Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk will fight for the undisputed world heavyweight championship in Saudi Arabia early next year, Frank Warren, Fury’s promoter, has confirmed.
The fight had been scheduled to take place on 23 December but Fury’s unexpectedly difficult bout with Francis Ngannou last weekend forced a postponement. There had been genuine concern that the IBF, one of the four main sanctioning bodies, would refuse to ratify the fight and insist that Usyk, as their champion, face the mandatory contender instead of Fury. But Warren said on Thursday that the IBF had agreed to the delay, on the proviso that it takes place no later than mid-March.
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“The fight will happen before 2 March and it will be for the undisputed title and all four belts,” Warren said. “The IBF have given consent for that now and it’s all done. The fight is on. Everybody’s agreed, and it will be announced fairly soon.”
The postponement followed Fury’s battle to defeat Ngannou, the former UFC heavyweight champion who switched from mixed martial arts to make his professional boxing debut in Riyadh. Ngannou fought with surprising poise while bringing his customary power to the contest, and he knocked Fury down in the third round. Fury also suffered a cut on his forehead and he was swollen around his left eye after he won a split decision in a bruising 10-round non-title bout.
Warren said that Fury needed a break, even if the fighter himself had declared his readiness to fight Usyk next month. “It’s not just the bruising, it’s also the fact he was in a 12-week camp and he’s got a new baby,” Warren said. “It was a tough fight to win so he needs to go home and take a couple of weeks off. And then you’ve only got six weeks to train. If the fight against Ngannou had ended early, 23 December would have been a very reliable date. But when Tyson said he was still ready to fight Usyk, I said: ‘You’re not.’”
Fury will defend his WBC title while Usyk brings his IBF, WBA and WBO belts to next year’s fight in Riyadh which, barring a draw, will produce boxing’s first undisputed world heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis in 1999.
Asked if Fury’s flat and unimpressive performance against Ngannou suggested that he was in decline, Warren said: “Look, you can get somebody becoming very old in boxing overnight. I don’t think it’s the case with Tyson and we’ll find out in his next fight. My opinion is that I don’t think anybody expected that from Ngannou. I did expect he would be tough but I genuinely never expected that Ngannou could shape up as a boxer like he did.
Tyson Fury sustained some heavy damage at the hands of Francis Ngannou in Riyadh. Photograph: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
“I went to the dressing room [after the fight] and what do you say? ‘A win’s a win.’ Tyson knows that he wasn’t himself. He wasn’t 100%. That happens. The problem you’ve got with a boxer is that if you get out of bed in the morning and you don’t feel right, then you can’t take the day off work in the ring, can you? You’ve got to do it. And he did it.”
Looking ahead to next year’s fight, which will probably happen in late February, Warren said: “I think Tyson beats Usyk, I really do. Tyson knows this and he knows what to expect. Usyk’s not going to change his style. But Usyk can sit there and think to himself: ‘Is there now a little chink in Tyson’s armour? Who knows?’ But Usyk is a competitor. He wants to fight and he’ll go for it. It’ll be a good fight.”