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Is Oleksandr Usyk really too small for Tyson Fury?

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One of the keywords in the lead-up to the May 18 undisputed clash between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk is “size”. The former is a colossal super heavyweight, while his opponent has moved up from the cruiserweight division. But will size be decisive in Riyadh?

Fury, 35, is 6 ft 9 ins and has an 85-inch reach. “The Gypsy King” hovered around the 250-pound mark during his rise and was 247 when he dethroned Wladimir Klitschko in 2015. Recently, however, Fury has been campaigning at approximately 270 lbs and was a career-heavy 277.7 for his close points win over Francis Ngannou in October.

Usyk, 37, is 6 ft 3 ins and has a 78-inch reach. Of his 21 fights, 16 of them took place at the 200-pound cruiserweight limit, a division in which he became undisputed champion. Since moving up to heavyweight in late 2019, Usyk has weighed in between 215 and 221 lbs. He gave up 19 lbs to Anthony Joshua when he dethroned the British star in September 2021.

WATCH: Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk, live on DAZN

Does it sound like mission impossible for Usyk? Well, history shows that his dimensions, and even his style, are eerily similar to The Greatest of All Time.

Muhammad Ali was 6 ft 3 ins and had an 80-inch reach.

For his first world title win in 1964, Ali was 210 ½ lbs against Sonny Liston. A decade later, Ali regained the title from George Foreman and weighed in at 216 lbs. Finally, in September 1978, Ali became the first three-time heavyweight champion in history when he outpointed Leon Spinks. His weight for that fight was 221 lbs.

Yes, there’s a “but” coming…

While Ali was almost identical in size to Usyk, his opponents were nowhere near the same size as Fury. Liston and Foreman, monsters for their time, weighed in at 218 and 220 lbs, respectively, while Spinks was only 201.

For a lot of Muhammad Ali nostalgia buffs, this question might be something of an insult, but it’s worth exploring.

The tallest world-level opponent that Ali ever tackled was Ernie Terrell, who was 6-foot-6 and weighed the same as Ali at 212 lbs.

The heaviest contender Ali ever took on was a 256-pound Buster Mathis, but “The Greatest” was taller than his rotund foe who struggled to land a worthwhile shot.

Bottom line: Ali came along before the super heavyweight era began, so it’s very difficult to match him against the likes of Fury and Klitschko.

MORE: SN’s top-12 heavyweight boxers

Before we get down to serious analysis, Ali and Usyk share the same birthday, January 17, and both were Olympic champions.

Stylistically, though, there are a lot of similarities. Usyk is one of the best boxer-movers the heavyweight division has seen in decades. Being smaller means that he’s quicker on his feet and his reflexes are superb. Who does that remind you of?

Like Ali, Usyk is a master of the feint, which he uses to draw leads before punishing opponents on the counter. His jab, another signature move of his predecessor’s, is a very sharp and accurate punch that can dictate the flow of a fight.

Defensively, Usyk may not be quite as adept as a sixties version of Ali, but he’s not easy to hit either. He moves his head constantly, changes the levels, and he’s hard to nail cleanly with more than one punch. Like Ali, he’s also incredibly versatile and intelligent in the ring.

Another intangible that Ali had was fighting guts, which Usyk has shown in abundance. Whenever Joshua scored heavily against him, he immediately answered back with something better. This gave Usyk a major psychological edge across the 24 rounds those fighters shared.

The one main difference between them is that Ali was an orthodox fighter, whereas Usyk is a southpaw. For the most part that’s an advantage. However, perhaps not against Fury, who is an excellent switch-hitter.

Usyk has been the smaller man against every heavyweight he’s faced. And he’s beaten them all.

WATCH: Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk, live on DAZN

The last time Fury fought a former cruiserweight world champion, he was put flat on his back.

Former IBF 200-pound titleholder Steve Cunningham decked the Englishman with a big right hand in the second round of their 2013 clash in New York. However, just like he’s done every other time in his career, Fury found his feet and won the fight. Cunningham was knocked out in the seventh.

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