NEW YORK – Something seemed a bit off. It was nearly 30 minutes into the press conference at Jack Demsey’s Pub in Midtown Manhattan to announce undefeated British heavyweight contender Tyson Fury against former two-time cruiserweight titleholder Steve Cunningham on April 20 at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, and there hadn’t been a single heated exchange between the protagonists.
The 24-year-old Fury, known as much for his pointed insults on Twitter and at press conferences as he is for his boxing ability, put the microphone down at the end of a short, respectful speech. Then, as the packed room waited for something to happen, he picked it up again.
“This is a question to Steve and to [Promoter Kathy Duva],” began Fury (20-0, 14 knockouts) of Manchester, England. “Just wondering if the bottom of Steve’s boots have been sponsored? As there’s gonna be a lot of people watching around the world, I’d like to put my Twitter account on the bottom of them so I can get more fans on Twitter. I was wondering how much it’d cost me to sponsor?”
With that barb, inspired no doubt by British newspaper The Mirror taking out an advert on the soles of Julius Francis’ shoes when he fought Mike Tyson, Fury turned a run-of-the-mill press conference into a circus, arguing back and forth with Cunningham and his trainer Naazim Richardson. Fury was verbose and self-aggrandizing, taking to the New York publicity in much the way fellow Brit “Prince” Naseem Hamed did 16 years ago when he invaded The Big Apple for his 1997 bout against Kevin Kelley.
Cunningham (25-5, 12 KOs), who had fought the absolute best of the cruiserweight division before moving up to heavyweight last year, was not intimidated by Fury’s size or threats.
“There is a code and it still runs through the streets today. And that’s, ‘The guys that talk a lot, they’re chumps,’” said Cunningham of Philadelphia, Pa. “That’s why I’m not gonna talk, all that talk about sponsorships and Twitter, that ain’t gonna help you on April 20.”
In a period of heavyweight boxing where the Klitschko brothers’ dominance has removed any drama near the top, Fury’s invasion into America has suddenly sparked life into a dull and uneventful division.
The Fury-Cunningham fight, which will be promoted by Main Events and Hennessy Sports, will be televised live by NBC in America beginning at 4 p.m. EST. It will be the first heavyweight bout to headline at The Garden since Wladimir Klitschko’s title defense against Calvin Brock in 2006.
Fury, who is listed as standing 6-foot-9 and weighs in the 240 pound range, looks the part of a top heavyweight. Whether his claims that the Klitschko brothers Wladimir and Vitali, as well as rising heavyweight Deontay Wilder and Bermane Stiverne want no part of him hold weight or not, Fury has defeated an impressive lineup of domestic challengers, including a previously unbeaten Dereck Chisora and popular Martin Rogan, as well as American former title challenger Kevin Johnson.
Fury had a noticeable height and size advantage over Cunningham, who stands about 6-foot-3 and weighed 203 pounds in his controversial loss to Tomasz Adamek last time out, when they stood face-to-face. It was Cunningham’s relatively diminutive size that Fury pointed at to try and get a rise out of his opponent.
“You’re not a heavyweight for one, and I am,” said Fury. “You are in trouble for real and I mean business. I’m going to hurt you seriously on April 20. I hope you understand that, I hope your trainer understands that. I hope your wife understands that, I hope everyone understands it because I mean business.
“Let’s talk about talent, size, whatever you want to,” continued Fury. “I’m the best fighter including all weights because there’s not a man born from his mother who can beat Tyson Fury. I don’t care if he’s seven foot or if he’s three foot tall. Steve Cunningham’s in big trouble. Come April 20, this man is getting knocked spark out, guaranteed 100 percent. I hope him and his trainer believe in magic because he’s gonna need a lot of magic to beat Tyson Fury. Steve Cunningham, the whole of Philadelphia behind him and every man in it, couldn’t beat me together, never mind him on his own.
“You’re a small man, you’re chinny, you’re getting knocked out. You’ve been put down in nearly every fight you’ve had.”
Cunningham, who was outweighed 32 pounds in his victory over Jason Gavern last September, turned the tables on Fury.
“Only reason this dude is winning fights is because he’s big,” said Cunningham. “Shrink him down to 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, he’s garbage. One thing I can say about the Klitschko brothers because I’ve been in the camp with Wladimir, they’re big but they work hard, they’re talented, they’re skillful. If they were normal sized they still be champions.
“[Fury] leans on guys, he gets them tired. I don’t get tired, I get better.”
In stark contrast to the absurdly over-the-top Fury is Richardson, trainer of Cunningham. Richardson, whose cerebral, almost Yoda-like approach to the sweet science has guided Bernard Hopkins to unprecedented success over fighters much younger than himself, used logic in an attempt to cut Fury down to size.
“I understand, a lot of people dreamed to come over here because they want to be on the cameras and the microphones so by all means,” said Richardson. “I’ll walk down the street with you right now and I bet more people recognize me than recognize you and I don’t even fight.
“I have a heavyweight fighter, if he’s not a heavyweight, we don’t want to fight him. If you’re a heavyweight, why would you be fighting a guy who is not a heavyweight?
“I’ll tell you why,” shot back Fury. “There’s not a heavyweight on the planet who will step in the ring with me. Wladimir Klitschko is the biggest bitch I’ve ever seen. He will not fight Tyson Fury.”
Outspoken British heavyweights have been in no short supply of late, but with David Haye and Chisora failing to walk what they talk in recent times, the onus is on Fury to give the now attentive boxing world something to be excited once the microphones turn off and the bell rings. Either way, Fury has succeeded in making heavyweight boxing entertaining, at least for the moment.
Video: Ryan Songalia
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.