Consider Tyson Fury. The name itself is so aggressively pugilistic that it ends up sounding phony. You can't help but figure that such a name could only belong to a charlatan--a carnival barker who just happens to sell his snake oil packaged in tomato cans. That suspicion would be bolstered when you tuned in to what the big man's big mouth was saying.
"He's a classless prima donna," Fury once said of prospective opponent David Haye. "A diva. A no-good, wannabe Bollywood actor--and I can't wait to put him in his place." On another occasion Fury called boxer David Price "a shithouse," and a "scouse prick." Fury is full of such quotes, to the extent that one suspects some deep insecurity. To those unfamiliar with his work, his words reek of empty bravado rather than confidence.
Standing six-foot-nine and quick to spew insults, it is easy to believe that Tyson Fury, like his name suggests, is all bluster. Nothing but sound and... well, fury. There are many in the boxing world who believe this to be the case.
They're all wrong.
Saturday, February 28th, Fury fought German heavyweight Christian Hammer in what was advertised as a title eliminator--the winner was to get the next crack at longtime heavyweight kingpin Wladimir Klitschko. Hammer is a journeyman in the best sense of the word--not a washed-up club fighter, but simply a boxer who hasn't yet achieved the rank of master. In Hammer's case, he probably never will, but he's not a bad boxer. He's certainly not as bad as Fury made him look.
For eight rounds Fury battered Hammer, playing with his opponent like a cat with a caught mouse or, adjusting our metaphor for the size of the fighters, an orca with a seal. As ever, Fury's early success was built on his circular footwork, which is always surprisingly smooth for a man of his dimensions, and his crisp straight punches.
Here, Fury stabs Hammer with his jab, first from orthodox and then from southpaw. After touching the German with his lead, he follows with his rear hand, almost always thrown at an upward trajectory to keep his shorter opponents from getting in underneath his long punches. Offense and footwork work in seamless unison. Fury's jab occupies Hammer's eyes, setting up the uppercut or cross. Every time that Fury throws that rear hand, he immediately follows with a pivot. Each southpaw left is followed by a quick angular step to his left, forcing Hammer to keep turning, turning, turning--always working to catch up but never getting there unscathed.
As Fury continues to develop as a world class fighter, that stance switch is becoming a more integral part of his style. Many boxers have a love-affair with the stance switch these days. It's a tempting idea, offering the potential for extreme unpredictability and adaptability. A fighter who can switch-hit almost never finds himself out of position or struggling to find his balance. It is not, however, a trick that comes naturally to most fighters. In fact, the only other boxer who matches Fury's ambidexterity is lightweight champion Terence Crawford.
And even then, Crawford tends to pick the stance that works best and stick with it. In contrast, Fury's game is full of sudden, unexpected shifts and switches, conventional angles that suddenly flip or turn sideways.
In this sequence Hammer backs Fury, who starts in his orthodox stance, toward the ropes. As his back hits the barrier, Fury squares his feet, pausing momentarily to assess the man in front of him. From this position he is free to extend either arm as a jab, and he chooses the right. As the first pawing jab extends, blocking Hammer's vision, Fury effortlessly slides to his left, suddenly adopting a southpaw stance to go with his right lead.
From southpaw, this backhand jab is a staple of Fury's style. Unlike the sharp jab we witnessed in the previous example, it serves only to draw the opponent's eye and manipulate his guard. Once Fury's jab has Hammer blinded and focused on parrying with his own left hand, Tyson takes full advantage of his newfound inside angle, shooting an upward left hook around Hammer's static right arm.
Take a moment to appreciate Fury's footwork here. Again, he turns Hammer after attacking, forcing the German to adjust instead of giving him the opportunity to counter. And when Hammer does begin to turn, Fury attacks again, touching him with the jab, snapping his head back with a quick left uppercut, and finishing off with a hard right hook to the ear, the pulling motion of which contributes to Fury's easy exit.
Fury is no one-punch knockout artist, but he has nonetheless stopped three quarters of his opposition. Clever stance switches and fundamentally sound boxing are the reason why. Watch his fifth round knockdown of Hammer.
Again, Fury begins his retreat in an orthodox stance, but falls smoothly into southpaw as he begins moving to his left. The sudden circular movement forces Hammer, who had been advancing in a straight line, to adjust. He does, turning to his right to cut Fury off, but steps right into the big man's trap. Fury shoots a straight left through Hammer's guard, and follows up with a right uppercut--Hammer walks right into both.
As the fighters tie up, Fury begins fighting for head position, driving his forehead into Hammer to create angles and space--more on that later. Then, as Hammer steps back, Fury drives two punches into his belly, both from his southpaw stance. Hammer breaks and attempts to reset, but finds himself in no man's land. Here's the end of that sequence in slow motion.
Again, the subtlety of Fury's footwork is astounding, particularly for a veritable giant such as himself. Stepping back and resetting, Hammer fully expects Fury to come at him in a southpaw stance. He positions himself to thwart the weapon he has come to expect from this stance--the left uppercut. Hammer hunkers down, tightening up his guard, and angling himself to his right.
Fury does throw the left hand, but not as an uppercut or cross. Instead, it's a distracting jab that hides the movement of his feet. With his probing left hand in Hammer's face, Fury steps his left foot forward and transitions back to orthodox. His second jab hides the right hand. Fury accompanies this punch with the same pivot we saw before, stepping out and around to Hammer's left and shooting a short overhand right into Hammer's temple at nearly a ninety degree angle--a perfect, clean blow that sends Hammer to his knees.
But Fury doesn't just fight long. He also fights tall, which means using his height advantage on the inside. The classic tall man's punch is the uppercut, and Fury throws a mean one.
With his height, Fury has tremendous leverage in his uppercut, which is why he manages to stun opponents with the punch despite rarely seeming to throw it with considerable power. The uppercut is instrumental to one of the most underappreciated aspects of Fury's game: his in-fighting.
Before firing any punches, Fury battles for position, bending at the hips and using his head to wrestle with the smaller Hammer. Crossfacing with his right forearm, he keeps Hammer from pushing him around too easily, and maintains a little distance between himself and his opponent. Fury uses this space to insert his left hand inside Hammer's right, giving up his overhook in favor of a potent inside position. Next he brings his other hand into play, replacing his crossface with head pressure. By driving his forehead into Hammer's temple, he creates more distance and a small but effective angle.
Fury uses that pressure to turn the other man's body while keeping his own in perfect position. From here he can hit without being hit in return. For a closer look at the "hits" in question, let's look at the same sequence from another angle.
Again, the uppercut plays a pivotal role. A short right uppercut to the body starts things off, followed by a left uppercut to the jaw. Again, Fury's height grants him tremendous leverage in close quarters. Starting with his head on the same level as Hammer's, all Fury has to do is stand up straight to bring those uppercuts thudding hard into Hammer's torso and chin. After making himself tall, he completes the combination with a back-stepping right hook, his right hand ripping through Hammer's head with all 260 lbs of Fury's weight behind it.
This is capped off by a simple combination of straight punches, made flashier by Fury's nifty little juke as Hammer shells up and leans in to smother Fury's reach. It's the cocky swagger and the mischievous grin that makes this sequence stand out, but excellent technique is what makes it effective.
The most refreshing thing about Tyson Fury? He continues to improve. By all appearances, much of the credit for that belongs to his uncle and head trainer, Peter Fury. After eight rounds of dominance, in which Tyson ate no more than a half dozen clean punches, Peter was admonishing his fighter in the corner. "You're winning it, easy," the elder Fury told his charge. "What do I mean by easy? Very easy. You're just trying to make a fight of it."
His meaning: don't let yourself get bored and give this guy unnecessary chances to win. Don't listen to the boos. Don't try to make this a fun fight. Do what you do best, and box.
It was right after that speech that Hammer's corner called the fight off. There would be no ninth round. You might expect Peter Fury to be happy about this--after all, who doesn't love a stoppage win?--but he didn't looked happy. In fact, he almost looked disappointed. Disappointed that his fighter wouldn't get the chance to prove his maturity and skill for the full twelve; disappointed that he himself wouldn't get to enjoy four more rounds of his own brilliant handiwork.
If you look closely at Tyson Fury, past all the bluster and the bravado, it's not hard to see why.
For more analysis, check out Heavy Hands, the only podcast dedicated to the finer points of face-punching. This week's installment kicks off a new series of episodes breaking down the styles that make fighting so compelling. Out-fighters, counter fighters, pressure fighters, boxer-punchers, and more--Connor and Pat explore the many styles of combat in-depth, and come to some interesting conclusions.