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Despite KO over Cunningham, Tyson Fury isn't ready to fight the Klitschkos

Tyson Fury poses after his seventh round KO vs. Steve Cunningham on April 20 at Madison Square Garden. (AP)

Tyson Fury poses after his seventh round KO vs. Steve Cunningham on April 20 at Madison Square Garden. (AP)

NEW YORK -- Last Saturday, hours before Tyson Fury and Steve Cunningham entered the ring at Madison Square Garden, I had a conversation with Fury’s promoter, Mick Hennessy, about the state of the heavyweight division. My issue was that too many untested heavyweights -- Mariusz Wach, Manuel Charr, Dereck Chisora, among others -- were jumping into the ring with Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko and being exposed. The formula for today’s heavyweight is to build a gaudy record against midlevel opponents and wait for one of the Klitschko’s to decide if you were worthy to fight them.

Hennessy said he agreed with me. “I’m a big believer in not putting a guy into a fight before he is ready,” Hennessy said. After watching Fury get knocked down by Cunningham, a former cruiserweight, before rallying to win with a seventh round knockout, you have to wonder if Hennessy really believes Fury is ready for one of the division’s toughest tests.

There is no question there is talent in the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Fury. He throws a lot of punches, has good power and a knack for knowing how to close the show. He’s a big man who fights like one; Fury is masterful at leaning on an opponent, draining him by forcing him to wear his full weight. Fury walked into some very good shots from Cunningham but his relentless pressure allowed him to close the show.

But he did walk into some shots. And if Fury crashed to the canvas from an overhand right from Cunningham, how will he hold up to a straight shot from Wladimir Klitschko, the most powerful one-punch heavyweight in boxing?

The truth is, Fury isn’t ready for either Klitschko. Not yet, anyway. Peter Fury, Tyson’s uncle, who couldn’t work Fury’s corner last weekend because of visa issues, has done an excellent job molding Fury into a well rounded fighter. But Cunningham was only the Fury’s fourth fight working together and before that, Tyson confessed to lacking any discipline, occasionally drinking heavily the nights before a fight.

What Fury, 24, needs is time and experience. By beating Cunningham, Fury (21-0) earned the opportunity to face Kubrat Pulev, the unbeaten contender, for the No. 1 spot in the IBF’s rankings. Pulev will be a good test. In his last two fights, Pulev has knocked out a pair of super sized contenders in 6-foot-7 Alexander Ustinov and 6-foot-7 Alexander Dimitrenko. Beating Pulev would be a nice feather in Fury’s cap.

But he may need more. He may need to face the winner of this summer’s rematch between Tony Thompson and David Price. He may need the tough rounds of someone like Tomasz Adamek. He may need to look eye to eye and feel the power of a Robert Helenius. Plenty of fighters talk tough before facing a Klitschko, only to realize when they are in the ring that the Klitschko’s blend of size, power and technique is too much to overcome. Fury has potential, and God knows boxing needs a big man with some personality. It would be a shame though if he took a Klitschko fight before he is ready.

-- Chris Mannix