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The power and the Fury: A heavyweight match like no other

Watching the Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder fight for the heavyweight world title last Sunday, three things struck me. One, that this was one of the most astonishing fights in a very long time in the heavyweight division. Two, that both Wilder and Fury are implausibly tough — both fighters got hit by shots that would have felled a tree, and to borrow from a once-famous song, got knocked down, but got up again and went back at it in full flow.

I cannot think of a single other boxer right now who would have come back from those shots. By the end of it — 11 rounds of the being hit by the hardest possible punches in the world — Wilder at least looked like he needed urgent medical attention; Fury pranced around the ring, sang songs, spoke to the press without losing his breath, and a couple of hours later was dancing shirtless at a club to celebrate his victory.

And the third thing that struck me: How is it that Fury is such a phenomenal boxer but looks the way he does? This is in no way intended as body-shaming. It’s more a question, however ill-informed, on the nature of muscles and athleticism. How many athletes at the absolute pinnacle of their sport do you know who have a soft ring of fat around their belly? Or whose muscles look so undefined?

Just look at some of the other big names in the heavyweight division: Wilder is ripped, Anthony Joshua is a walking sculpture, Oleksandr Usyk has big long muscles.

Yet Fury is not just massively powerful, he is also more agile than any of these others. His movement in the ring is breezy, uncluttered and faster than anything you’ll see among the heavyweights. He is as assured moving forward as he is moving backwards, and his upper body ducks and sways at the speed of his magical reflexes. Please watch a clip on YouTube called Tyson Fury Dodges a Flurry of Punches.

How does he do that with no muscle definition and with the amount of fat he carries? I don’t know the answer, but I suspect that it has to do with genetics. In this era of supreme athleticism, it’s easy to forget that each body is different. It’s not about the way the body looks but how it behaves; the way the muscles work together and respond to neural signals is far more important than their bulk or cut.

There’s also the fact that there is no upper weight limit in the heavyweight division, which means a fighter can weigh in at whatever bulk works best for him, keeping to the muscle-to-fat ratio that provides the best balance between stamina, power and speed.

Extra bodyweight also means extra power. It’s not so important whether that weight comes from muscle or fat; it’s the bulk behind the fist that’s important. This applies to weightlifters too. Which is why the biggest elite lifters don’t look ripped either, nor do people who perform monumental feats of strength.

Fury is huge. At 6’9”, weighing in at over 125 kg ahead of the fight last Sunday, he may have been (and claimed to be) the biggest, heaviest world champion ever. That helps him deliver the bludgeoning punches. But what really makes him stand out is the speed, athleticism and skills he manages to produce. He has no business doing that at his size.

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