FOR a man who stands six feet six inches and weighs just shy of 17 stone, Hughie Fury has a remarkable knack of making himself small and thus going unnoticed. It’s just the way he likes it, apparently. “Ring my dad if you need anything else,” he says at the end of this particular interview. “He’ll probably be able to explain things better than me.”
It’s a line he has fed me countless times before, so comes as no surprise, but still it serves as a reminder of his desire to be largely invisible, a sign Hughie even now, at 22 years of age and with 20 straight pro wins to his name, isn’t entirely comfortable doing the talking. Leave that to the others, he’ll say. Dad. Uncle John. Cousin Tyson. Leave it to those guys.
Yet that doesn’t mean I do as I’m told and contact Peter Fury, his father and coach, or indeed rely on anyone else to fill in blanks Hughie convinces himself exist. Instead, I tell him that won’t be necessary. Not this time. “Well, if you’re sure,” he says. “You know me. I like to let my boxing do the talking.”
This is true. What’s also true is that Hughie Fury knows now is the time to step up, both in terms of his career and in terms of being a Fury. After all, the landscape’s changing. The shadow has shifted. Tyson Fury, the man whose presence and mouth has inadvertently protected Hughie from all who pry, is currently unavailable. Hear that? Me neither. There is silence at last, a silence that now leads to opportunity, not only for the heavyweight contenders keen to adopt Tyson’s neglected collection of belts, but also for Hughie, the Fury who, at times, has been forgotten amid the furore.
“I do believe Tyson will come back and we will rule the heavyweight division together,” he says. “I reckon I’m going to go and do my thing, Tyson will have a bit of a break and then he’ll come back and we’ll both be at the top. Everything happens for a reason.”
Though it’s hard to believe, Hughie has always been The Fury Most Likely To Be Overlooked. The second youngest of six, there are two older brothers, brothers he followed to the boxing gym at six years of age, brothers he chased on six-mile runs, and there is Tyson, six years older than Hughie and as colourful a personality as one could hope to find. Hughie was able to expertly mimic the running and the fighting. Grabbing attention, though, has often been trickier. “I was very quiet but determined,” he recalls. “If I said I was going to do something, I’d do it. But, yeah, when I was a kid I kept myself to myself. I never had many friends or anything. I just kept with my family.”
Hughie had his first amateur bout in Liverpool at the age of 11, a fight he won, and then began training with his uncle, the late Hughie, in Skerton, Lancaster shortly after. More fights followed. More wins followed. What also followed, however, were growing pains, as Hughie transitioned from a stocky kid who liked to fight up close to a lanky kid who had no idea how to fight on the outside. It caused problems and led to defeats, a few of them on the bounce.
It also made a quiet kid all the more insular, all the more driven, and Hughie soon thought nothing of getting up at seven o’clock in the morning and going for a run all alone, nor did he think much of travelling by train to places like Leeds, Doncaster and Sheffield in search of sparring; stints at Nicky Manners’ gym in Leeds and Ian Allcock’s gym in Doncaster saw Hughie regularly spar pros and preceded a short spell at Amir Khan’s gym in Bolton.
“I had a few fights there but the gym didn’t click with me at all,” he says. “They didn’t tell me what to do and I was basically doing my own thing. I was always the big kid – stocky when I started boxing – but when I hit fifteen I shot up like a lamp post. Then I was tall and skinny. The thing is, they had me still fighting like a short, stocky kid. That’s why I lost fights. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was tall and lanky but not using that to my advantage. Then my dad got a grip of me at 16 and taught me how to box like a big lad. We haven’t lost a fight since.”
Within 45 amateur bouts, Fury won the Junior ABAs, the CYPs and became the first super-heavyweight from England to win a gold medal at the World Youth championships (2012). He rattles through these achievements with obvious pride, becoming almost – almost – animated when recalling the details. But then his enthusiasm suddenly dips. “When I won the World Youth championships, it didn’t get much attention [in the press],” he says. “Most of the reports just literally said, ‘Hughie Fury wins gold.’ That was it. But other fighters had a massive spread, maybe two or three pages, with pictures and everything. I was the first super-heavy to ever do it and I thought that was a big deal. But it wasn’t treated that way for some reason.”
Perhaps this sense of being ignored helps explain why he decided to turn professional in March 2013. More opportunities, more credit, more column inches. The move also allowed Peter, his father, to establish a tighter grip on the steering wheel.
“It’s hard work because he’s on me 24/7,” Hughie says. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Nobody knows you better than your dad. Without him, I wouldn’t be here today. And I wouldn’t be the boxer I am today. I’m sure Tyson would say the same.
“Obviously, though, if I do something wrong, I get it ten times worse than someone else who does something wrong. He picks up on everything. But I know he only wants the best for me and that’s why I never argue back. It’s disrespectful. When he’s on one, I let him go on one. I listen and then get it right. He’s older than me and knows what he’s talking about. I know when he’s telling me things, he’s right and I’m wrong. I know I have to go back and have a good think. That’s how we work. We go over things again and again.”
At first, father and son seemed to have the professional game sussed. Out the blocks quickly, Hughie boxed 12 times in 2013 alone. There were fights in England, Ireland, Romania, even one at Madison Square Garden, New York. Momentum in abundance, it seemed the biggest issue facing Hughie – still a teenager, remember – was the very real and dangerous possibility of a premature arrival at the top of the heavyweight ladder. Peter had to rein him in. He had to time it right.
Then, however, growing pains again did their thing and slowed Hughie’s progress to a grinding halt midway through 2014. The opponent, and it was an opponent of sorts, was a debilitating illness called acne conglobata, which wrecked the boxer’s immune system, sapped his energy and strength and kept him out the ring for nine months. What’s more, even when he did return, by way of a quality decision win over Andriy Rudenko in Monte Carlo, he was still battling the remnants of illness. In truth, he has been doing so ever since.
“I’ve not been well for two years, maybe more,” he says. “My skin condition kept getting worse and it made me depressed. I was thinking, is this ever going to end? What’s up with me? I wasn’t competing in the gym. I was behind. It got me down. In my last fight, against Fred Kassi, I felt so lethargic and bad. I thought I was going downhill as a fighter. The harder I trained, the worse I felt. Hopefully now, though, having been to see the skin specialists, it’s all sorted.”
There are a few snapshots of Hughie Fury which, I think, tell the story so far. The first is of him eating breakfast with Tyson Fury in a Dusseldorf hotel ahead of Tyson’s world heavyweight title fight with Wladimir Klitschko last November. That morning, with Tyson full of life and positivity, a rundown Hughie sat opposite him, his nose streaming, and played with a bowl of lukewarm porridge, asking anyone who passed the table if he had an opponent sorted yet for his appearance on the Klitschko undercard. This inquisition went on all week. He never got a proper answer. In the end, there was no fight for him. The second image I have of Hughie Fury is one of him demolishing the likes of Larry Olubamiwo and Emilio Ezequiel Zarate – journeymen you’d back Acne Conglobata to outbox – in half-empty leisure centres, his original opponents having bailed at the 11th hour, while the third image is of Hughie hitting and moving and winning every round against veterans George Arias and Dominic Guinn, but doing so to little or no applause, much less fanfare.
I guess it has been that kind of career to this point. The work he has produced has been good – even better when one considers he has been boxing while handicapped – but there has been a clear lack of spark and wow-factor. Hughie knows it, too. When pressed to pinpoint his favourite performance in a pro ring to date, he’s stumped. Not only that, he sounds immediately downbeat.
“Not one of them,” goes the reply. “I haven’t felt good in a single fight I’ve had as a pro. They’re wins but they’re not wins I’m proud of. They’ve all been fairly easy and I now know I can deal with decent opponents at 30 or 40 per cent. But I’ve never been close to 100 per cent in any fight.”
Hughie’s development has been unconventional yet productive. He has learnt how to fight and prevail when feeling unwell, an admirable skill, something that will stand him in good stead now fully fit, and he has also learnt how to handle life on the big stage, among the cameras and dictaphones, having tailgated Tyson on his ride to the world heavyweight championship in 2015.
“I’ve just been sat observing it all really, taking it all in,” he says. “I get to see what it’s like before I taste it myself. I’ve already experienced it all through Tyson. I’ve been all over the world, I’ve been around big camps and I’ve sparred some of the best and held my own. That’s why I know I’m ready now to compete at the top level.”
An introvert, yes, but Hughie Fury doesn’t lack confidence. Far from it. In spite of his illness, the stop-start flow of his career and the anti-climactic nature of some fights, he has total belief in his ability to one day sit on top of the heavyweight pile. He even goes as far as to say a fight with IBF title-holder Anthony Joshua would mirror the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, with Hughie, of course, adopting the role of Ali. “Listen, brains, speed and agility beats power all day,” he claims, adding he’d take the fight now “with both hands”.
Ah-ha, fighting talk. At last. Seems the Fury clan won’t be hushed that easily; Hughie 2.0, energised by a clean bill of health and newfound responsibility, is only just finding his voice.