SEVEN years ago, Peter Fury was accompanying Tyson Fury, his nephew, at a number of contractually-obligated media events ahead of a heavyweight championship fight against the great Wladimir Klitschko in Düsseldorf, believing but not assuming they were about to shock the world.
Today, however, Peter Fury happened to be travelling to London to accompany Savannah Marshall, a female boxer to whom he is not related, at a press conference to announce a huge middleweight unification fight between Marshall and Claressa Shields on September 10 at the O2 Arena.
While, given what came before, it would a stretch to call this the biggest fight of Peter Fury’s boxing life, it certainly means as much to him as any other – whether that’s Tyson conquering Klitschko or Hughie, Peter’s son, trying to win world heavyweight titles of his own. “It does for me (mean everything),” Peter told Boxing News en route to today’s press conference. “It’s the unified championship of the world. They’re two great athletes and it’s everything else about it, too – the fact it’s women’s boxing. It’s a completely new experience for me, this. I’m looking forward to it.”
Last year, a few months after Marshall won her WBO middleweight title against Hannah Rankin (in October 2020), Fury expressed how much that victory meant to him by revealing the extent of his appreciation for her. “Of all the fighters I’ve ever had,” he said to me, “I’ve only ever really been appreciated by my own son and Savannah Marshall. This is why I’m sticking with them. I’ve got to have that back. We’re all human, we all have feelings. When you’re not being appreciated, how can you work like that?”
Since then, the relationship between Fury and Marshall, 12-0 (10), has just gone from strength to strength. Now, with Marshall on the brink of superstardom should she topple Shields on September 10, the pair feel as though all their hard work is about to bear fruit.
“We’ve taken it fight by fight, but only once she won the world title has Claressa really been on the horizon,” Fury said. “Before that, I wasn’t one to look too far ahead and say, ‘Oh, she’ll fight her one day,’ because anything can happen in boxing.
“But we are where we are now and, to be fair, she’s (Marshall) wiped out everyone she has been in with. There’s only Claressa and Savannah in that division. They are the top of the top and they are facing each other. That’s what makes it such a great fight.”
As for what makes Shields such a great and formidable opponent, Fury, a realist like his fighter, is left with a long list of attributes from which to choose.
“She’s got fast hands, she’s got good twitch feints, she’s good defensively, and she’s good with counters,” he began. “She puts flurries together well. She doesn’t just throw one shot. She punches in bunches. She’s got a good defensive style as well. With her feints, she makes fighters hesitant. Before they know it, she’s in range and teeing off on them with her quick hands. That’s why she has won all her fights convincingly. I don’t think she’s had a hard fight yet.
“It’s the same with Savannah. The only difference with Savannah is that she’s been outboxing her opponents and knocking them out as well. She’s going to have her advantages in height, reach, and power (against Shields). That’s basically where it’s at. Claressa has the speed and Savannah has the power. It’s a 50/50 fight for that reason.”
Such is Marshall’s power, in fact, only two of her 12 professional opponents to date have heard the sound of the final bell in her company. Scarier still, last time out in April she left Femke Hermans, a solid former super-middleweight champion, flattened on the canvas in the third round.
“She’s just developed more and more heaviness behind the punches as she’s gone along,” said Fury. “That was clearly displayed in her last fight because her opponent was asleep. She knocked her clean out and they had to revive her. She was out for about a minute.
“She’s got the ability to switch people’s lights out and that’s a different sort of power than most. You can stop someone, where they’re hurt by a combination and need to be saved, but you can also switch people’s lights out with just one shot. Savannah has that kind of power. She’s got severe power.
“That’s why I’ve always said this is the biggest fight in women’s boxing. These two are middleweights training down to their weight. In men’s terms, they are almost like heavyweights.
“You’ve then got a box-puncher, because Savannah can also box, against a very slick American boxer in Claressa. It’s got all the makings of a great fight and I really do think it’s the biggest fight in women’s boxing.”
Another ingredient helping to elevate it above other fights involving females in recent years is the history between the two – Marshall handed Shields her only amateur loss in 2012 – and also the animosity that has been bubbling between them ever since. Helpful in terms of selling the fight, and of course making them money, Fury, as Marshall’s coach, just needs to be careful Marshall, the more naturally reserved of the two, doesn’t end up trying to become something she’s not.
“Claressa told Savannah that she believes she is the A-side but she’s not,” said Fury. “They’re both A-sides. They are both on the same level. Claressa has more belts, but with Savannah’s knockout ratio, and their history, she’s not the B-side. They are well-matched and they have both got everything to gain and everything to lose.
“Although it’s new to Savannah, we’ve talked about Claressa’s personality for a while now and there’s nothing Claressa can say or do that’s going to change Savannah’s mindset. Savannah is 100% confident she will not only win but knock her out as well.
“She’s very calm, she’s very matter of fact. She’s just a truthful person. She’ll say what she feels. They asked her at the (Sky Sports) roundtable shooting ‘Do you think Claressa has improved?’ and Savannah said, ‘Yes of course,’ and stated the reasons why – X, Y and Z. The same question was then put to Claressa and she said, ‘No, she’s not improved since 2012.’ That’s the difference between them.”
Rather than her power, then, Marshall’s greatest gift in this fight could be her deep-rooted self-belief and her security; that is, her ability to accept and embrace the reality of a situation. Then again, when it comes to mental fortitude, few fighters in either the men’s game or women’s game are capable of matching Claressa Shields, 12-0 (2). It has, after all, got her this far and, on September 10 in London, it will again act as her fuel in what could be hostile territory.
“I think when you’re up at these levels it will always start as a bit of a chess match, but then it’s only a matter of time before they start locking horns and leather starts flying,” Fury said of the imminent encounter. “With the mentality of Claressa Shields, they’ll both want to get wet, so to speak. Nobody will take a shortcut. There will be a lot of leather being thrown and I think it’ll be a hard-fought fight.
“I’ve said to Savannah, and it’s no secret, ‘Look, you need to bring that fighting instinct out because when it gets to the middle and late rounds game plans basically go out the window. That’s when you bite down on your gum shield and start hitting everything in front of you. You step into the trenches and prepare yourself for a battle.
“Claressa is not going to go quietly and Savannah, I promise you, is going to mentally and physically be prepared for this fight in a way she’s never been before.”