Arguably the two most popular combat sports, wrestling and boxing share a rich combined history. We’ve become familiar with boxers stepping into WWE over the years – Lennox Lewis accompanying Davey Boy Smith to the ring to meet Bret Hart at Wembley’s SummerSlam 92, or Buster Douglas refereeing a match between Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage in the wake of his shock win over Mike Tyson (the bookies had Douglas at 42/1 for that fight, to put into context how bright his star was shining at that point). What’s even more rare is boxers switching codes and getting into the ring with their gloves off to grapple. By signing up to fight Braun Strowman in October 2019, Tyson Fury broke a mold that had been set some 40 years prior.
Wrestling fans of a certain vintage may remember Muhammad Ali appearing as a backup referee in the very first WrestleMania, all the way back in 1985. Less well remembered is a fight Ali took on in 1976, where he matched future WWE Hall Of Famer Antonio Inoki in Japan. Ali expected an exhibition match, Inoki did not, and the two went the full 15 rounds. Ali’s promoter revealed subsequently that the fight had caused The Greatest to develop blood clots in his legs, and he ‘almost had to have an amputation‘. Small wonder that boxers have avoided matching up with wrestlers since. While watching Fury call out Strowman from the front row of SmackDown may have been a tried and tested trope – Ricky Hatton has done similar – having him in the ring against Strowman (and beating him) in the WWE Crown Jewel four weeks later was a much bigger shock.
In October 2019, Fury was on the comeback trail. In 2016 he’d been stripped of his titles, suffered horrific bouts with depression and ballooned up to 330lbs. After beating Deontay Wilder in December 2018, he was back, and gunning for Anthony Joshua. Wrestling training likely helped. He stepped into the ring for Wilder I at 256lbs – light for his 6’9 frame – a fight that ended in a contentious draw. The classic wrestling practice of bulking up likely informed his boxing training going forward. Fresh from the lessons bestowed by WWE star Natalya’s husband TJ Wilson, who trained him for the Strowman contest, he went in for Wilder II – a mere four weeks after the Strowman fight – at 273lbs and stopped the Tuscaloosa slugger in the seventh. Now he’s one of the most revered fighters on Earth, and odds on with Coral to reunify the heavyweight titles when he takes on the winner of the upcoming Anthony Joshua vs. Oleksandr Usyk bout. Fury took the lesson about not cutting overly to heart though; in his third fight with Wilder – another KO – he tipped the scales at 277lbs.
In retrospect, we can see if there was going to be a boxer take part in a WWE bout, Fury was a likely candidate. His mentality of ‘give the people what they want’ has seen the Gypsy King always being keen on showmanship. His early fights before he progressed from the UK scene saw him do some perhaps unnecessary trading with smaller fighters he could have used his size and reach advantage to dispose of more easily. Still, if his style gave his corner sleepless nights, it sent fight fans home happy and eager to sign up for his next outing.
Could he come back into wrestling? While he seems to currently be focused on adding to his WBC heavyweight belt, he and Drew McIntyre have been having some beef. With the WWE Clash At The Castle scheduled to take place in Cardiff on September 3rd, Fury is likely to be in the early stages of training camp to fight either Joshua or Usyk and should be in reasonable fighting condition. A proud Englishman facing off against a proud Scotsman, in Wales? Don’t bet against it.