BIG John Fury had some fine diamond jewellery, a black shirt they could not replace and a look of real mischief in his eye long before the first of two roundtables last week.
Gypsy John was and remains a hard man, a bare-knuckle relic from a time of meaningful straighteners in that business and he also made 13 appearances under rules and with gloves as a boxer in the late eighties and nineties. He shared a gym under Billy Graham’s Phoenix banner in Manchester with a teenage Ricky Hatton, preparing on heavy bags for a fight on one side or another of the business. He had a scrapyard and dogs that would eat a small car if you parked it in the wrong place.
He beat Michael Murray, he lost to Henry Akinwande and in 1995 he walked away from the formal side of the boxing game. He was there for Tyson’s amateur and early professional career. He took a hiatus in 2011 and has missed a few fights since. He praises and criticises in seemingly equal balance, his love for his son, is never questioned.
At the first roundtable he had an offer or two for David Haye, a side wager to accompany the Las Vegas fight. Haye declined a 50-grand and a 100-grand offer to bet on the outcome of the Feb 22 scrap, insisting that he doesn’t gamble. Well, it’s true, because as a professional poker player – he once beat 9,000 other players to a prize – he doesn’t gamble with his own money. It was feisty at that table; Haye fancies Deontay Wilder, Big John backed his son. Haye, remember, twice withdrew injured from lucrative fights against Fury.
There was a lot of bad blood when those fights collapsed. Haye posted pictures of a cut and then a picture post-surgery. He was smiling in both and that never went down too well. In September 2013 Haye first pulled out, just days before the fight, with a bad cut – it needed six stitches – from a sparring session with Filip Hrgovic. I think it was the same time he sparred with Wilder at the gym in south London. A few weeks later, with a date planned for 2014, Haye had a four-hour operation on his shoulder. It was a shattering double blow for Fury, who needed the fight. Fury had been in camp overseas, had forked out for sparring partners and was not impressed. “He’s bottled it, I told you he would,” Fury said. It was at this time that Fury started to talk openly about the mental issues, the struggles, the despair and his darkness. A lot of money vanished when both the Haye fights never happened. It was just bad luck, real bad luck. Gypsy John was just trying to win a bit of it back.
At the second roundtable event, filmed for BT in an abandoned and frozen power station in Wapping, there was far more animosity around the table than I had imagined there would be. Joe Joyce and Daniel Dubois are not suited to the world of endless hype, acts of stupidity and fake hate. Dubois can do ten-hours of press-ups and Joyce studied Picasso, they are men that do things, mostly in silence. However, just because they refuse to swear at each other, lunge and scream and predict death and destruction, doesn’t mean they lack the passion for conflict.
In the Wapping cold box, I was wedged between the pair, my knees just inches from their knees and I could feel the intent. The solid table – no chance of it being tossed in anger unless a 20-stone Russian geezer in a leotard with chalked palms wandered in from the cold – was bristling, humming with a nasty vibe. On their own, in different parts of the building, they were calm – at the same table, they were on edge. The cold, the hunger and a day that started at 5am, might have been a factor, but it was clear and obvious to me they have some business to settle. I can understand when people watch the shows and are critical, claiming it was choreographed, planned and schemed, but they are wrong.
Big John knows just how to do the aggressive challenge, Haye was seething and Joyce and Dubois were itching to let something go. It was not playtime at either table. It is a rough old trade we work in and every now and again something bright and sunny and wonderful happens. It did on Wednesday, squeezed between the table debates.
It is possible you heard her story on BBC Five Live or read about it somewhere else, but seeing and reading will never fully capture the look on Charley Davison’s face. She is the mother of three, the one that had seven years out, came back to the GB squad last December and is now one of the 13 chosen boxers to take part in the European Olympic qualifier next month. In Sheffield on Wednesday I walked over – she was standing on her own by one of the five rings. She looked dazed, confused and was still working it out in her head.
“I never dreamed this would happen. Never, I can’t believe it,” she managed to say. There was a smile that will linger for a long time. In Lowestoft her children made a banner welcoming back their Olympic Mum. That is all part of the fairy tale stuff, but there is every chance that if she falls short in London she will not get selected for the final qualifier in Paris in May. She is not the only one with that heavy bounty hanging over her head.