THE playwright Harold Pinter once said, “Language is the tool we use to not communicate,” and, in all honesty, I can think of no better quote to sum up boxing’s heavyweight division in recent years. Full of words, cheap words, empty words, and words butchered to fit 280 characters, plenty is said in the heavyweight division yet nothing is ever truly communicated. Written or spoken, the manipulative power of words has in fact allowed many of the world’s best heavyweights to spin a yarn for much too long.
Far from great storytellers, these men are instead the unreliable narrators of their own biographies, forever one fib away from exposing themselves to the world. King of such behaviour is probably Tyson Fury, of course, the on-off-on-off world heavyweight champion whose captivating personality and ability to talk both sells fights and, when it goes wrong, walks him on to his own punches.
Recently, Fury has retired, unretired, and retired again. He has within the space of a month come out and said he wants half a billion pounds to officially unretire, only to then later declare he will fight Anthony Joshua for free. “That’s how the fight happens,” Fury said last week. “I sign the contract today and the fight’s got to be for free: free-to-air television, and all tickets go for free. No money is to be made out of this historic fight – if it happens. Those are the terms, I’m in the driving seat, take it or leave it.”
While typically Fury’s comments are as telegraphed as other heavyweights’ punches, it is on this occasion hard to pinpoint his motive. Perhaps, envious of the attention Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk are getting ahead of their fight in August, he just wanted to feel loved, relevant, important. Or, maybe, just as he once claimed to be on his way to ending homelessness one payday at a time, he was more interested in solidifying his status, in the eyes of the gullible masses, as “The People’s Champ”.
Regardless, in much the same way Joshua’s claim that he has never heard the phrase “sportswashing” should be taken with an ocean’s worth of salt, Fury’s comments must be treated with the scepticism they deserve. He is better than that, after all, and for as loud as his words are, his actions still thankfully speak louder.
The problem is, such is the power of social media, and such is the diminishing power of journalists, anything written on a boxer’s social media account is nowadays treated as news. Whether what’s posted is genuine or not is beside the point. It will, at a time when information is everywhere but insight is rare, be used to generate clicks and attention.
For a man like Fury, someone whose entire game is clicks and attention, social media has become the ideal tool with which to mislead and have fun. As well-trained in that domain as he is in the ring, he knows that anything he writes on there, or says in a video, will at the very least be turned into news. For gone for good, it seems, are the days when boxers had to rely on promoters or managers or, heaven forbid, journalists to do their job and raise their profile. Today, all they have to do is simply turn on their phone, clear their throat, and create headlines themselves, the power entirely at their fingertips.
Still, not everyone gets it. Middleweight Demetrius Andrade, for example, was last week seen pleading with Chris Eubank Jnr to fight him instead of Conor Benn, but did so by slurring his words and labouring his point in the middle of the street on which he lives. Filmed by his friend, and a move he presumably now regrets, the video gained the wrong kind of attention and left many feeling Andrade, despite his undoubted boxing talent, is someone who will just never understand the art of promotion. It was both his Jake Paul moment and a reminder that while few boxers are as bad as Jake Paul in the boxing ring, few are as good at cutting a promo.
In the end, dishonesty is synonymous with promotion and boxing as a whole. On fight night it finds its way into many ringside seats and, even before then, boxers will make a habit of lying, both to themselves and to others, just to get through training camp. Often a boxer’s dishonesty is more an ignorance – a blissful, necessary ignorance to the dangers of their profession – but, for some, deceit and manipulation are merely symptoms of the personality required to punch people in the head for a living. Either way, just as you wouldn’t want to fight them, to trust the word of a boxer is to set yourself up for disappointment.