At 6'9'' and 20 fights unbeaten, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Tyson Fury would be happy to let his fists do the talking ahead of his Stateside debut at Madison Square Garden on April 20th. However, the Mancunian motor mouth has other ideas. Not only has he branded his opponent and former cruiserweight king Steve 'USS' Cunningham a small scared guy , he has also found time to call domestic rival David Haye a pathetic loser and heavyweight champions Wladimir Klitschko and Alexander Povetkin a bitch and a pussy respectively.
Tyson, the former British and Commonwealth champion, was also typically undiplomatic when rival David Price was knocked out in the second by 41-year-old American Tony Thompson, labeling his former amateur rival a fraud. But in a little over a month, Fury will be risking his own reputation as he headlines in the same arena that Ali and Frazier waged war in – Madison Square Garden.
The best of Britain's boxers have had mixed results gambling on their first big fights across the pond. An impressive performance in front of a large audience can launch a fighter on TV giants HBO or Showtime and pave the way to enormous pay days. But when things go wrong it can mark the beginning of the end of a once-promising career.
December 97: Naseem Hamed W KO 4 Kevin Kelly Going in: After 28 straight wins and with two world featherweight titles in the bag, Naz was launched big-style in New York. A giant sized billboard of the pint-sized Prince was erected over Times Square as though Hamed were lording it over his future subjects. And the diminutive braggart with a super-sized ego was matched against respected 50-fight veteran Kevin "The Flushing flash" Kelly. The capable Queens resident was a dangerous former champion, with an impressive 32 quick wins on his reputable record. Yet Hamed was unconcerned. At the pre-fight press conference, the littlest big man in British boxing arrogantly offered an obviously amused Kelly a job putting up his posters.
The fight: Naz, still only a cocky 23-year-old, was the ultimate showman. His giant silhouette parading pervasively to late-nineties jungle behind a screen for close to 10 minutes as hate and anticipation were fermenting among the people in Madison Square Garden. Following a trademark somersault over the ropes, the action began and the champion thrilled as he flirted with disaster. Attempting to lean and sway back from Kelly’s precision punches, a swagger filled Hamed had the smirk royally swiped from his princely face as a right hand in the first had him flaked out on the floor. Kelly, having knocked the spots off his foe’s leopard-skin shorts, seemed set to ascend to Naz’s featherweight throne. Hamed touched down again while embarrassingly off balance in the second. But then - quicker than a ‘Flushing flash’, Naz knocked the confident Kelly to the canvas with his own power-saturated right hand. The Prince suffered the indignity of another count himself after Kelly defiantly arose from another contortion on the canvas. Suddenly, Naz managed to close the show with a staggering left hook, just seconds later, that scrambled the American’s senses for the full count and crowned Prince Naseem as the King of New York.
The Aftermath: The fight was massively exciting and the US loved it. Larry Merchent, the veteran American broadcaster called it a "miniature Hagler-Hearns" in reference to the classic middleweight up-and-dower of the mid-eighties. Naz, who joined HBOs place of boxing royalty, boxed in the States four more times earning sizable paydays until Barrera unceremoniously curtailed the Prince’s reign in 2001.
Feb 1989: Frank Bruno L TKO 5 Mike Tyson Going in: The fight date and venue both changed more times than costumes at Vega’s Burlesque show before big Frank had his shot against the then undefeated “baddest man on the planet” . Bruno’s prodigious punching power was undeniable at the time, with 32 victims poleaxed before the final bell. But his chandelier chin was, and always would be a concern. He had had his bones crushed by fringe contender James Smith as a prospect when a mile ahead on points and then run out of gas in his first title shot in 1986 when Tim Witherspoon wore him down and knocked him out in the eleventh.
The Fight: Bruno almost succumbed to Tyson’s traditional fast start as he was floored heavily in the opening round. Docked a point for holding while in survival mode, Bruno clocked the much smaller Tyson with a massive left hook which rocked Iron Mike alarmingly. Harry Carpenter, famous for his neutral commentating style, famously shouted “Get in there Frank!”
Tyson somehow survived the round and then in broke British hearts with brutal pair of right uppercuts in the fifth. Poor Bruno, with glazed eyes and a head in orbit, was helpless on the ropes and referee Richard Steele signalled the painful end of the bout. Hopes of crowning the first British world champion since Bob Fitzsimmonds crash landed in the Nevada dessert.
The Aftermath: Tyson’s choatic life was already caving in on him behind the scenes and he would only defend his title successfully once more before being stopped sensationally by Buster Douglas in Japan. Frank would rebuild his career before reconfirming his status as a nearly man after being stopped by Lennox Lewis for the title in 93. However, big Frank finally captured the crown at the fourth time of asking when he outpointed Oliver McCall at Wembley Arena two years later before Tyson again severed Bruno from his senses a second time in 96.
March 1995: Herbie Hide L TKO 6 Riddick Bowe Going in: Although Hide was the defending WBO champion and was unbeaten in 26 fights, he was a firm betting underdog and a blown-up cruiserweight. Former undisputed champion Bowe was almost two stone heavier than the Nigerian-born “Dancing Destroyer” and had wins over much better opposition than Hide including a scintillating decision over Evander Holyfield whom he floored and outpointed impressively for the title in the first fight of their classic trilogy.
The Fight: Hide boxed clever in the first two rounds and used his mobility to score points and avoid Bowe’s bombs. But Riddick then switched to the body and Herbie then started an impressive impression of a yo-yo – going down and up again twice in the third and fourth rounds and battling against his tangled and unsteady legs. Down yet again the fifth, the Norwich-based fighter bravely managed to haul himself vertical after yet another Bowe bludgeoning in the sixth before being predictably counted out later in the same session.
The Aftermath: Herbie managed to regain the WBO crown against a faded version of Tony Tucker in 97, although he was separated from the strap in two rounds by emerging giant Vitali Klitschko two years later. He hasn’t since boxed in America, although has achieved some success in Britain and Germany in the cruiserweight division.
April 2005: Ricky Hatton W PTS 12 Luis Collazo Going in: While Ricky had boxed twice on American undercards in his career in learning his fighting trade, his debut as a US headliner came in his second fight after leaving promoter Frank Warren acrimoniously. Having captured two world titles at light-welterweight, the then undefeated Hitman was attempting to step up a weight division to seize another belt on away territory in Boston. Opposing him was welterweight champion Collazo, who had only been beaten once in 27 contests and was a highly-skilled and heavily-tattooed southpaw.
The Fight: Hatton scored a flash knock down inside ten seconds as he cleverly turned and hooked his aggressor. However, Ricky struggled to dominate Collazo and although he won the fight via unanimous decision he hardly impressed after getting hammered too often with rapier-like straight left hands. He came within being stopped in the final round. Post-fight, Hatton’s head was a grotesque swollen mask grinning hidiously he celebrated his third world title won courtesy of a contentious decision. .
The Aftermath: It took Hatton two more confident performances in his preferred light-welterweight division in the states to convince our cousins across the pond that he was the real deal. The fact that he could lure tens of thousands of paying fans over the water to watch him fight helped him secure unsuccessful but lucrative mega-fights against Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao respectively.
April 1993: Lennox Lewis W PTS 12 Tony Tucker Going in: Lennox had beaten a string of journeymen, contenders and former champions on American undercards as a rising prospect. He found himself WBC champion in late 92 as Riddick Bowe infamously dumped the belt into a trash can rather than face him. Lewis’ first fight on top of a big US bill was the first defence of the title he never won in the ring against Tony “TNT” Tucker in Las Vegas. Tony, a hardened veteran of nearly fifty fights, was a former champion and had only been bested on points by a peak Mike Tyson.
The fight: Lennox boxed aggressively and looked for his power punches but was given all he could handle by the experienced American. He floored Tucker for the first time in his career in the third with a tremendous right hand. When he repeated the trick in the ninth, he tried to force the finish but Tony then stunned the Briton with a cracking right hand which stopped him in his tracks. At the final bell, Lewis’ knockdowns gave him a clear but flattering win on the cards.
The Aftermath: Lewis would battle to get credibility as both champion and top-level fighter for years from the American press. He was stopped surprisingly by Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman which didn’t help his cause. Despite score revenge wins over both his conquerors, it took wins over Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson to finally convince statesiders that Lewis was a worthy heavyweight king.
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