Tyson Fury has dreamt about winning the world heavyweight title so many times during his 27 years that in the early hours of Sunday morning, as he wrestled with feeling over-wired and overtired, he began to wonder whether his mind was tricking him.
“I thought this better not be a dream and I have to fight tomorrow,” he told the reporters squashed around him. “Then I realised it was real. I was the new heavyweight champion of the world!”
Fury celebrated taking Klitschko’s WBA, IBF and WBO titles by serenading the 50,000 crowd at Düsseldorf’s Esprit Arena with Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing and he was no less unorthodox on his first day as champion, as he said goodbye to his camp shortly after midday to catch the overnight ferry to Hull with his pregnant wife, Paris. There was no sore head, from bottle or fist. Fury, who has long given up booze, celebrated with the soft stuff and while he agreed that Klitschko had caught him flush a few times, the Ukrainian’s punches had not shaken him and left only minor bruises over his eyes.
“I’m feeling good, apart from my feet,” he said. “They’re absolutely killing me. For some reason they were more affected than any other part of my body. My toes are all blistered from where I was moving so much. I need to invest in a better pair of socks than this pair of 50 for a pound. Even though we had a lot of foam taken out, it was still quite a spongy canvas.
“And as far as I’m concerned right now, if I never win another fight I don’t care because I’ve achieved what I set out to achieve in my life. I’m a winner and I had a lot of bumps in the road and could have said: ‘I’m done, no more, I’m packing it in.’ I stuck with it and it shows that determination and dedication pays off.”
When Fury was born, in 1988, nearly three months premature, he weighed less than a pound and doctors did not believe that he would survive. His father, John, named him Tyson, after the then-heavyweight champion of the world, and promised hospital staff his son would not only recover but emulate the famous namesake. How happy he is to have been proven correct.
John was a former professional fighter who also dabbled in unlicensed and bare-knuckle boxing, and as soon as Tyson was old enough to stand he would practise punching his father’s hands. Jab, left hook, one-two-three. At the age of 11, when he first put on a pair of boxing gloves, Fury became convinced – along with everyone else in his family – he was going to be the heavyweight champion of the world.
His younger brother Shane was his first sparring partner and they used to “play” boxing all the time. “Even when we weren’t playing, we’d design world championship boxing kits,” explained Fury. “There was only one pair of gloves in the house. I don’t know why – they were my dad’s old gloves from when he used to train – and they were all stinky and sweaty. So we used to put one glove on each and have tea towels and dishcloths wrapped around our other hand. We used to spar full on in the kitchen, plates going everywhere. It was a big kitchen so we never did any damage.
“We used to have this rug in the kitchen – it wasn’t very big and whoever went off the mat first was out,” he continued. “We’d trade punches. Even before I had an amateur fight me and my dad would spar in the garden. My uncle would say: ‘I’ve never seen a heavyweight move like that.’ At 14 I was 6ft 5in and 16st with a beard probably. He said ‘you will be heavyweight champion of the world’.”
John takes up the story. “I was on the grass one Sunday, it was a lovely sunny afternoon, and him and Shane asked me to spar with them,” he said. “Tyson hit me with a left hook and I felt a searing pain in my side. I thought ‘What, from a 14-year-old lad?’ and I had fought some tough cookies in my time. I thought to myself I’ll have a sit-down. But when I went to get up off the wall, I couldn’t move, I had three broken ribs.
“He was a big 14, around 6ft 5in, 16 stone. He was a fat kid. He was not tall and lean. He loved McDonald’s and burgers. A friend of mine said that although he had layers of fat on him, he had never seen anyone move like him and that he could be a champion.
“He started with amateur boxing and they couldn’t get him a fight because he was so big.”
But despite achieving his childhood dream, Fury expects the crushing depression he feels after every fight to emerge again in the coming days. “I’ve not crashed quite yet,” he admitted. “It won’t start until I get home, by myself and all the people have gone and I’m home alone.”
Fury’s controversial views, particularly on homosexuality and abortion – which he compared to paedophilia – brought widespread condemnation this month but on Sunday he urged people to separate his ability from his beliefs. “My personal life has nothing to do with my professional life,” he said. “Whatever people want to criticise and say about me, they can knock me as a person but they can’t knock my achievements.”
Fury’s promoter, Mick Hennessy, insisted his man was only “quoting scripture” and “never expressed those opinions” in a recent newspaper interview. He also stressed his fighter is far more intelligent and nuanced than he is often perceived. “He is a smart kid,” said Hennessy. “He can talk on any subject you want, even though he is someone who didn’t have a formal education. He has old-fashioned values. He’s got morals. He’s kind and generous. He’s generous with his time. He’s generous with his money. He also needs to be respected and appreciated. Because he is such fun. He’s larger than life.”
Hennessy also pointed out how Fury had been incredibly loyal after other fighters had deserted him when he lost major TV deals. “I’ve had a lot of people who I thought were genuine who turned out to be disgraceful with their behaviour,” he said. “But when the cracks went sour he put his arm around me and said: ‘You believed in me when I needed it so whatever it takes, whatever rollercoaster we get on, I am going to be with you, if it means fighting for nothing I will be with you.’
“That’s incredibly rare in boxing. It’s unbelievable to come across a young man like that who is such a showman but also has that humanity, that loyalty.”
However, Hennessy insisted Fury would not tone down his provocative language or opinions. “I understand there is a fine line but no, I am not going to be saying ‘you can’t say this, you can’t say that’,” he said. “Because I think that’s what defines him. Tyson says what he is thinking. I know that might upset people now and again but you always know where you are with him.”
The morning after the night before Fury also paid generous tribute to Klitschko, hailing him as a great champion and thanking his camp for treating him fairly. On the morning of the fight Fury had complained about the layers of added foam in the ring and also raised concerns about ill-fitting gloves earlier in the week. He was in a more conciliatory mood after his victory.
“I can say one thing: they didn’t really do too much messing about,” he said. “They were honourable men. [Klitschko’s brother] Vitali came into the changing room and I was expecting him to say take the bandages on and off two or three times. I was tormenting him the whole way through, saying ‘I want you next’, but he didn’t mess me around. I told him to put some kisses on my wraps and he said ‘I’ll do better than that’ and put two lovehearts on.
“They were fair people. But they weren’t that fair were they when they put half a foot of memory foam under the canvas in the ring? I suppose if they can get away with it, they are going to try it, aren’t they? And I think this is why they have been so successful because they have every corner of every page covered. But we had too much brains. Not only did we fool the boxing fraternity, we fooled the Klitschkos and all these so-called experienced lawyers.”
Fury is only the eighth Briton to hold a version of the heavyweight title. In beating Klitschko, the man who has dominated the division for the past decade, he has established himself as the top dog. He knows his Irish heritage is likely to play well in the United States and he hopes to establish himself as a bona fide star. “Wladimir has a sign on his door at the gym that says: Welcome to big-time boxing,” he said. “I think we gatecrashed that party last night. We took it down with a storm.”
And if it doesn’t work out, there’s always a singing career to consider. “I’ve got to say so, after 12 hard rounds I didn’t half hit the notes on Saturday night, didn’t I?” he said, his smile once again lighting up a grey Düsseldorf morning.
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