Tyson Fury teeters on the edge of civility. Machismo is at the heart of the credo that nurtured him. Bombast is the default mechanism driving his public displays. He is a proud member of the travelling community, a harsh existence that values the ability of men to stand their corner. Fury will not back down were 10 David Hayes standing before him. But that does not make him Muhammad Ali.
And this is the problem with the engagement announced last Thursday. It has the makings of a great spectacle, but probably not a great fight. There is a manifest discrepancy between the ring accomplishments of Haye, a stellar amateur good enough to contest the final of the World Amateur Championships in Belfast a decade ago, an undisputed cruiserweight world champion and briefly a belt holder in the heavyweight division, and Fury, an excitable combatant with a big heart, but insufficient finesse to threaten Haye’s equilibrium.
Haye has still to convince among the big men he is a mulcher of anything less than world class. It does not matter how big the muscle opposing him, size alone is a quiet weapon when set against his speed and power.
Haye was neutered by Wladimir Klitschko, and would be every day of the week, arguably, but that does not make him easy meat for Fury. You will recall how Dereck Chisora stared Haye down, stood up to his pre-fight hauteur with genuine hostility. Chisora fairly smashed into Haye when the bell went at Upton Park this time last year, hit him with some big numbers that might have been more persuasive in a cab rank but not under the rules framed by the 9th Marquess of Queensberry. Haye’s rapier thrusts chopped him up in the end, his greater pedigree and range deciding the contest once Chisora’s lumpy storm had blown itself out.
If money is the name of the game in professional sport, then this is a contest legitimised by loot. Both are said to be banking a million smackers, which is by a country mile the biggest payday Fury has known, a fantastic coup for him and his promoter Mick Hennessey. And for Haye it is a nice little earner for minimal risk.
Like Chisora, whom he beat on the way up, Fury is filling the gap in talent with good old-fashioned bluster. This heavyweight panto has 11 weeks to run, by which time there will not be a seat in the Manchester house and pay-per-view sales will be through the roof, which is the name of this game.
Thursday’s press conference took its place alongside an epic sequence of sporting confrontations that began with the Lions’ victory over Australia in Sydney, continued via Andy Murray’s stunning triumph at Wimbledon and coincided with Ashton Agar’s historic knock against England in Nottingham.
All three contests bore the mark of authenticity that this confrontation lacks. All three were defined by the equality of opposition. The Lions edged a tight series, Murray won in straight sets but will never have to work harder to close out a match from 40-0 up on serve, and the teenage Agar took on an attack that had reduced his team to 117 for 9 for 98 runs, a record for a No 11 batsman, and on debut. It was elite sport in all its rampant glory.
Boxing frequently hits that spot too, but not in this instance. Haye showed admirable restraint in the face of Fury’s infantile insults. Mind you, he has ground to make up after the shameful bottle- chomping episode with Chisora in Germany.
Fury looked what he is on the press conference stage, a man scrambling for a foothold at sport’s high table, confusing punchlines with presence. Haye could not have looked less troubled. He believes this is an easy engagement. Fury, all 6ft 9in of him, thinks Haye a dandy with a soft centre to be squashed underfoot. Bound by an ancient culture of laddish bonhomie, Fury cannot help himself, which is a shame in many ways because in his quieter moments he is capable of great sincerity, some distance removed from the parody he presents in prize-fighting mode.
And so off we trot into the next phase of the production: the training camp, from which both will emerge, as ritual demands, in the best shape they have ever been with a trail of broken sparring partners to attest to their preternatural power.
The prize for the winner is to be challenged by Audley Harrison, stubbornly refusing to allow reality to encroach on his “destiny”. And so the cycle repeats until Haye finds a way back into a ring with one Klitschko or another. This bout is thus strictly business, not to be confused with boxing, which is something else entirely.