The last fighter to beat Tyson Fury in a boxing ring has chosen a very different path to the WBC heavyweight champion – but he is now an undefeated pro who says he wants to challenge Fury in the future.
Fury has never tasted defeat in his 33-fight professional career, the only official blemish being a draw with Deontay Wilder, whom he’s spectacularly stopped twice since.
So, before his third fight with Derek Chisora, it’s eye-opening to watch a young Tyson lose an amateur contest and see the referee rightly raise his opponent’s hand.
All boxers, no matter how exceptional – from Floyd Mayweather to Vasyl Lomachenko – lose at amateur level and Fury is no different. He lost four fights in a 36-bout amateur career, including a defeat by British rival David Price. But Price was five years older and far more experienced than a then teenage Fury so that was an understandable outcome.
What’s special about the victory of former amateur ace, Maksim Babanin, is that the heavyweight is several months younger than Fury. Yet the Russian had enough about him to clearly outpoint Fury in the final of the European Junior Championships in 2007: the last time Fury suffered defeat in the ring.
Unlike ‘The Gypsy King’, who turned pro the next year, Babanin instead forged a stellar amateur career, beating the likes of Britain’s Joe Joyce and Frazer Clarke. However the 34-year-old Babanin belatedly turned pro in 2021 and has built a 4-0 (4 KOs) record, feasting on typical fodder.
But Babanin knows what his most iconic win is. His Instagram bio features a link to highlights of his victory against Fury, while he recently admitted that the thought of them trading punches again is the ultimate endgame for him.
“The fight with Tyson Fury can happen when, for example, I go unbeaten; win 10-15 fights,” Babanin said. “I will make a challenge to him, and then it should come from him. If he wants to fight, then we will fight.”
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There are a number of blockades to that lofty goal, however. While Fury has overcome some clumsy early pro fights to become the defining heavyweight of his era and a global superstar, Babanin is an almost total unknown.
And while his amateur pedigree deserves respect, he’s also a small heavyweight at around 6ft and looks as though he urgently needs to improve his conditioning (though the latter could be said of Fury at times during his career).
A kind comparison for Babanin is someone like Andy Ruiz Jr. Babanin looks pudgy and short for a modern heavyweight but he has quick hands, moves well and his amateur skills shine through when chopping down the limited professionals he’s fought so far, including lumbering 6ft 10in journeyman Evgeny Orlov in April.
Fury’s memories of his defeat by Babanin in the European juniors final, delivered in his autobiography Behind the Mask, are dismissive. “It proved to be a good tournament for me but ultimately not good enough because I wanted gold,” Fury recalls. “I stopped all of my opponents on the way to the final, where I faced a fat Russian called Maxim Babanin. I beat him easily, and gave him two standing counts, but I never got the decision. It felt like another dreadful verdict and one of those decisions that gives amateur boxing a bad name. Steve [Egan] and my dad, like everybody else connected to the team, were furious.
“My dad just cracked up and started kicking over the tables and television monitors, frightening the life out of the ringside officials as he was so angry. But there was nothing we could do.”
Whatever the reaction of ‘Gypsy’ John Fury might have been, Tyson’s memories are – understandably – a little hazy on a bout that happened over a decade ago when he was 18 years old.
The truth in watching is that, while the 24-11 score (via the old amateur scoring system) looks a little wide, Babanin appears a clear winner. The gangly Fury throws a lot of punches at the start but the younger, stockier Babanin – coming forward with excellent head movement – lands the cleaner shots in an even first round.
Before round two, however, Babanin must have been watching Ivan Drago videos to pump himself up in his corner, because he tears right into Fury and lands some stinging overhand rights which have Fury in retreat. Babanin ends the round 12-5 up and while Fury gamely tries to get back into it in the increasingly scrappy final two rounds – marked by holding from both men – it seems clear the Russian has done enough.
Fury is an excellent sportsman in the face of immediate adversity, as he showed after his controversial draw with Wilder, so it’s no surprise that he shakes hands with the Russian corner and points at Babanin after the decision is announced. Let’s assume John Fury going full WWE and smashing up the TV monitors is happening off camera.
Tyson would win the ABA super-heavyweight the following year but, frustrated by a failed bid to go to the Olympics via his Irish heritage, turned pro in late 2008 proclaiming himself sick of the amateur code. However he probably could not have too many complaints about his defeat to the slick and fast-fisted Babanin.
Yet Fury has morphed into a terrific professional, learning and improving well into his 30s to become a formidable heavyweight great. Babanin, understandably given his stature, instead built a fine amateur career – including bouts in the World Series of Boxing, where he outpointed ‘The Juggernaut’ Joyce in London.
Babanin has probably left it too late in turning professional and – for all the fact that Tyson Fury supposedly struggles more with shorter fighters – it’s hard to see a somewhat roly-poly 6ft heavyweight causing him massive problems at this stage of his career.
The fledgling pro career of Babanin is also complicated by his nationality, which understandably makes it difficult for any Russian boxer to build their career internationally (the WBC, whose heavyweight belt Fury holds, recently said they would remove Russian and Belarusian boxers from their rankings due to the war in Ukraine).
In truth, as much as it is a storyline that would sell a fight – Fury taking on the last man to beat him – their careers have moved in such divergent directions that it is difficult to imagine professional novice Babanin ever getting to a level where he could challenge ‘The Gypsy King’ over 12 rounds. But at least Babanin can look at his European amateur gold medal and know that – for now – he’s the last boxer to inflict defeat on Fury inside the ropes.
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- Maksim Babanin did what Deontay Wilder and Wladimir Klitschko couldn’t and was the last boxer to beat Tyson Fury
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