The fears that boxing’s joker-in-chief Tyson Fury was skating close to self-destruction were given stark and embarrassing substance when the world heavyweight champion was reunited with Wladimir Klitschko in Manchester on Wednesday.
Not only was he unashamedly overweight just over two months from their hugely anticipated rematch, but he ranted like a man in search of a friend. Any friend.
Fury will, no doubt, shed the superfluous weight before they share a ring at Manchester Arena on 9 July, but it is not a good look for a champion so dismissive of his arch-rival, Anthony Joshua, whom he describes as no more than a bodybuilder after he annexed the IBF version of the title when he knocked out the deeply unimpressive Charles Martin.
There could not be a greater disparity between Britain’s two claimants to what was once the biggest prize in sport. Joshua, the unbeaten Watford heavyweight, is already chiselled to near-perfection as he prepares for his first defence, against the American Dominic Breazeale, which takes place in London only two weeks before Fury-Klitschko.
Klitschko, who has always been an exemplary champion, well-spoken, respectful and intelligent, has had to put up with plenty from British challengers before: Fury in his Batman pastiche clowning before they fought last November and when David Haye showed Wladimir and his brother Vitaly headless on a platter before his toe gave up on him in a limp challenge for the title.
But this went into new, disturbing territory. As Klitschko said on Wednesday: “I want to be a champion who represents the sport in a good way and be looked up to. I’m not OK with what comes out of Fury’s mouth. For example: that all homosexual men and women and paedophiles belong in the same place, in jail basically. That all women belong in the kitchen and on their back. So that is basically where he sees Elton John and the Queen.
“To all people who say the same and think the same way out there, and to you Fury – I want to say fuck off.”
It was then that the tone dipped alarming. Stripping off his shirt to show an expanse of under-trained belly, Fury countered: “I don’t live a strict lifestyle – I don’t even live an athlete’s lifestyle. It is an absolute disgrace to call me an athlete. Shame on you – you let a fat man beat you!”
The verbal blows kept coming. “Boxing doesn’t mean a lot to me. If it did, I wouldn’t have gone into camp four stone overweight and eaten every pie in Lancashire and drunk every pint of beer in the UK. I hate every second of it, and I wish I wasn’t a boxer, but I’m in this position.
“I hate the training, the boxing, speaking to you, all you idiots, the whole lot. I’d rather be at home with the kids watching television. I hate boxing, but I’m just too fucking good at it and making too much money to stop.
“I’m like a performing monkey. I am really a joke, aren’t I? Every time I play the bad guy, the villain, the outlaw, the outcast. But the majority of people like to see that.”
It is a shame it has come to this. It could be by some way the better of the two world heavyweight title fights that bookend Wimbledon. But there is a distinct chance it could be a night to remember for all the wrong reasons. Somebody needs to have a word with Fury. He is in danger of wrecking his magnificent achievement and Klitschko will be merciless in that process.
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