Why Tyson Fury’s fight with Tom Schwarz is a chance for the heavyweight king to bedazzle his spiritual home

This Saturday at the MGM Fury will fight an unbeaten German called Schwarz in the critical first part of a giant charm offensive to sway the American public and make him the cookie-boy attraction

Steve Bunce
Las Vegas
Monday 10 June 2019 11:17
Tyson Fury: I would beat Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder

They came for the first world heavyweight title fight in Las Vegas, booed the result, stayed for the pantomime and then vanished back to the roulette wheels, dark poker tables and midnight crooners that defined the place in 1963.

The winner that night at the Convention Centre was Sonny Liston, a man so frightening that his projected dominance was seen as the end of heavyweight boxing, and this Saturday the latest towering, feared, misunderstood and complex heavyweight breezes into town when Tyson Fury fights in a place he might just call home. Fury has a picture of Liston on the silk lining of his suit.

Fury has looked at his name in lights at a dozen cities since turning professional in 2008, stood to attention for anthems in world title fights, read the dreaded headlines, lost control and returned from the blackest of holes to illuminate the division he could master once again. He is part of boxing’s great unknown at the moment, a condition of endless debate bordering on lunatic as people search for somebody to call king of a landscape scarred by bad decisions, shocks and the arrogance of the men responsible for fights not happening.

Fury is still unbeaten in a boxing ring, the battering has come from life.

This Saturday at the MGM, a venue made sacred to boxing fans by the contrasting residencies of Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather, Fury will fight an unbeaten German called Tom Schwarz in the critical first part of a giant charm offensive to sway the American public and make him the cookie-boy attraction. Fury’s latest promoter, Bob Arum, has a slow plan to make Fury the best known and most adored boxer in America and it starts on Saturday with the gentle dismantling of Schwarz, continues in November with another slaughter and then ends next May with a rematch against Deontay Wilder, probably for all the title belts.

Arum’s bold plan needs some luck or it will be about as solid as the candy-coated muscled Centurions wandering the acres of the Caesars Palace floor or the Venetian’s electric gondolas, both adored attractions, wonderfully superficial and fodder in this oasis for fools. Fury is not a gimmick and deserves to be left to fight hard and often and not shaped by weird acts into a Kardashian simulacrum.

Fury will love Las Vegas, its fairy tale backdrops and established eccentricities during a week of selling and hype for the Schwarz fight. The ghosts of the men and women that built this crazy city are everywhere, even if the keepers of the rich oral tradition are, like so many lost bars and hangouts, fading fast and taking with them too much of the unwritten Las Vegas history. The MGM, not many years ago, was desert, a mile or two from where once the city ended and the desert stretched untouched to the horizon.

Liston was part of that horizon when his vast fists sent Floyd Patterson tumbling in 1963; it took Liston just 130 seconds and that was four seconds slower than he had needed the year before. He was not happy about those lost seconds. A kid called Cassius Clay was there to watch and heckle

Liston, jumping from the ring in mock fright during the introductions and running to any sign of an extended microphone in the fight’s aftermath. Clay entertained the finest dressed ringsiders - there was a rich mix of beautiful women in gowns, heavy with diamonds and the cowboys they came with back then in the expensive seats - to his act, but wisely kept clear of Liston.

A few nights before the fight Clay had been too brave and had ended up in Liston’s grip at a craps table in the Thunderbird. Clay noticed the gun under Liston’s jacket and froze as he was warned that if he didn’t shut up, Liston would rip out his tongue and stick it up his arse. It is just one of the tales told to me by an old man in Johnny Tocco’s gym one hot afternoon. There followed a conversation about the calibre of Liston’s pistol.

Late on the night of the fight Liston’s tricky team sat with Clay’s people to put together their championship fight and somehow overcome Clay’s huge secret cash demand. “Clay wants too much money,” Liston warned. “He better just keep going to the graveyard for the bums he keeps fighting.” Clay, the lip, the joker, the shouting and screaming kid also knew his worth and was asking for 1.5 million dollars. He would soon be Muhammad Ali and the heavyweight world championship and the sport of boxing would never quite be the same after that night in Las Vegas, make no mistake.

Muhammad Ali twice stopped Sonny Liston

At the start of the month Anthony Joshua took a wrong step at Madison Square Garden, a venue with an even more lurid history for fight fans than the MGM, and Fury knows that he must not make a single mistake here in a city where loyalty can be measured in lunchtimes; the attention time of the punters might even be shorter.

Big Tom will swing in hope, look good doing it and Fury will box his ears off. That’s the fight, but this Las Vegas job is not really about Schwarz or his threat, it’s about Fury becoming the loved, respected and feared king of the heavyweight ring. It really is his spiritual home and for one night only the man who would be king is here to entertain us all.

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