Preview: Tyson Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk – heavyweight boxing fight

The contest will decide the first undisputed heavyweight champ in nearly 25 years, with both fighters unbeaten as pros.

Boxer poses at media conference.
Tyson Fury (L) and Oleksandr Usyk pose during the media conference ahead of their 'Ring of Fire' bout in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Saturday, May 18, 2024 [Andrew Couldridge/Reuters]
  • Who: Tyson Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk
  • When: Saturday, May 18, 2024 – main event at about 1am local time (22:00 GMT)
  • Where: Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Professional records (W-L-D): Fury (34-0-1), Usyk (21-0-0)
  • Wins by knockout: Fury (24), Usyk (14)
  • Height: Fury – 206cm (6ft 9in), Usyk – 190cm (6ft 3in)
  • Reach:  Fury – 216cm (85in) Usyk – 197cm (78in)
  • Follow the fight LIVE: Al Jazeera will run a live page for the build-up and text commentary of the Tyson Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk fight from 18:00 GMT on Saturday, May 18.

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – In the days leading up to their undisputed heavyweight title fight, Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk seemed relaxed and eager to soak up the occasion, even as their camps taunted each other and clashed.

The biggest drama came early in the week, when Fury’s father, John, headbutted a member of Usyk’s entourage. But both the fighters had stayed light-hearted throughout the build-up – good-naturedly teasing each other, and grinning and showboating in their open workouts.

But on a baking hot Thursday evening in Riyadh, as the unbeaten fighters came together at the final news conference before the bout on Saturday, both grew terse and tight-lipped as the weight of the occasion seemed to press in.

Sitting opposite them, in the front row of a crowd of sweating journalists, entourages and VIP guests, was a grey-bearded Lennox Lewis, 58, and Evander Holyfield, 61. Lewis beat Holyfield in 1999 to become boxing’s last undisputed heavyweight champion.

On stage, Usyk, 37, was wearing a black and white traditional Ukrainian sash.

“Let’s make history. Enough. Thanks very much,” he said.

Boxer speaks at media conference.
Oleksandr Usyk speaking during the media conference at Boulevard City, Riyadh on May 16 [Andrew Couldridge/Reuters]

Fury, who sported a flame-coloured suit and a black trilby hat, is normally a garrulous and flamboyant figure renowned for his trash talk. But the 35-year-old British boxer also had little to say on Thursday.

“I’m ready. I’ve got nothing else to say apart from I’m ready for a good fight,” he said.

“God bless him,” he added when asked if he had a message for Usyk. “I’ll say a prayer for him before the fight for us both to get out of the ring safely.”

Boxing has long frustrated fans with various belts and sanctioning bodies creating multiple champions at the same weights, and frequent disputes over money and clashing egos often prevent the best fighters from facing each other in their prime.

Although Fury vs Usyk has taken some taken to materialise and was postponed from its original date in February after Fury suffered a cut in training, the fact that a bout of this magnitude is finally happening – partly a result of growing Saudi influence in the sport – means many are billing it as the fight of this century, with the winner stepping into the ranks of the all-time greats.

On Thursday, chants by rival fans quickly petered out into the sweltering night as locals looked on quietly. Drones fizzed overhead as spotlights illuminated swirling dust, and gusts of wind buffeted the microphones on stage.

The host of the news conference tried and failed to draw more words from the fighters. When they stood for the traditional face-off, Fury refused to even look at his rival, flexing his biceps and gazing into the crowd, while Usyk stared at Fury intently, a smile playing on his lips.

Boxer poses for photographers.
Tyson Fury refuses to look at Oleksandr Usyk during the media conference at Boulevard City, Riyadh on May 16 [Andrew Couldridge/Reuters]

“[This fight is] of monumental importance for the history of the heavyweight division, for boxing’s value,” combat sports analyst Luke Thomas told Al Jazeera a few days ahead of the fight.

“People always complain people don’t know who the champions are. Well, now they’re going to know. And they’re going to know in the most storied division in boxing.”

How they match up

Fury, who generally fights out of the orthodox stance, is a giant of a man who first became a heavyweight champion by beating Wladimir Klitschko in 2015.

The “Gypsy King” subsequently battled severe mental health issues and ballooning weight, but came back from years in the wilderness to dethrone knockout artist Deontay Wilder – beating him twice (one fight ended in a draw) in a thrilling trilogy to win and retain the WBC belt.

Fury survived a scare in his last fight against mixed martial arts (MMA) star – and novice professional boxer – Francis Ngannou, as the Gypsy King got up from being floored on his way to a split-decision win.

Usyk – a master technician and an Olympic gold medallist who usually fights southpaw – moved up to heavyweight after dominating the cruiserweight division as a unified champion. He made his heavyweight debut in 2019 and won the WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight belts in 2021 – outclassing the much bigger Anthony Joshua, whom Usyk has now beaten twice.

In his last fight, Usyk stopped Daniel Dubois in the ninth round, but it was not a totally comfortable fight for the Ukrainian, who was hurt on a couple of occasions.

Two boxers training in the gym.
In this combination of pictures, Britain’s Tyson Fury (L) and Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk train in Riyadh on May 15, before their undisputed heavyweight world boxing championship fight on May 18 [Fayez Nureldine/AFP]

Size vs speed

Combat sports commentator Sean Wheelock cautioned against taking too much from their last fights.

“For me, this is an extremely even fight between two incredibly talented heavyweights,” Wheelock told Al Jazeera.

“I think that Fury definitely relies on power punches more, he’s got incredible power when he has his timing. Usyk obviously also has power, and I think Usyk often showcases that he can be a bit more of a technical and slicker, boxer.”

Fury will surely look to make the most of his considerable size advantage. He could try to maintain and control distance with his reach, and he could try to smother, rough up, lean on and drain Usyk in the clinch.

“Obviously if Fury wants to play an inside game and be heavy, you start looking at the referee,” Wheelock said.

“Are you getting warnings for excessive holding? How quickly is the referee breaking it up? And even world-class referees are willing to do things differently in that situation.”

Usyk’s fighting moniker is “The Cat” due to his speed and agility; his head movement and fast feet make him hard to hit, with his exceptional footwork creating angles, cutting off the ring, and tormenting and exhausting opponents. His movement also gives him the leverage to deliver blistering counters as he evades shots.

But Usyk will not only have to overcome Fury’s size advantage; the Gypsy King is also highly experienced, has great ringcraft, and is full of feints and is elusive for such an enormous man. Fury also has exceptional stamina, has lost a lot of weight for this bout, and has incredible powers of recovery – he’s gotten up from several knockdowns by Wilder, currently the most devastating puncher in boxing – although there’s always a risk that Fury’s extensive scar tissue can be carved open.

Fury can fight southpaw and might switch stances to counter Usyk’s awkward style. Both trained in their opposite stances in the open workouts on Wednesday night.

Boxer trains at gym with trainer.
Tyson Fury trains southpaw in Riyadh on May 15, 2024 ahead of his heavyweight world title fight against Oleksandr Usyk [Fayez Nureldine/AFP]
Boxer trains in gym with trainer.
Oleksandr Usyk trains using the orthodox boxing stance in Riyadh on May 15 before the big fight against Fury [Fayez Nureldine/AFP]

Usyk’s main weakness may be with shots to the body – although he was floored by a low blow in his last fight against Dubois, he was also troubled by legal body shots.

While Fury has called Usyk an “ugly little man”, “rabbit” and “sausage” in the build-up to the fight, he has also expressed respect for the Ukrainian and has said it will be the toughest fight of his career.

“He is a bad man,” Fury said while describing Usyk’s boxing prowess.

Uysk doesn’t seem to care what Fury says, and the Ukrainian generally says he will do his talking in the ring, but he has said that Fury’s evident weight loss suggests that the British fighter is “scared” of him.

Thomas was unable to say who he thought would emerge with their hand raised.

“Fury seems like he’s the best generational heavyweight,” he said.

“But everybody that Usyk has beaten at heavyweight has been bigger than him. He was a unifier at cruiserweight, he seems like an ultra-special talent … his boxing IQ is off the charts. I really don’t know who’s going to win.”

Boxers poses for photographs at media conference.
Tyson Fury (L) and Oleksandr Usyk are both undefeated in their professional boxing careers – that streak will come to an end for one of these competitors on Saturday night in Riyadh [Andrew Couldridge/Reuters]

Form guide

Fury’s last five fights:

  • October 28, 2023: vs Ngannou (Fury wins split decision 96-93, 94-95, 95-94)
  • December 3, 2022: vs Derek Chisora III (Fury wins by TKO in 10th round)
  • April 23, 2022: vs Dillian Whyte (Fury wins by TKO in sixth round)
  • October 9, 2021: vs Wilder III (Fury wins by KO in 11th round)
  • February 22, 2020: vs Wilder II (Fury wins by TKO in seventh round)

Usyk’s last five fights:

  • August 26, 2023: vs Dubois (Usyk wins with ninth-round stoppage)
  • August 20, 2022: vs Joshua II (Usyk wins split decision 115–113, 113–115, 116–112)
  • September 25, 2021: vs Joshua (Usyk unanimous win 117–112, 116–112, 115–113)
  • March 11, 2020: vs Chisora (Usyk unanimous win 117–112, 115–113, 115–113)
  • October 12, 2019: vs Chazz Witherspoon (Usyk wins as Witherspoon retires after the seventh round)

The undercard

  • Jai Opetaia v Mairis Briedis – IBF cruiserweight title
  • Joe Cordina v Anthony Cacace – IBF super-featherweight title
  • Mark Chamberlain v Joshua Oluwaseun Wahab – lightweight
  • Sergey Kovalev v Robin Sirwan Safar – cruiserweight
  • Isaac Lowe v Hasibullah Ahmadi – featherweight
  • David Nyika v Michael Seitz – cruiserweight
  • Moses Itauma v Ilja Mezencev – heavyweight
  • Agit Kabayel v Frank Sanchez – heavyweight
Source: Al Jazeera