Hughie Fury has a comeback fight against Chris Norrad on Saturday, but may still be most famous as a cousin of Tyson Fury. Danny Flexen ponders Hughie’s future
With 23 fights under his belt (21-2) as well as a British title reign, WBO championship shot and an IBF final eliminator in the rear-view mirror, Hughie Fury may be the most experienced 24-year-old in British boxing. This in spite of periods of inactivity caused by a rare and debilitating skin disease, acne conglobata, now thankfully cleared up following seven months of medication. The heavyweight, a cousin of ’lineal champ’ Tyson Fury who once inspired the claim that he displayed "shades of Ali" - albeit from his own promoter, Mick Hennessy - during a contentious world title defeat to Joseph Parker, now finds himself returning from seven months out against unbeaten Canadian Chris Norrad this Saturday at Victoria Warehouse in his home city of Manchester.
Norrad, a lumberjack from New Brunswick, may be undefeated but has feasted on a diet of novices and trialhorses - certainly nothing to compare with Fury’s level of opposition. Hughie, who has beaten fringe contenders Fred Kassi and Dominick Guinn while pushing Parker incredibly close in a dire fight, is heavily favoured to get past Norrad then the plan, according to father and trainer Peter Fury, is to be more active, fighting on terrestrial broadcaster Channel 5 - who show this Saturday’s contest - a further three times this year. That is certainly a sensible first step for a man who fought an impressive 12 times during his debut year in 2013 but has competed no more than twice in a calendar annum since 2015.
Fury had fought just once in a year going into his IBF final eliminator with Kubrat Pulev last October in hostile Sofia, Bulgaria, although that single outing was a punch-perfect demolition of Sam Sexton for the British title he has since vacated. Already up against it, Hughie saw - or rather didn’t see - a cut suffered in training reopen early on against Pulev, rendering him impaired for the remainder of the bout. He showed courage and nous to last the 12-round course, but dropped a clear decision. Reduced vision accepted, Fury’s low output was once again questioned, as it has been after the tight loss to Parker in 2017. It should be noted also that Fury had not fought for over a year before the big opportunity against Parker.
So he needs to be out far more often and against a gradually improving level of opposition. This is vital for a fighter like Fury who relies on speed, movement and reflexes, the kind of attributes that respond to regular tuning. He showed against Sexton that he carries power but only if the accuracy and timing support it. Between fights, especially if the opponents aren’t world class given the budgetary limitations of Channel 5, any gaps in education should be filled with the best possible sparring, something Peter Fury’s large contacts book should support. Bear in mind, for most of his life, Hughie has had one of the best heavyweights on the planet to spar with, in Tyson Fury. The pair shared a head trainer for around five years, before Fury, in the midst of a tumultuous period of inactivity, left Peter for Ben Davison. That void cannot be filled entirely, but Hughie can replace quality with quantity and diversity.
It would also behove Hughie to add some ’shades of Norton’ and up his workrate when it matters. It’s all very well being the better boxer and making your opponent miss, but unless you also make them pay, consistently, it becomes harder to catch the judges’ eyes. Peter says all the right things in public but presumably, once those gym doors are closed, he recognises this as a crucial flaw and is addressing it as a matter of urgency.
It is actually surprising that Hughie has enjoyed the opportunities he has, despite not being promoted by an Eddie Hearn or Frank Warren, with their major backing from subscription channels. This is testament to the enduring belief Mick Hennessy has in him and his willingness to bankroll that belief. However, to reach the summit, Fury and/or Hennessy may ultimately have to work with the sport’s major powerbrokers to secure Hughie’s next chance. Channel 5 is great for exposure and profile building - Hughie could open up a bit more on camera, incidentally - but with the major heavyweight titles showcased on Sky Sports here, and the feasibility of both that broadcaster and BT Sport producing pay-per-view events, Fury may well need to diversify as he moves up through the levels. I’d quite like to see the clash of styles between Fury and Dillian Whyte, for example.
For now, let’s enjoy some more "Shades of Ali" against Mr Norrad (cue ’Timber’ soundbites if he falls), safe in the knowledge that in a fractured heavyweight scene a talented 24-year-old will almost certainly get another shot.