Tyson Fury: Young man of the moment
In the topsy-turvy world of heavyweight boxing, pressure can be brought to bear in many different forms. It could be said that Englishman Tyson Fury was burdened the moment he came into existence, when his father saw fit to saddle him with the same name as the "Baddest Man On The Planet."
On the day the younger Fury came blinkingly into the world, Iron Mike Tyson was a month away from arguably his meanest performance in the ring — a unification bout with Michael Spinks in which Tyson literally frightened his opponent out of the fight in less than a round.
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Coming from gypsy stock, and with that name slung around his neck, young Tyson Fury really had no choice but to be a fighter. His dad, Gypsy John Fury, was a professional heavyweight in his own right, and was 5-1 at the time of Tyson's birth, so he may have even entertained thoughts of sharing a ring with his American hero. But in truth, the elder Fury was better known as a bare-knuckler in the travelers tradition than as a fighter under Marquis of Queensberry rules. When his son grew into a 6-foot-9, 250-pound monster, John Fury was there to see him through his professional apprenticeship.
Tyson Fury is now 17-0 (12 KOs) and is ranked among the world's top 10 by most of the sanctioning bodies. In the era of the aging heavyweight, where improved nutrition and conditioning (coupled with a scarcity of talent) are keeping big men competitive into their late 30s and early 40s, the 23-year-old Fury is an oddity (right now, he's the only top-40 heavyweight under the age of 25). By the time Mike Tyson was Fury's age, he'd won a world title, unified it, defended nine times and handed it over to Buster Douglas in the biggest upset of modern times.
When Fury steps through the ropes this weekend to face Irishman Martin Rogan, he'll do so carrying the burden of his heritage and a weight of expectation. Father John won't be in his corner. John Fury was incarcerated last year for his part in a brawl which culminated in another man losing an eye, so he'll be away for the better part of 11 years.
Since Fury hit the big time in July 2011, when he comprehensively outpointed the now-infamous Dereck Chisora to win the British heavyweight title, he's acknowledged that his background and reputation has been a double-edged sword. Within the traveling community he's an easy mark, and every fighting gypsy is after a piece of him. And his boxing persona, characterized by some trash-talk and not a little arrogance, have marked him out as a target for media and fellow professionals. For one so young, at times he's found himself unable to cope. Before his last fight, when he stopped unbeaten Neven Pajkic in three rounds, he talked of being on the edge.
"One minute, I'm happy, over the moon. And the next minute, I'm sad — like suicidal sad," he said. "I feel like getting in my car and running it into a wall at 100 miles an hour.
"I don't know what's wrong with me. I'm messed up. I think I need a psychiatrist. I do believe I am mentally disturbed in some way. I'm just glad I've got boxing, though. I feel better in the ring. That's when I feel some relief."
This psychological ambivalence has been known to translate into chaos both inside and outside the ring. In the Pajkic fight, Fury was knocked down heavily in the second round, but got to his feet and battered Pajkic from pillar to post in the following round to force the stoppage. In earlier fights, he's neglected to take full advantage of his physical attributes and got himself into free-for-alls with lesser boxers he should have handled easily.
Fury has also admitted to commitment problems outside the ring, and an inability to settle. He's known to turn up at gyms all across the country with gloves looking for sparring, in between bouts of overeating and indulgence. His preparation for the Rogan fight has been anything but ideal.
"I've had to lose a fair bit of weight," he claims. "Before Christmas I wasn't training because my head wasn't right and I put on five stone (70 pounds). It took about two months to lose it. I was just eating junk food. Then I took Christmas off, so I had to get it all off in training and it has killed me — but it's been worth it."
Despite the roller-coaster that is Tyson Fury's life and career, and perhaps because of it, the UK's free-to-air Channel 5 has picked him up to spearhead their assault on British sports, and so far the big man hasn't disappointed, delivering two exciting edge-of-the-seat heavyweight encounters. Fury said this week that he's in no hurry to get the current heavyweight champions, the Klitschko brothers, into a ring, preferring to take his time.
"I'm only 23. There's plenty of time," Fury said. "I'm going to keep busy. I'm not in any rush to fight for a world title. All the world champions are old. I'm the new blood in the game, so there's no point in rushing."
The truth is that, at 6-foot-9, a trim and focused Fury would present terrible problems for the Klitschko pair. In his last fight, Wladimir Klitschko was so terrified of taking a punch from little Jean Marc Mormeck that he clinched and held and spoiled for two rounds before realizing the Frenchman couldn't reach him. Allowing for Fury's technical limitations, which are many, the Ukrainians would be favorites to turn Fury back, but in heavyweight boxing the great leveler is heart, and neither Klitschko could match Fury in that department.
Fury is promising to fight regularly and often, and in a year or so he'll have developed into a real challenger. One suspects, however, that like his namesake, it'll be demons outside of the ring, rather than opponents within it, that derail the young man's best laid plans.
Regardless, his promoter Mick Hennessy is clear about the future:
"Tyson is very highly rated with the world governing bodies, so a world title fight is there at any stage because right now he's the highest-profile name out there to fight the Klitschkos. But he'll fight them when he's ready and able to take them apart in style. We're going to work on our timescale."