcraft to fully apply his God-given gifts. With five inches of height, seven inches of reach, and 40 pounds of weight on Usyk, Fury will undoubtedly try his damnedest to suck the life out of the cruiserweight legend, to make Usyk feel every ounce, every inch, every smattering of that discrepancy in each exchange, especially early, then allow his lancing offense and impressive footwork for a man his size to carry the day.

It’s a simple strategy, one that has propelled Fury to the foot of the heavyweight pantheon; however, Usyk is an entirely different beast from the Derek Chisoras and Dillian Whytes of the world. That is what scares me most with this call. Perhaps if this were 2022 or 2023, the Ukrainian southpaw may not yet have had time to acclimate his body and style enough to the rigors a physical force like Fury presents, but we’ve waited long enough that Usyk’s wizardry has now been honed and perfected against this era of super-heavyweights. There’s a very real world where Usyk is simply too skilled for Fury, too dynamic, too many steps ahead of the game once Saturday’s chess match settles into its eventual rhythm.

Still, the one point I keep finding myself returning to? I think there’s a good chance what we watched from Fury this past October threw the whole world off his scent. The man showed up to Saudi Arabia looking like a Ziploc bag stuffed with mashed potatoes and clearly didn’t view Francis Ngannou with an ounce of seriousness, only to realize too late that a game plan engineered around working in the clinch and leaning on a fellow behemoth (and the No. 1 MMA heavyweight in the world) probably isn’t the best idea. Fury was lucky to escape with a robbery decision, but he’s clearly internalized that night and applied its lessons with the slimmed-down shape he’s parading around the desert this past week.

Usyk may be an in-ring warlock, but styles make fights, and Fury is the younger, larger, longer, more dangerous man. One side needs to have a perfect night and the other doesn’t, and ultimately I think that swings this narrowly back in Fury’s favor. Tyson Fury via split decision.

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